Sunday, June 19, 2011

No Dad to "Give Me Away"

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Nor Cousin Alfred...

By the time this high school yearbook photo was taken, my father of blessed memory/(z"l) already was dead. There was no other photo of me over my lifetime that looked as sad to me as this one looked. Back then, I did not yet know that I would have lasting love and be a bride of someone with whom I was in love; an excellent, restored relationship with my mom; great higher education; a stimulating job that included my being sent on assignment to India for six months; additional, terrific higher education; lovely niece and nephews; and impressive physical and mental health (k'ayn ayin ha'rah/as long as the evil eye stays away).

My dad (z"l) died in 1982, at 56. I was 17.

As he lay on his death-bed during the summer of '82, I told him that my high school boyfriend, who had broken up with me when we were 15, had written to me from college, saying that he wanted to get back together. "What should I do, Dad?"

"Buy a wedding dress," he said.

Out of fear of losing my father's love, I did not also say that into my decision, I needed to factor my secret girlfriend -- secret to him, but not ultimately to my mother, who found out just weeks after my dad's demise.

Here's a picture of his grave that I snapped while visiting it this past Wednesday in the late afternoon. You can see that the right half is empty; it will feature my mom's name in Hebrew and the dates of her birth and death, too. Since his funeral on November 2nd, 1982, I've visited my father's grave just a handful of times. My fiancée Pat and I will not be permitted to be buried with a joint-headstone in that cemetery, since it's affiliated with an Orthodox synagogue. We will be buried in our synagogue's cemetery instead. How would my dad have received the news that I'm marrying a woman and not a man?

My father (z"l) is not here corporeally to give me away and neither is my cousin Alfred of blessed memory, who walked both of my sisters down their wedding aisles. Pat's father passed away years ago, too. As Rabbi Rachel Weiss from our congregation officiates, we will give ourselves away to each other. Pat reminds me of my dad: She is tall and carries herself with dignity, and has a great sense of humor, and indulges me. In the car with either one, for example, I'd plead, "Don't turn the radio station! It's my favorite song!"

"Which favorite song is this, Sarah?" my father would ask, smiling -- and Pat has learned to ask as well -- but then neither would touch the dial.

Leaving the cemetery on Wednesday, I washed my hands ritually to cleanse myself of the old and new deaths around me and then added my own ritual: I blasted the radio as I pulled out of the driveway. The song at that very moment was one of my all-time favorites from 1982 -- the year of his death(!) At that point, I felt like my dad was with me, whether or not he'd have relished giving me away to a woman (or enjoyed listening to that particular song). Maybe he was telling me that just as he always let me listen to the pop music I loved, he would support my marrying the person I loved....

When my beloved dad was dying, the song really spoke to me, particularly its refrain, "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge; I'm trying not to lose my head huh huh huh huh huh...."

My father was with me again, I think, when my mom and I headed to dinner the following evening. On Thursday nights during the summer, Stamford's Bedford Street features live bands. As we were crossing the street toward the restaurant, my mom started dancing along as she rolled by with her walker. A police officer smiled at us. Turns out, it was a cover of J. Giels Band's biggest hit. We sat down to dinner and my mom laughed when I told her the story that the song tells. While blogging just now, I looked up the year that the song became a hit: 1982!


HB III said...

Hi Sarah -
I have often had the same question about my mother. She died at 57. While I was older than you, there was so much of my life, including me meeting Sarah, falling in love, assembling a career, getting MA... that she never saw.

Sarah Siegel said...

Helen, thanks for letting me know you relate to my experience. Have you launched a Madison blog yet?

Clay Williams said...

A lovely reflection. I related to it so much - I'm really missing my dad as David and I plan our wedding.

Anitha Aswath said...


Your post moved me. And brought back memories of my mum who I lost when I was 20. My dad is now 82 and so fragile and there are nights that I don't sleep because I worry about the emptiness of it all, when it's time for him also to go. Such is life, and as much as it's a great leveller, I believe it also has the strength to heal most things, over time.