‘For the sake of remembering, I wear my father’s face over mine.”-Yehuda Amichai, From “Songs of Zion, the Beautiful.”
My father and stepmother were murdered by a methamphetamine addict who forced his way into their Sedona, Ariz., home. A year ago today I received the news that will forever separate my life into before and after. Since then, I have buried myself with Jewish rituals.The Sedona Police Department could only narrow down the time of their deaths to a two-hour window during which the sun disappeared on the Western horizon. Their yahrtzeit, according to the Hebrew calendar on which each day begins at sundown, could therefore have fallen on one of two days. Instead of lighting two 25-hour yahrtzeit candles earlier this month, I diligently kindled two 50-hour candles in the pink bathtub in my studio apartment.
I am an only child, and during the past year I made arrangements for a Jewish Burial Society to retrieve the bodies from the medical examiner; I ordered caskets; I eulogized my beloved parents before hundreds of mourners and I shoveled dirt onto two graves. I sat shiva; I wrote thank-you notes to friends and acquaintances who sent sympathy cards and visited during the weeklong period of mourning; I ordered tombstones; and I lit yahrtzeit candles. Yet one ritual has eluded me this year. I have found myself curiously unable to say Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer that stokes the memory and symbolizes abiding love for the deceased. I’ve attended synagogue on dozens of occasions since my parents’ murders, but found myself running toward the door when it was time to recite the prayer. “I shouldn’t have to do this,” I rationalized as I fled the sanctuary in denial and frustration, in sadness and rage. Kaddish, for me, meant coming to terms.How, I wondered, could I come to terms with the fact that the man who built me an elaborate dollhouse, wallpapering each of its tiny rooms, taught me to tie my shoes and attached training wheels to my bicycle, was gone forever?
How could I come to terms with the fact that the man who held the video camera at my gymnastics meets, guided me through the crowded shuk in Jerusalem, moved furniture into my college dorm room and installed a smoke detector in my first apartment was bound and beaten to death by the plumber who had been sent to fix a leaky pipe in my parents’ home one month prior?How could I come to terms with what I found, when I flew to Sedona to prepare their home for sale. There was the half-read book on the nightstand, the half-empty napkin holder, the half-spritzed bottle of perfume. There was the half-used roll of toilet paper, bottle of laundry detergent and box of monogrammed stationery. There was underwear neatly folded in dresser drawers, family photographs atop the fireplace mantle, and a six-pack of V-8 in the downstairs refrigerator. How could I come to terms with the fact that while my friends were planning their weddings, I was planning an unveiling for two of the most important people in my life?
After the murders, well-intentioned friends told me that time would lessen the grief, and the murderer’s trial and sentencing would bring me a modicum of closure.Yet, a year later, my heartache is just as raw, the memories just as vivid. Not a minute goes by that I don’t think about my father and stepmother. Not an hour goes by that I don’t ask “why?” Not a day goes by when the chilling details of the crime do not race through my mind. Justice, I’ve learned, is not a guilty man in a cell. Justice would be if my father could live out his days with his beloved Ruth and walk me down the aisle one day and pray in the yet-to-be completed synagogue he helped found. Justice would be if my stepmother could pen more poems about peace and run for city council as she had planned and tend to the farm she and my father had recently purchased. I could not say Kaddish because I could not come to terms with their deaths, their unfinished lives, and my own. Their terror and their pain are now mine, but so too are their energy, their idealism, their loyalty, their love, their faith.This is my Kaddish. Gabrielle Birkner covers education for the paper.