Yesterday was the public memorial service for my father-in-law. More than 300 people turned out to pay their respects and remember a wonderful, brilliant and complex man. G spoke about her dad, as did a number of other family members and friends. As she talked about her memories with Felix, K-Man and I hung out in the back of the synagogue and listened (well, I listened, K talked to G quietly: “Hi, Mommy!”). When she finished, I started thinking about the special relationship that K-Man had with his Papa, and how we now have to protect their bond and the memories.
Like all parents, I think my kid is the greatest ever. He’s funny, smart, creative, athletic and a fantastic pain-in-the-ass! (The perfect combination) In Felix’s passing, however, I have developed an even greater respect for K-Man. He seems to truly understand what’s going on. He seems to truly understand that his Papa is gone. And, he seems to truly understand that it’s important to remember all the good times they had together.
When Felix was admitted to the hospital, we told K-Man that, “Papa is very sick.” From that day forward, K-Man would ask us if Papa was still sick. He would ask us if he could see him. Because we felt the hospital would be too scary for K-Man, we didn’t want to take him to visit his Papa, but we did continue to explain as truthfully as we could what was happening to his Papa. When Felix passed, G explained that to K-Man.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I searched the Internet, which was fairly consistent in its advice: Be straight with the kid. Don’t sugarcoat. Be direct and explain what happened. They all said that toddlers may not understand what you’re saying, but in the long run, this is the best way to handle it. This is exactly what we did.
The thing is – K-Man seems to understand exactly what happened. He doesn’t ask where Papa is anymore. He doesn’t ask if he’s still sick. He now refers to “Nana and Papa’s House” simply as “Nana’s House.” This, of course, is as heartbreaking as anything else, but it’s also amazing how it helps us all heal during what remains a tremendously difficult time.
Watching the video of K-Man playing the piano with his Papa brings smiles to everyone. Having friends and family continue to tell G and me that Felix never stopped talking about K brings smiles to us. Listening as K hums the lullaby that Felix wrote for him…well, that’s simply amazing.
I know I’ve written quite a bit about Felix in the last couple of weeks. And, chances are good that I’ll write even more. As I’ve said, there’s something about death that provides a renewed clarity in life. It’s our responsibility to grab on to this clarity with the tightest grip possible and take it with us wherever we go.
During the service yesterday, K-Man and I spent most of the time running up and down the stairs leading to the balcony. We jumped. We climbed. We ran. We played hide and seek. We honored Felix by expressing our joy. We kept our perspective.
Someone said to me, “I wish we were coming together on a day that isn’t so sad.” I said, “You know…I think today is a pretty happy day. It’s a real celebration.” It was. Felix would have liked it. He would have been proud to know that hundreds of people turned out to say, “See ya later.” He would have been proud to watch K-Man play. And, he really would have been proud of his daughter.
But now, as the final, formal celebration of Felix’s life has concluded, it’s up to us to keep his memory alive each and every day. It won’t be hard to do. It will be a privilege. An honor. And, mostly, we will be reminded about a special bond shared between two people from vastly different generations and experiences. We will be reminded about the kid and his Papa. A relationship that, despite its brevity, will leave an indelible mark on all of us.
Finally, Felix…Rest in Peace.