(This story was inspired by a visit I shared with my father at Mt. Sinai Jewish Cemetary on Septemer 11th, 2002, in Toronto. It was just before Yom Kippur and we were paying our respects to our relatives who had passed on before us. I learned alot that day.)
IT was a nice sunny yet breezy day, a nice day for a visit to the cemetery if there is such a thing as a nice day to go to a cemetery. I picked my dad up at the house at 73 Wenderly Drive. My mom, Ruth, had a plastic bag ready for us, full of things that were needed for the visit to the Jewish cemetery off of Wilson Ave. so my dad could visit his parent’s graves and say a prayer for them. In this plastic bag was a prayer book, a little bottle of water so that we could rinse our hands, a Jewish ritual, some paper towels to dry our hands, and a little paper bag with about 4 small smooth stones to place on top of the tombstones, yet another Jewish ritual. It shows that someone visited the gravesite.
My mom and I helped my dad put on his jacket and zipped it up. My mom suggested that my dad wear a cap instead of a yarmulke because of the breeze but my dad said no, he wants a yarmulke. As always mommy was right and in the end, my dad did take the cap.
I helped him into the car and started to pull the seatbelt over to his hand when suddenly he said purposefully "I can do it myself." I often have to remind myself that my dad has to have the option to exercise some independence since so much of it has been taken away from him due to his circumstances of osteo-arthritis. My dad was securely seated in the car and I jumped into the drivers seat and away we went.
The two of us drove the regular route to Mt. Sinai Cemetery, down Wenderly to Dufferin, make a right and go along Dufferin to Wilson, make the left, and within a few minutes we were there. We didn't talk during the drive and the talk radio filled the silence. I parked where he wanted me to, in the handicapped spot.
We got out of the car and I took his arm and together we walked a bit of a way to the first area. Each area is designated to each synagogue congregation with different names. Ours was in the Shari Shomeyim Lebovitch section. We walked along the cemented pathway together, arm in arm, with the plastic bag full of goodies in my other hand. I kept looking closely reading all the names on the stones looking for the name Lukofsky. As we got closer, there was a space in the line-up of gravesites, and my dad pointed to this empty stoneless space and said, "That is where we are going to be."
By ‘we’ he meant my mom and him. Then he started to cry but kept walking along a few stones to his parent’s graves. It was very hard. Hard to see that my dad knows he is at the end of his journey of life and not ready to give up and die.
We walked a little further ahead and there it was on a black granite headstone with the letters in a written font, Lukofsky. It was strange to see it and every time I see it, every year, I feel that same strange way. My dad was sad but strong. We stood in front of his parents shared tombstone with two separate graves nicely kept up with flowers and greens. I am not sure what flora they were. My dad started to weep but spoke at the same time.
"It's nice, isn't it?” he asked.
"Yes, it’s very nice Daddy,” I agreed as I held back my tears."
I pulled out the prayer book and saw that my mom had a marker in it for the appropriate prayers. One was for a woman and the other was for a man. My dad took the prayer book in his hands, swollen and twisted from arthritis. He started to pray over his parent’s graves in Hebrew. He cried as he read. I had one arm around his back gently rubbing in circular motions while my other hand was placed on his chest to give comfort to his soul.
He first read for his father and then for his mother. My Dad put the marker back in between the pages and gently closed the cover of the prayer book. He began to speak to his parents in English. He told them as he wept (and me along with him,) that he missed them; that he loved them; that they were good parents; that he was not doing so well; that Meyer, his brother was sick too and that’s why he was not here with him today, and finally that "Marla, your granddaughter is here with me to pay respects to you both." When he was finished, I gave him a tissue to wipe his face and handed him two stones, one for each of his parent’s monuments. He placed them gently on top of their gravestones and I did the same.
After spending a considerable amount of time with his parent’s, my dad wanted to visit his aunt's grave, which was several rows away. As we walked along, I quickly scanned the ground in search of more stones because there wasn't any left in the little paper bag to place on my father’s aunt’s site. I eventually found two smooth stones and we carried on.
Once we found my father’s aunts grave, we repeated the same ritual. My father read from the prayer book, we placed some stones on top of her monument and then we walked slowly out of that section.
As my father and I walked together, we passed a monument that had so very many stones on top. My dad noticed this and said, " That person had a lot of people visiting them. That's nice." I looked around at the sea of monuments. So many monuments had one or two stones on top, some had four or six, and many others had nothing at all. No one came to see them, to remember them, to pay their respects to them. That made me terribly sad for those lonely people. I started to wonder… who would visit my grave?
Some Jewish rituals have more relevance than others. I can see how the ritual of leaving a stone on top of the tombstone can tell a story all on it’s own.
My father and I had finished our visits with the departed so we walked along the graveled roadside of the cemetery towards the parking lot. When we approached the car, I felt the urge to go to the washroom and I told my dad that I had to pee and wanted to use the chapel washrooms.
He asked, " Can you hold it”?
I thought my dad meant, until we get back to the house.
"No way” I shouted. I’m gonna bust"!
My dad explained and assured me that he meant, could I hold it until I get to the chapel washroom after taking him to the car to sit down.
" Ohhh… Of course I can Daddy,” I said sweetly.
I assisted my father into the seat of the car, and left the door open for air as I quickly ran inside the chapel to use the facilities. I ran out just as fast to check on my dad, and found him quietly sitting with one leg on the pavement and one leg in the car, just thinking. What his thoughts were must have encompassed many things. Things I wish we could talk about no matter how painful they may be.
I got my dad comfortably settled in the car, with the seatbelt secured and the car door closed. I jumped into the drivers seat, closed the car door and buckled up. We were now ready to go back home to mommy.
I took the same route back only reversed. I knew it well. Along Wilson to Dufferin. Make a right at Dufferin and take it straight to 73 Wenderly Drive. Easy driving.
While driving, I started to think of what a good son my dad is.
I said to myself 'Say it outloud Marla… tell him what you think before it is too late'
I suddenly got this big lump in my throat and I was fighting back the tears, but I got it out. " Daddy… you are a good son."
As we drove along, I looked over at him occasionally and he looked so cute to me, my father, the patriarch of our family, the man we still rely on for so many things and he is still handsome and cute yet older and frail.
I stroked the back of his head, gently smoothing his fine white hair. It’s so soft. I always love that part of my dad's head. Then I held his hand and I felt his hand hold on to mine as well, and we drove all the way back to the house holding hands in the car. The silence was broken by a phrase from my dad that meant so much to me.
" Marla, you’re a good girl… a good girl."
I have wanted to hear that for a very long time.
He said something else to me after a minute or two.
" Marla, you are a good driver… very good."
"Thank you Daddy, thank you."
(My father died 2 years later and he lies in that very grave he pointed out to me.)
By: marla lukofsky