Eleven of us stood in the rain honoring the life of my father as we unveiled his tombstone. “Esteemed Scholar, Lover of Life and Learning.” Two days earlier I had discovered a poem he wrote in his journal from T.S.Elliott:
“I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled.”
It made me smile. My dad had a unique sense of humor.
As we stood in the cold and wind, bringing our hearts and minds to his life and death, I couldn’t stop thinking about how in his last few years he had on numerous occasions asked the same question: “Was I a good dad? Tell me what it was like to grow up with me as a dad.” Or the times he would arrange special outings so he could apologize for the part he thought he played in a family tragedy that no one could have prevented. Or, what I learned later, were his conversations with various counselors and friends about regrets he had about his secrets from my mother. Since my mother died, he lived a continual confession, it seemed, without a feeling of absolution.
The Jewish prayer, the Viddui (confessional), is meant to be recited by a person who is dying, or said on their behalf before they die. To help them die in peace and resolve. To help them be ready for their journey.
My dad died quickly. There were no deathbed conversations or closure. I wondered if he had been ready. I wondered if he had resolve.
As we stood around the wet tombstone with both my mother and father’s names, there were tears and haunting music. We shared memories, dad’s funny poetry, and gifts we had received from him. I offered my dad the gift of possible resolve.
The following is an interpretation of a traditional Viddui that Rabbi Rami Shapiro wrote. We recited it on his behalf. I hope his soul can now fly free.
We acknowledge before the Source of All that life and death are not in our hands.
Just as I do not choose to be born, so I do not choose to die.
May it come to pass that I be healed,
but if death is my fate, then let me accept it with dignity and the loving calm of one who knows the way of all things.
May my death be honorable, and may my life be a healing memory for those who knew me.
May my loved ones think well of me and may the memory of me bring them joy.
From all those I may have hurt, I ask forgiveness. Upon all who have hurt me, I bestow forgiveness, helping to bring together life’s loose ends and restore them to a tapestry of peace.
As a wave returns to the ocean, so I return to the Source from which I came.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Blessed is the way of God,
the way of Life and Death,
of coming and going,
of meeting and loving.
As I was blessed with the one,
so now I am being blessed with the other.
Shalom, Shalom, Shalom.
May we all live in a way that no matter when our time comes, we can go in peace.
And let us say Amen
Beautiful! This reminded me of Alison Jordan’s corollary viddui for mourners, a chance to say things unsaid, a chance for closure.
May your father’s memory be a blessing.
bernice dambowic says
i often think of unimportant details that we give so much time to e.g. how do i look are my clothes ironed,my hair combed ,lint coloring the shades that are real…..so this poem brings me back to unrolling all my stuck creases and let them be….thank you chaya
Thank you so very much for sharing this journey. I love the quote. Rolled my “trousers” today, actually. Years before his actual death, my father went through little deaths– including cleaning up his addictions by participating in 12-step programs. It was the death of a certain part of himself; he took a scrubbing inventory of many aspects of his life and he sought out forgiveness where he could. While it annoyed me sometimes, this is the process that enabled me to have an adult relationship with my dad.
Before he died, we talked about the viddui. Natan and/or Chai sent several versions. The day he died, I think I brought them up on my phone. But I totally forgot in the hospital room… until my dad had just passed. So I said it aloud post-mortem on his behalf. But as I am thinking of it now, just over a year later… I think those years of 12-steps really helped- and though he wasn’t squeaky clean, the words were not so heavy.
Thank you for sharing Rami Shapiro’s exquisite version here.
I think I should print it out and read it nightly…. just in case.
This is absolutely beautiful. As I get older I often think of concerns my father expressed that I now understand.
The regrets held on to, the regrets released, the amends made, the confessions, the growing older, the growing wiser, the growing sadder, the growing more peaceful, the growing.