My family said goodbye on Tuesday with a chapel and graveside service, for which I officiated. I did the things I always do at funerals for which I am the rabbi. I coordinated with mortuary staff. I counseled the family and taught about Jewish death and mourning traditions. I sang Psalm 21 and Psalm 23 and chanted Eyl Malei Rachamim at the graveside. And I facilitated the placing of earth on my father's casket as the final step in fulfilling the mitzvah of levayah, escorting him to his final resting place.
But it took returning to the gravesite the next morning to really say goodbye and to embrace the concept that I was now an orphan. People have been asking me how I am doing and feeling and the word that comes to mind is 'untethered,' without my sounding board and consummate cheerleader. That quiet private moment at the graveside helped me not only embrace this reality of my parents' deaths, but it afforded great clarity. We buried my father next to my mother just the day before yet it was clear that they are not there in that static space or fixed in that set time. They are in my heart and my cognitive and subconscious thoughts every moment of every day. They are everywhere. I feel confident that it is just a matter of time before my perception of the meaning of "tethered" evolves and expands into an even greater sense of connection than when my parents were here in the physical realm. Mary Elizabeth Frye, herself an orphan at age three, wrote this poem for a friend who was unable to be with her mother as the mother was dying. I have said this poem and sung the music many many times but the meaning was never as clear to me as when I was sitting at my parents' graveside. I may be an orphan but I am not alone.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Donations in memory of Mel Pollack can be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research