Travels and Journeys

Road Trip 2013

This year, Hans Einar and I decided to take a trip to the Pacific Northwest region of the US and Canada.  For him, the anthropologist, it was a destination for learning about the American Indians (or, as Canadians refer to them, the First Nations).  For me, the nostalgia buff, it was to be a trip down memory lane with a visit to Portland, Oregon, a city that was my home from age 4 until 6 days before my 10th birthday, when we immigrated to Canada. And then there were friends and other sights to visit in-between.

Mum at 80

Our trip started separately, when I left Hans Einar at home to spread the word of health promotion to young nurses and flew to Houston to visit my parents.  It was a short trip but a special one.  The highlight was a “surprise” birthday party for my mother to celebrate her 80th birthday.   Mum has been a docent at the Houston Holocaust Museum since it opened in 1996.  Every time I visit the museum, I meet staff and docents who tell me what a wonderful woman my mother is, how kind and knowledgeable she is and how proud I must be of her (which I am).  I wanted to allow all those people to celebrate her and I wanted to be there.  Suzanne Sutherland, the Museum’s Director of Visitor and Volunteer Services and a good friend, was my partner in crime (she made it all happen).  On Tuesday, 17 September, Mum walked into a room full of colleagues, docents, friends and family who yelled, “surprise”and, from that moment on, Mum cried…

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There were songs sung in her honour, tribute speeches, warm hugs, and a cake decorated with tulips, her favourite flower.  Dad stood by proudly, happy to let Mum be the centre of attention.  It was a formidable tribute to a formidable woman.

Surrounded by Love
Surrounded by Love

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A Flickering Light

I’ve been missing my Dad a lot these past days.  It’s been almost 3 months since he died.

Knowing he was going to die, I asked him if he was scared of dying.  He said “no, I think of death as just “lights out””.  While his light may have gone out—perhaps at that moment when he stopped breathing, perhaps before that when he was in a morphine-induced coma—his light seems to be flickering in me, reminding me of his presence on this earth for 88 years, 4 months and 28 days.  For 58 years, 10 months and 23 days, he was my Dad.  Those numbers will never change.

Grief is weird.  It comes and goes.  For me, it is not a constant pain.  It floods over me at unexpected moments.  I was in a store yesterday to buy a birthday card.  I saw Father’s Day cards and realized that I would not be marking that day again.  That made me sad.  I may have been the only person in the Kennedy Center concert hall crying through the Dvorak cello concerto last week because it was a concert my father had recommended for me last year, when I sent him the program for the National Symphony Orchestra and asked him to select a few concerts he knew I’d like.  I didn’t really need him to select concerts for me.  It was one of those things I did because I knew he’d appreciate it and it was my way of connecting in a relationship that had often been a challenging one. These concerts connect me to his spirit, that flickering light that hasn’t gone out, at least for me.  If you ever see me crying during the Dvorak cello concerto or Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto or Mahler’s Fifth, you’ll know why.

A friend in New York wrote to me: “Jews do grief well”.  I think she is right, although I don’t have much experience with grief in other religions.  I found unexpected comfort in going to the synagogue every morning before work for 7 days after my father died, as is tradition.  Before the mourner’s kaddish, the prayer for the dead, is recited, each mourner is asked to say out loud the name of the person they are mourning.  For 7 days I said out loud “my father, Eli Bensky.”   I am not particularly religious, but I had a need for some type of ritual to honor my father and honor my loss.  Sending his name out in a sacred place amongst strangers and other mourners was life-affirming and death-affirming.  For those 7 days, I also lit a Yahrtzeit memorial candle, another Jewish ritual of mourning.  I placed the candle on a shelf above my bed and, in the middle of the night when I woke, the flame bounced gently off my bedroom walls and reminded me of Dad.  I took comfort in that flickering light and I will do so every year on the anniversary of his death.

So, while death may be have been a “lights out” for Dad, it has been a “lights on” for me.  That flickering light that is my Dad, that gently bounces off the walls of my bedroom, that light that flickers within my heart.  That light that reminds me of the 58 years, 10 months and 23 days he was my Dad.  Those numbers will never change…

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