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