Last month I took my girls back to New York City for 5 days for the unveiling of Dad’s grave. My unsuccessful attempt to explain the process to Lila, my 5 year old, went something like this:
Mommy: Lila, we are going to get on a plane to fly to New York next week to visit the cemetery to remember and talk about Bop.
Lila: is he just bones now? Will we see his bones?
Mommy: no, we will not see his body. But we will talk about him and remember him and look at his gravestone.
Lila: What is a gravestone?
Mommy: it is a large rock that says Bop’s name and some things about him. It says Andrew Bruce Weiss, November 20, 1931-October 23, 2010, Beloved husband, father, and grandfather, physician, and teacher. Climb high, climb far, your aim the sky, your goal the star.”
Lila: why does it say those things?
Mommy: Those are the dates that he was born and that he died. And the quote is from a gate at Williams College. That quote is on the back of the watch Nana and Bop gave me, too. He loved his college.
Lila: Can I draw on Bop’s rock?
Mommy: no, but Nana sent you some little rocks to decorate. You and Colette can paint the rocks, and we will leave them for Bop.
When we arrived at the cemetery, Lila and her cousins Madeleine and Faye (age 6) stood holding hands directly in front of the rabbi while she spoke and said some prayers in memory of my father. My brother Adam,, told a story about his memories of Dad bringing him to the hospital, where he greeted the janitor, and the nurses, and the volunteers, by name and with a huge proud grin as he introduced his kids. This memory was vivid, as his kids had demanded a detour for a bathroom break on the way to the cemetery, and the hospital was the closest safe bathroom.
I spoke about my dad, too. About how there are huge bits of him living in all of our little girls. And about our plan to name my unborn son, due in September, after him. My sister overcame her fear and loathing of speaking in public to remember Dad in a lovely way. We all held on to my Mom. Even Colette, 16 months, knew to reach out to snuggle her.
And then we returned to the Carlyle hotel on the upper east side. The event was catered by Dad’s favorite, 2nd avenue deli. He would have approved of the cured meats and cole slaw and Dr. Brown’s soda. His brother and cousin were with us. Lila looked at his brother, Larry, with astonishment. Dad and Larry were not in close touch in recent years, and she had never met Uncle Larry. His resemblance to my father was a surprise to her.
After the relatives dispersed, my brother and sister-in-law and I took a long walk in central park. We returned to a show put on by Lila, Madeleine, and Faye. It involved Colette independently dancing, Faye banging on the piano, and Madeleine directing. The directee was Lila. The white gauze shroud that had veiled Bop’s rock had been transformed to a ballerina dress, and was wrapped around Lila as a dance costume. I might have considered this disgustingly irreverent had I not been able to vividly imagine my father’s response to this. He would have laughed his guttural laugh, pulled off his glasses, and wiped tears of enjoyment out of his eyes at the absurdity of the gesture. So I did the same.