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my dad had a pet dinosaur

02/29/2024 11:58:24 AM

Feb29

Karen Wisialowski, Chief Community Officer

My dad had a pet dinosaur that would follow him to school. He could make a mouse from a handkerchief and it would come alive when he let us pet it. He went bungee jumping when he was 70 years old. And, this past year, he made a wire elephant with wings instead of ears. My dad had a sense that anything was possible. I learned from my dad that when you let your inner child thrive, you bring joy to the world.

My father, Joel Shore, was 90.7 years old (a family joke) when he died a month ago. He had made a good life with a successful career and a 68-year marriage. His children and grandchildren are making their ways in the world. And, he was able to enjoy two great grandkids, both lights for the future. He was kind, creative, and funny, and lived every moment fully.

We are not a particularly spiritual family. Yet, we felt fully embraced and nurtured by our Jewish traditions. A couple of days before the funeral, Rabbi Josh Bennett (Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, Michigan) came to my sister’s living room in Ann Arbor where the entire family was together. We shared stories. We laughed. We cried. For me, that morning was the most palpable and healing experience in those first few days.

Rabbi Josh miraculously turned our cacophony of stories into a beautiful narrative about my dad’s life. He painted a picture of a life well-lived, one that was full of joy and love and meaningful relationships.  

My sister’s friends wrapped us in a loving embrace. They set up chairs. Offered extra beds for out-of-towners. Brought food. And more food. Bagels and tuna fish for days! Even as I was being cared for in Ann Arbor, I appreciated PTS, where caring and kindness is one of our core values.

Rabbi Feder, Cantor Kliger, and many others from PTS reached out, just as they had been doing for the week prior when my father was in the hospital. Rabbi Josh Whinston and Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut (Temple Beth Emeth, Ann Arbor, Michigan) both led meaningful shiva minyanim. Rabbi Alban called to check in. I texted with Rabbi Molly. Rabbi Delson drove from Toledo in a snow storm to be at my father’s funeral. My hug from Rabbi Delson was a beautiful thing. 

In these first few weeks, my siblings and I have been amazed and touched by how many beautiful cards, letters, and emails we have received. With each one, I have had a moment of being with my dad. Thank you to the PTS community for flooding my inbox with love.

Grief is a bit confusing for me now. In the first week, we were so busy talking about my dad, helping my mom, being together, and making arrangements that grief seemed to be an action. Something tangible. Now, I am 2,300 miles away, back at work, and busy handling confusing estate matters. It is harder to grieve actively. 

Fortunately, Judaism’s timeline of mourning seems wise to me. I have been given a whole year to find moments of memory and connection to help keep my father’s spirit alive. 

In his memory, I am trying to be kind and choosing to be present, two of his great superpowers. This Shabbat, I will light a candle and say a prayer of gratitude for having the best dad ever.  I am also recommitting to all of my communities that I will be ready to be there for you when the communal embrace will make a difference. 

At one of the shiva services, Cantor Regina read the following poem. I hope that it speaks to you as much it has to me.

THESE THINGS I know:
how the living go on living
and how the dead go on living with them

so that in a forest
even a dead tree casts a shadow
and the leaves fall one by one

and the branches break in the wind
and the bark peels off slowly
and the trunk cracks
and the rain seeps through the cracks
and the trunk falls to the ground
and the moss covers it
and in the spring the rabbits find it

and build their nest
inside the dead tree
so that nothing is wasted in nature
or in love.

Tue, April 23 2024 15 Nisan 5784