A Gift: Yizkor

Sometimes I hear my father’s voice

when I listen for his counsel,

wanting an answer

Other times I struggle to hear it,

yearning to gain his insight,

longing for his challenge, his calm


Sometimes I see my friend

when I edit a challenging piece of writing,

& see her tiny, perfect script in the margins, writ years ago,

making a sentence just so


Sometimes my grandmother tells me what to wear…pearls!

or how to bake

My grandfather tells me to vote-

My aunt reminds me to sing —

My friend shows me how to weave.

My student encourages me to take a principled stand


When I hear their voices, it’s something –

but not enough, never enough —

I remember the questions I want to ask now, & can’t:

how much sugar, whom did you choose,

what’s your favorite lyric,

what should I do right now?


It happens –

we hear their voices – don’t we?

They speak to us —

they speak through us

When we listen


The voice may be loving, It may be harsh

It may be wise or amusing


We see them —

in a photo or handwritten recipe,

in jewelry or in the house

on paper or on a trip

in a city or in a celebration





The image may be of a child or elder, holding us or dressed to the 9’s

Sitting around the house or on the go


Then we want to stop, take a walk, or sit at the table with them

Mark the occasion, go back to that time or place,

Feel that hug or hand holding us –

But we can’t

they are not here –

though they are with us


There is no one like them[i]

Our parents & grandparents, our husbands & wives

Our sons & daughters,

Our brothers & sisters

Our dear friends – our family –

All who we loved

No one like them


They challenge and inspire

Humble and teach

Make us laugh and make us cry


“When [they] die, they cannot be replaced.

They leave holes that cannot be filled,

for it is the fate…of every human being

to be a unique individual,

to find his own path, to live [her] own life,

to die his own death.”[ii]


So what do we do when they are gone?

We grieve out loud, or sit in silence

We are angry & sad

We’re resigned or overwhelmed

Maybe we don’t know how we are feeling —

it changes, unpredictably in a moment




Sometimes we can feel only their absence in the void

We can’t hear, we can’t see them

We feel emptiness & longing,

The pain of “If only…they were here”


But when we allow ourselves to journey back,

When we take space and time to remember,

to be with our memories…

& just stop —

We might just hear & see those we have lost.

We might gain meaning and insight

Affirming or painful, new or familiar


This is that time, that space –

to listen, to see, to hear, and to remember

Take that walk in your mind’s eye

Sit over that cup of tea or holiday dinner

Imagine that phone conversation…

Hear the voices…

Ask the questions…


Whose voices do you hear?

What do they tell you?


No, it’s not the same.

It’s not enough, never enough.

But here is something, a gift for us, if we accept.

Yizkor is the time to see, to hear, to remember.

Yizkor is a gift. Accept the gift with me.

[i] Gratitude, Oliver Sacks.

[ii] Ibid.

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