This year, on September 28, Jews around the world (even a non-religious, strictly cultural one like me) will mark Rosh Hashana and the beginning of 5769 (we’s an old people) with family and food, honey and hope.
I am marking New Year a little early this year.
September 12 is my new New Year: the anniversary of my father’s death.
One year. This fucking year. This fucking horrible, crazy, shitty, sad, ridiculous, amazing, joyous, wonderful year. My dad is gone, my second daughter is here, and I still have no idea what to make of it all.
I still cry every pretty much every time I think of my dad (so, a lot). Grief still takes it’s painful blows at me. I still want him here so badly I can barely stand upright sometimes. I still want to scream at people, ‘No! You don’t understand. A year has not been a long time. You don’t understand how cool my dad was, that the world is truly worse for losing him so soon; that a year has only begun to dull the shock of his absence.’
But, taking another cue from my Jewish heritage, I will mark the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death and stop wearing black. You're wearing grey, you’re remarking. I know. The black is in that ring around my heart, the one that’s been choking me for the last 12 months. I’m going to try to release it as best I can, or at least dress it in blue. No, burnt umber, which is the colour of the tattered shorts my dad used to wear. The one’s we always made fun of.
My sister and my niece just went back home to BC after being here for a two-week visit. It was fairly spontaneous, their visit, and I think we just needed to be together, the four of us siblings. As this anniversary approaches we needed to just be around the only people who understand what it means to lose our father.
Did I ever tell you that my dad was a sailor? He was in the Navy for four years, during Viet Nam, and his stories from that time are amazing. Funny, revealing, poignant – my dad had an arsenal of tales from that time, and the experience made him very uniquely who he was.
My younger sister has a nautical tattoo planned to honour him: a sepia-toned image of an antique navigational map. It will be a map of the area in the Pacific that he sailed. It will have a compass on it, and perhaps a word or two.
I think it will be a beautiful tattoo, and I can’t wait for her to get it.
I think it is a good idea to trade the grief I’ve been wearing for something a little less confining. Something that helps replace sadness with love and honour; something that reminds me of my dad but will make me smile instead of cry.
For sailors, swallows represented the approaching land and the end of a journey. Traditionally, sailors would tattoo one swallow for every 5,000 miles that they sailed. I don’t know exactly how many miles my dad actually sailed, but in four years it was probably quite a few.
I’m starting with two swallows, and I feel lighter already.
Happy New Year.