I was standing in a wide-open space all alone and there was a feeling of serenity with almost nobody else around. The birds were chirping and there was a big old, beautiful tree in front of me. Speaking to myself felt very strange in the first few minutes and I wondered if this is what other people do. What is ‘normal’ for others who stand by their loved one’s grave sites. How does one become accustomed to the lack of contact if ever?
I came to visit my dad to honour his birthday, but I was around one month late. The last few weeks I had been consumed with my daughter’s bat mitzvah.
12 years earlier, she entered the world, just 40 minutes after his birthday. He had a big Shabbat dinner at his home and the family were all together, eagerly waiting for the news of my first born.
When he was alive, I had asked him if we could have a big party to celebrate her milestone event, her entry into Jewish adulthood, right on his birthday. As I suspected, he said it would be an absolute honour, but little did any of us know that 2 years later he would not be with us to share in her simcha.
Who would have predicted that we would be wearing masks every time we leave the house and that we would not be able to dance horras in 2020? That we would be limited because of this horrendous Corona virus. That a pandemic could be so powerful to sweep the world with millions of positive cases and deaths, that it would create such high unemployment rates, spikes in suicides and massive changes to the way we live our lives. Dad you would hate living under these conditions. Your seven grandchildren meant the world to you and you would be worried about their welfare all the time. They have been learning online for six months now, stuck indoors, and it is sad that they cannot have ‘normal’ social contact with their friends.
Under the current restrictions they are permitted to get out for a one hour walk or bike ride a day with a friend. You would not be able to go and visit them or be near them as you would be in the high-risk category for Corona because of your age and your sickness. I would not be able to see you either. That would be so hard for both of us, but it has become the norm now for everyone in this situation unfortunately. What you loved most was spending time with people and before you became unwell it was the going joke how many ‘pop in’s’ you could squeeze in one day. Right now, we are robbed of any social visits. You would be so bored. On ‘shpilkes’. It is what it is you would say.
Most Friday nights we schedule a zoom with the rest of the family to do the tfillot. I line up for the best challa in town and make sure that everyone has it delivered to them in time for dinner. You treasured seeing us all at the end of the week and catching up over a beautiful meal. Whilst it’s definitely not the same as being together in our dining room, we have become accustomed to this new way of life and it’s become almost second nature by now. You were always late to dinner but with zoom it is quite easy dad, all you need to do is turn your laptop on and show up.
As I stood in the cemetery, I got into the rhythm of speaking out loud and I continued to just blurt it all out.
I am sorry I did not get here earlier but I was so busy with the bat mitzvah. We were limited with the COVID-19 restrictions, but we were incredibly lucky that it fell in June between the 2 periods of total lockdown, and we made it special. On the Friday night, we had the most magnificent Shabbat dinner at home. We made some beautiful touches to the evening that gave it that real Yiddishkeit. You would have loved it so much. There was a warm feeling of connection, history, Judaism, tradition, love, and of course good Israeli food. We had speeches from young and old members of the family, a musician performed Israeli and English classics and then there was some spontaneous Israeli line dancing. I really felt you in the room that night.
I wished you could have seen our bat mitzvah girl when she delivered her dvar Torah. She was so mature, and she presented her learning in such a smart and thoughtful way. You would have been oozing with such naches. I cannot believe our little girl is now a Jewish woman. She is so tall you would not recognise her.
The following day was your birthday and we were originally meant to have a big bat mitzvah party in the city but because of COVID-19 restrictions, we had to cancel and improvise. Timing in life is everything. In some way I was comfortable with doing something else at home and more low-key.
The Rabbi and Chazan from our Shule kindly came over to our place when Shabbat ended, and they performed a beautiful Havdalah service. It was a very spiritual evening with close family. Our bat mitzvah girl held the candle so high. We are told that means she may have a very tall husband in the future. As everyone’s voices permeated the living room, I thought of you on so many levels. It was your birthday and I desperately wanted you to be there. This was what you got so much enjoyment from. Your grandchildren, tradition, it was everything to you. Tears welled up in my eyes and I could not stop myself from crying. I could not hide it.
I could hear your whisper in my ear, telling me to pull myself together. It is her special day. Do not worry about me. You never wanted any fuss. Even toward the end when you were so sick. You had this remarkable attitude. Always so positive and interested in others, even in your darkest moments. That is a quality we all admired, and we are trying to instil in our children.
After Havdalah, 15 of her closest friends were invited over. They all went to so much effort to make her bat mitzvah special during this challenging time. The speeches and videos they prepared conveyed how they find her to be funny, smart, thoughtful, quirky, and kind. They ran through the house and enjoyed the mini disco we set up in the rumpus room.
Celebrations continued the next day with more friends and family who popped in all day and night as it was the actual day of her birthday. It reminded me of my own childhood, with old school discos, good friends, family speeches, videos, cakes, and all at home on a small scale.
I think you would agree if you were here that there are some silver linings to COVID-19. Although we did not get to have the weekend we had initially planned, our bat mitzvah girl never complained once, handling it with absolute maturity and resilience. It was a busy weekend filled with a mix of functions. She loved every second of it as did I. We try to teach her what is most important in life. Everything she was surrounded by during her bat mitzvah weekend said it all.
It has been 18 months since you passed away and yet it feels like a lifetime. Every day we talk about you, I think about you or something will remind me of you.
I know you want me to stop talking already. It is enough. I always spoke too much when you were alive and now standing in front of you, nothing much has changed. You want me to leave the cemetery, get back to the kids and look after them. To tell them that you love them and never to forget you. Do not worry. That will not happen. Until next time…

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Shelley Kline
Shelley Kline was on LaunchPad in 2015. This led to her involvement with the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH). She is involved with the Foundation and she is a member of the President’s Fundraising Network and the Auxiliary Executive Committee (AEC). She is passionate about involving young children in new forms of philanthropy. For the last 3 years, Shelley has co-chaired the Mt. Scopus Annual Giving Appeal. She has 3 young children and is married to Adam.

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