We lost our son, Andrew, about three years ago. His physical body, his laughter, his smile, all that was Andrew, they all died that day. We had his funeral, sat Shiva, and memorialize him during those sorrowful weeks. He was gone. We could no longer hold him, no longer laugh at his humor, we could not share stories with him, or be amazed by his tricks with the Rubik’s cube. His physical presence was gone, forever. He died, as so many have before him, and everyone else will one day.
What brings Andrew’s death to the forefront of my mind is a recent conversation I had with a member of our synagogues ritual committee. While we were discussing a memorial candle project he would like me to be involved with, he casually said “everyone dies twice.” That simple statement is what impacted me.
Let me take you back a ways. I lost my father when I was 15, back in ’79. He passed away of a heart attack, suddenly and unexpected at 46. At the funeral, and in the days that followed, we were surrounded by our relatives, long-time friends of my parents, members of the temple, many of my father’s business associates, and some of my parents friends from their Marriage Encounter group. The funeral procession from the packed chapel in the city out to the cemetery in Paramus was huge – dozens and dozens of packed cars. The throngs of people that passed through our home during the week that followed was overwhelming. There were tributes to my father in Women’s Wear Daily, there were dozens of trees planted in Israel in his memory, and the list goes on. It truly was humbling for those of us he left behind.
Then the inevitable happened. The encounters involving my father and his memory began to dwindle. My father’s friends and colleagues have obviously gotten older, many of them have passed away. Many of our close relatives have also passed on. It’s the natural cycle. But what has dwindled that I am concerned about is not his friends or family, not the people nor the relationships – what has dwindled are the memories and stories that have kept my father alive for my sister and me over the past 35 years. They are dying off slowly – the memories – along with the keepers of those memories. It is like our father is dying again, only slowly this time.
We hear fewer and fewer stories of my father from fewer and fewer people. They have moved on, passed away, or no longer talk about him. It is also getting harder for me to keep and recall all of those memories and stories in my head. What I think about is that in several years, not too far into the future, there will be no more stories. There will be no more memories. My father will be a person who lived and died a long time ago, left behind a loving family, was the subject of stories and memories that another generation told. But one day, he will simply be a headstone, a relative from the past. A name no one really remembers.
Now I know that Greg and Todd, and Nicole and others still have many years ahead of them, and hopefully they will remember some stories of my father, their grandfather that they never met. And maybe they will tell them to their children, who may in turn remember them. But eventually, and not too far in the distant future, those stories will inevitably fade, it is just natural.
That is the fate I fear for Andrew. He lived a mere half of the years that my father lived, and had a fraction of the friends and experiences that made up my father. There are many stories that Dorothy and Nicole and I tell about Andrew. And we hear others from Laurie and Roy, Spence, Caroline, and Andrew’s friends and teammates. And we smile every time we hear a story, no matter how many times we have heard it before. Even just the mention of Andrew’s name makes us smile.
It has been only three years. We keep in touch with Andrew’s college roommates – Dorothy and Nicole had lunch with Gabe last month and spent the time talking about college, about Gabe’s job, and they shared stories of Andrew. We have Andrew’s memorial hockey game around his birthday and we talk about him there and share stories and tears. Lonya is keeping his name and story alive with her annual Never Forget Andrew Hockey Event. This is all great.
But Andrew’s favorite high school teacher and SAT tutor, Keith, who Andrew spent many lunch hours with has passed away. And with him went many memories and stories of Andrew. Uncle Cy, who Andrew used to talk to on the phone and exchange stories with is gone. The same for Aunt Beth, who Andrew spent every one of his birthdays with, and most holidays during the year – she is sadly gone much too young. And with all of these people the stories, their stories, and memories of Andrew passed with them.
Now I know that I will die my first death long before Andrew experiences his second death. But when will that day come? The day when no one remembers him anymore. The day when Andrew is gone, his friends are gone, his family is gone, and no one is alive anymore that knew him and loved him. The day that people will stop visiting his headstone to say a prayer, the day that they stop playing his memorial game, the day that no one is here to say a prayer for him.
In reality, I know that day is far, far away. But it will be here one day. And that thought kills me. The day that my son, along with my father, will be forgotten. The day there will be no more thoughts of them, no more prayers for them, no more stories of them. They will just be gone. And the thought of that hurts.
What my friend Andy so eloquently reminds me of is that I cannot focus on the second death of any of us. Rather focus on the memories that are alive now, the happy stories people tell us about Andrew, and the memories that we live with now. I have to learn to, and allow myself to smile at those memories. Smile knowing that his family and friends are retelling those stories, and smiling and laughing when they retell them. So as long as I am alive, and Andrew’s friends are alive, then he is still alive.
Footnote – Thank you Marvin for the inspiration.