On His 87th Birthday

May 12, 2022— Today I attended the funeral of my friend Jon Haber. As I was sitting in the temple waiting, I thought this would make my father happy. Not that Jon Haber was gone or that I was at a funeral, but that I was in temple. He loved spending time there and being with the good book. He always wanted me to spend more time in temple, and it goes without saying with more books of any kind. I inherited many attributes from my father, but the urge to spend more time in temple was not one of them.  Sometimes I wondered if he just hated the sun, because he always wanted to be in temple on Saturday mornings when the sun was shining. Never, in my whole life did I want more to be in the bright midday sun than when I was sitting with him in temple. Perhaps the sun was the reward for the period of mindfulness.

My father died on August 1st, 2020. He did not die of COVID-19, as many folks did that year, and somehow that made his death unusual but also somehow less urgently received by those I told. (“He didn’t die of COVID? Oh.”) COVID was in full swing though,  and certainly funerals were happening, but not in the traditional sense. Funeral homes started adding cameras and Zoom accounts to allow people who were not immediate family to take part in the ceremony.  But as the virus ramped up, even those happenings got smaller and smaller and it did not seem like for our family a funeral was high priority. As he might have done, we put it off for a future time.

The rabbi started his sermon and again I thought what a perfect thing to do on my father’s birthday.  As I listened to the rabbi speak about Jon’s life I realized how eerily similar Jon’s life was to my father. He had one sibling; two sons, a commitment to changing what’s wrong with the world and perhaps not to subscribing to the greatest and latest clothing fashions.

In August 2021 we did have a remembrance for Lionel Gilbert Deutsch, MD. It had been a very challenging week for all of us and COVID was not vanquished, so we did it through Zoom. It was a really lovely 90 minutes but it wasn’t a funeral. I suppose I was looking forward to the tradition: to seeing people in Dad’s life that I rarely see (his cousins, etc.) and eating cold tuna and drinking bad coffee while telling stores, hearing stories, and remembering my father’s life, and probably learning things about his life too.

The rabbi today said he thought many people did not know how Jon and his wife met (Spoiler: the mother, a librarian fixed it up). And then he described the painful loss for a sibling, a wife, two sons in a way that I know was supposed to give them the relief of being seen, heard and felt, but I suppose to me it just felt like being emotionally outed, which was painful to endure.

Laughing at a funeral (the food part, not necessarily the service) is certainly common at the Jewish funerals I have been to and is always a great reminder to me that joy can be found eveninside sorrow. And if that is so, then joy can be found nearly anywhere you seek it. Sometimes that is hard to remember.

As the rabbi spoke about how much richer we all were for having Jon in our lives and how much poorer we were all now that he has physically departed, I kept inserting my father’s name in my head. He concluded by saying that the departed are still with us and so our relationship with them could be discussed in the present tense.  Further, that it is now up to us to honor their mission and keep their flame alive.  With a nod to Lionel, I said “OK Pops, I guess that was a pretty good funeral.”   And I followed the pallbearers out of the temple and into the bright midday sun. I do really think that was his plan.