Last Wednesday marked Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It’s a day of atonement on which Jews pray, engage in a 25 hour fast, and ask God for forgiveness for any sins they may have committed in the last year.
As a cultural Jew more than a religious Jew, attending synagogue isn’t a huge part of my life, but I do make it a point to attend services on Yom Kippur. I find solace in the serious, contemplative mood and the opportunity for self-reflection and meditation on the previous year. It’s also a chance for me to say Yizkor, the mourner’s prayer recited communally four times a year. Yizkor translates to “remember”. It allows me a few quiet moments to think about my father while pledging to honour his memory by giving back in some way.
This year’s Yom Kippur services felt especially poignant because today marks the 10th anniversary of his death. Some days, it still feels like I can just pick up the phone and call him (I still have his contact information in my phone). On others, I can barely remember what his voice sounded like. During the Yizkor prayer, I reflected on how much time has passed, how much he’s missed and how much I miss him.
But I also decided I will mourn differently going forward.
You see, another reason why this year at synagogue was so impactful was because right before the prayer, the rabbi made a sermon that got the wheels in my head turning. He talked about the meaning of Yizkor, but also addressed the value of forgetting; about how much time is far too often wasted on holding on to grievances and grudges that destroy relationships. And that in holding on to those memories of spite, we forget who the targets of our anger were before the fighting and the misunderstanding.
If I’m interpreting the rabbi’s message correctly, we need to be responsible consumers of forgetting and remembering. It’s about finding the yin and yang between them in order to have meaningful and healthy relationships.
What this made me realize was that I haven’t done a whole lot of remembering in the last ten years of mourning my dad. I’ve done a lot of feeling sorry for myself, of feeling angry that he died of a cancer that’s rarely terminal, of feeling heartbroken that he’s missed so many important milestones in his grandchildren’s lives.
I have, for a large part, forgotten to remember; when we danced at my wedding; when he sat for hours at the kitchen table, colouring with my kids; the bike ride adventures he took my brother and sister and me on as kids; the photography lessons in our home darkroom; spending hours listening to Bat Out of Hell (he loved Meatloaf!); his giant lab coat hugs when I paid him a surprise visit at his office.
I’ve also forgotten to remember that he wasn’t perfect. He could be strict and rigid and short-tempered. And remembering that helps me feel like I don’t have to be perfect and get it right all the time.
There’s no way I’ll ever not miss my dad. But going forward, I’m letting go of the self-pity and the anger. Because even though he died way too soon, I am so blessed with memories that I’ll no longer forget to remember.