A little memory back

When you died

you took part of my memory with you.

Who else can talk about that day, that trip,

that time we laughed so hard,

that night we cried and ate ice cream until it was done.


When you died your cooking died with you,

as did your piano playing and whimsical doodles.

Your seder-leading left the planet

and your smile remained only in photos.


When you died, your advice, wise and unsolicited, left with you.

You stopped brushing my hair and scratching my back.

You couldn’t hold my hand or give me a hug.


When you died, I lost my steadiness  and your wicked sense of humor. 

I could no longer hear you tell a story, 

report which celebrity had died,

or hear your stubborn pride.

I couldn’t pick up the phone for real-time game commentary,

watch your compassion in action,

or hear your curiosity in questions.


When you died, I couldn’t forgive you,

really listen to your point of view for once,

or ask you to forgive me.


When you died, my new ideas had a less enthusiastic audience,

letters addressed in cursive stopped coming,

and there were no Milano cookies in the freezer.

Family dinners had an empty seat,

your unconditional love lived only in memory,

and I could no longer watch your fist hit your chest during Vidui.


When you died I asked: 

who else can remember that horrible meal, 

play that ridiculous game we made up, 

or identify the people in that sepia-toned photo?

Who else can recall that person whose name I just can’t think of,

or frankly talk family history while dreaming the future (too)?

Who will I call to get precise potato-baking advice, 

share classroom stories or social commentary,

or hear indignant passion about politics?

Who will answer when I dial your number,

come check my cake in the oven.

or evaluate that business plan?

Who will deliver that blunt counsel or sharp judgment, 

call me Toots,

or laugh uproariously when no one else thinks it’s funny?


Who is going to score baseball games,

speak Yiddish, 

or sneak chocolate with me?

Who will play ball in the house,

make pesky home repairs on a moment’s notice,

or teach me to make gefilte fish?

Who will get lost on adventures,

give crossword puzzle help,

or nudge me just so?


Who will partner for latke-making,

set those crazy high standards I struggle to reach, 

or know my children so so well?

Who will be my voice of history,

walk with me on the beach,

or sit at the kitchen table talking late into the night? 


Since you died: 

no one knows that recipe,

the combination to that lock,

or just how to make my sandwich.


No one tells me to wear lipstick, 

calls each day to say “I love you” with your accent,

or rings to discuss the weather.


No one matches that suit and tie,

gives approval with the right critique,

or unequivocally owns up to their mistakes.


No one makes me so angry I could scream,

tells me to repeat that story yet again,

or blames me for breaking that old treasure.


No one smells just like your pipe,

folds the Sunday paper the same way,

or belts out show tunes so off key.


No one puns and puns and puns,

takes such delight,

or encourages me in that way.


No one knows that I didn’t like that trip but went because you did,

argues with me maddeningly,

or fights me on the most inane or arcane detail.


No one can be who you were,

or say just what you’d say,

or walk in my door as you would.


But today in Yizkor,

as I sit alone in community,

I get a little memory back.

I listen for your voice,

consider what you’d say,

and I complain, pretending you can hear.


I see you dressed for Yontiff

repeat well-known expressions, 

and hear your jokes I disdained. 

I try to gain wholeness and make peace,

to let go or say it’s okay,

even though we can’t speak. 

And I promise to remember:

I will set your table and play your music,

find your tux and wear your pearls.

I will read and speak your words

live your values,

and continue your traditions.


Today I mourn again,

in tears and in silence. 

I look out as if to see you.

I miss you,

and that part of my memory you took with you.

This reflection was offered at Yizkor on Yom Kippur 5780/2019 as a collective offering for each of us individually. Gratitude to all those who whose memories inspired the writing and can be found within its lines. Your recollections touched my soul and many others!