Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My father had blue eyes

I met him for the first time two months ago, and on Friday he passed away.

Ok, I'll back up a bit...about 35 years or so, actually.

My mother was a street musician in Mexico and met my birth father there, who was from France. They moved to Virginia, where Deborah and I were born, but split up before I made my grand arrival to the world.

My mom remarried when I was three years-old, and for the most part my past was erased. There was little to no mention of him, and it felt as though we were expected to pretend that that part of life had never happened.

At the ripe age of 17, I insisted on some answers finally. While searching for anyone with his last name in online French phone directories, I found my grandparents. They put me in touch with him, around the time that I was moving to Israel.

Ten years of marriage, four kids, and a divorce later, I still hadn't been able to meet him...though we talked on the phone irregularly. We tossed around the idea of meeting in person, but Deborah and I lived on different continents for most of that time, and I never really got to travel anywhere.

Then we found out he had cancer. It was advanced when he discovered it, and another two months passed before his last ex-wife, Carol, delivered the news.

Through an intensive crowdfunding campaign, we managed to raise enough to fly out and visit him at the nursing home in Maine. I was praying each day that we would make it there in time.

He was in poor conditioned when we arrived, after nearly three days of driving, flying, bus rides, and hitchhiking. While there, he improved some and we even got him out in the car one day to visit his cabin. That was when he gave me one of his guitars, a beautiful black Washburn with ornate wood carvings.

The week passed way too fast, and the time came to return to my children, who were in the care of my awesome nanny, Juliana. More driving, flying, etc., returning to Israel the day before my brother's wedding.

The trip was hard to digest. I didn't even know where to start when people asked me 'how was it?' Where do you start? I met my birth father, 30 years later than one should. Intense. Exciting. Disappointing. Fulfilling. Complicated. 

His eyes looked like Purieli's, a clear and mellow blue. His voice was deep and calming, though most of our time there he spoke of how frustrated he was. I came to some very difficult realizations with him. I married a man a lot like him. It scared me. Honestly I connected more to my ex-stepmother than to him, and felt like I gained more family with her. Is that too weird?

I enjoyed hearing his take on spirituality. He had a very large and useful mind, though being very wrapped up in himself seems to have prevented him from having many close relationships with family and community. I saw the good, the bad, and everything in between, but only a tiny glimpse really. And now he is gone.

I don't know how to mourn this complicated relationship. Reached out to two rabbis, who both gave good advice and comfort, but still in shock and unsure of what to do. Because he wasn't Jewish, there is no requirement for the seven days of mourning, with all of their detailed directions. Sometimes there is safety in the details, and the fences can feel like nets to catch you when you don't know how to proceed. Although I 'get to' do any mourning customs, it's not the same. It seemed that G-d/The Universe responded by helping me along, for example: I planned to tear a ribbon and pin it to my shirt, like I did when my grandparents passed away. A grandchild isn't 'obligated' in the seven days, but it's still the loss of a dear family member and this is a meaningful way to express that loss. I forgot, in my haste to get the kids out to camp that morning, but my skirt got caught on a sharp piece of metal and ripped. So I wore a torn garment in the end, and felt connected in that way.

I also didn't know how to tell people around me what happened. A regular old Facebook post just didn't seem to cut it, and when I told a couple of people in real life there was mostly awkward silence, some much-needed hugs, and then the feeling of people avoiding me so they wouldn't have to act sad around me. So I left it mostly unsaid, and just went along with my days...

When my grandparents died, I was faced with a heavy sense of mortality, and motivated to make the most of every day because you never know when the end will come. Now my dad, only 67 years-old, and the feeling is so much stronger. May my mother live to 120, but after her I'm the last line left standing. The loss of a parent shakes your very core.

Still don't know where I'm headed from here. I want to commemorate him in some special way, but haven't got a clue as to how. One uncle recorded a song as part of his goodbye: view it here. He is a physics teacher, but also very musical. Follow the link and check out his YouTube channel for a song he composed, and is playing on a dulcimer that he crafted. Another uncle made a painting shortly before his brother left this world.

I want to learn from his mistakes, to find more of the good that was in him and preserve it. I want to go to France to meet my aunts, uncles, and bundles of cousins. I want to find my older half-brother in the Netherlands. I hope it can all be done. I hope it can help fill this hole that has always been in my heart and only recently started becoming smaller, before widening again this week. I hope...

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