I can’t quite take the pictures down. Can’t quite stop staring at them. Can’t call it an altar exactly, but I know others do. Others have. And others will. How do we stop mourning and put the pictures away? And the candles. And the little mementos and ritual objects that surround those photos that remind us?
Our project is nearly over. I’ve practically stopped writing here. Thinking that if I closed my eyes it would all be over soon. Like a child. Close your eyes and nobody can see you. Stop writing, and everybody just fades away.
This year of mourning has been two years really. The first year was absolute shock and disbelief. Grief without end, and endless writing of nothing but dying and death. And then Erin walked into the spiderweb of mourning that I was trapped in, and she joined me there. And she forced me to mourn properly. A real live kaddish. A kaddish in two-part harmony. Until it just wrung me dry and the tears stopped flowing.
I’m always a bit early on endings. A year abroad, and I’m packing up a month early. A month abroad, and the last week I’m not really there anymore.
Other people squeeze the juice out of life: They’re present until the very last second, and then some. I’ve never been able to manage that. No. I see the end approaching, and I’m already gone.
Makes me, I think, just a terrible collaborator this past month, as I’ve just plain run out of words. As my kaddish collaborator has dragged a kaddish out of me practically kicking and screaming. Done! I’ve been done for about a month now, I think.
But those pictures are still sitting there on the, the altar. There are pictures of him examining manuscripts. Examining amphoras. Ready to walk off with somebody’s collection. Shaking hands with a ba’al teshuva (that spell-checker wants to turn into ‘banal yeshivah’—how weird is that). Next to the pictures, there’s a piece of the Berlin Wall. A Viennese mezuzah. A weird amulet made out of bone or ivory. Or for all I know, it’s a plastic souvenir. There’s that little jewelry box with the piece of soap inside and the typed up testimonial that this US Marine collected it in WWII and that it’s made from the fat of— But my dad said it wasn’t in the museum because it hadn’t been DNA tested. That there really wasn’t evidence… That it was rumor. Folklore. He never did have it tested. The little box sits there next to the photos of the tzaddik in his element. Finding bits of history. Everywhere. And piecing the story together.
At first I grieved but didn’t mourn. And then I mourned but didn’t cry. And now I cry somewhere deep down, but nothing left comes out. I’m scared to put the pictures away. As if, if they’re gone that he’ll be gone as well. That his image will fade. Not that I won’t remember him. But that I won’t see him.
Now, he looks over my shoulder as I take care of Mrs Tzaddik’s paper work. He’s there watching me grade papers. Or dig deep into my Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon looking for answers. He’s there when I eat. or have a cup of tea. When I read. When I sit there unable to work, just staring at him. Him, in his element surrounded by his books in my library. Surrounded by strange little ritual objects and mysteries.
I understand now why people don’t just-get-on-with-it. I always thought they were just plain looking for excuses to be morose and difficult. And maybe I was right. Dunno. But I’ve always been morose and difficult. Didn’t need grief to turn me to darkness.
Papa, I miss you.
Papa, it’s time to let you go.
But it’s late right now. Not time to put those pictures away. And then it’ll be shabbes. You should stay at least for shabbes, right? And then, well I’ll be away for a few days. Maybe after that I’ll take your pictures down. Maybe—
But I see that you’ve settled into the library. Maybe I’ll let you stay. Just a little longer. There’s Thanksgiving soon, after all. And the kids will be home, and they’ll of course expect to see you… And then there’s— and then—
Soon. I promise. It’s time to let go. Right?