It is a rite of spring….each year I try to visit either Arizona or Florida at this time of year to enjoy spring training. This week I was fortunate enough to be able to be in Florida and be able to visit four different ball parks and see a number of spring training games. It is a reminder that spring is around the corner and that we are entering a time of renewal as we prepare to celebrate Purim and Passover.
When we go to Florida, my wife, Sue and I have the opportunity to visit my parents’ graves and to visit with a couple who were very special to my parents. Now, since it will soon be 13 years since my dad died and 10 years since my mom died, it was especially meaningful to be in Clearwater and have the opportunity to “chat” with them. This was the first time I had visited their graves since we became grandparents and so this was the first time I was able to “personally” tell them about their great grandchild. Sue and I spoke about how my parents and her dad are with us all the time and although we think of them often, visiting the grave evokes special memories that don’t always appear when I am not in their presence. I call one of my brothers and his wife as they call me when they are visiting Mom and Dad. We talk about whether we feel their presence while we are there.
While we were visiting this year, we had an honest conversation and spoke about any number of things including an update about the kids, what is happening in our lives, and then concluded this “rite of spring” by reciting Kaddish and leaving stones. This year, while we were visiting, a staff person from the cemetery stopped by to see if there was anything she could do for us. We asked her for some stones to leave on the grave which remind us that death is hard and that the memory of our loved ones, should remain forever. Although flowers may die, it is possible that stones could last forever and hopefully the memories of our loved ones stay with us forever.
She brought nine stones this year and Sue and I placed them on the graves in the pattern of a Chanukah menorah. We spoke about how their lives had provided light to us and how many of their actions sparked some kind of positive behavior in the lives of their children. We also used this as an opportunity to have a discussion about certain harder issues(perhaps also sparked by putting stones on the graves). As children, all of us, at one time or another, probably had/have some kinds of challenging issues we face(d) when dealing with our parents and we used this as an opportunity to try to make peace about some of those issues. As we were doing this, we were inundated by bugs flying all around us and crawling on us. However, as we addressed some of the more challenging issues, we noticed that the bugs began to dissipate. There were still a few around at the end of our conversation, but hopefully in the same way that there may be some issues between parents and children, we made peace with many of these issues which hopefully will no longer “bug” us.
Why am I sharing this with you? I share this with you because I hope that if there are issues between you and anyone in your life, that you will try to face them while they are living so that our loved ones can rest in peace and even more importantly, that we can live in peace without regrets about dangling conversations(check out the Simon and Garfunkel song with this name) or unfinished business. Judaism teaches that death offers ultimate forgiveness to the deceased since there is no longer any way in which they can ask our forgiveness nor can we ask them for forgiveness. I hope that we can have honest and loving conversations with those with whom we are close when we have the opportunity. As we walked away, Sue remarked that one thing was for sure…even in the midst of challenging moments, we should remember that our loved ones generally meant well when they did what they did.
As a personal aside, we then went to my parents’ favorite place in Dunedin to watch the sun set over the water. It was moment of beauty where as Sue and I sat next to each other, we could remember the beautiful aspects of their lives and to remember the light they brought to this world. We then briefly saw the man who who had been so wonderful to my parents as they aged and we shared a very special moment when he wrapped his hand around my neck and brought me close to him. Perhaps a vicarious hug from my parents? I will never know, but I can hope…
May their memories be for a blessing.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft