By Stephanie Kepke Kaplan, Boys, Dogs And Chaos
I was meeting with a party decorator a few days ago, when she told me that the bug behind me wasn’t “a biting mosquito.” When I looked up and saw a crane fly on the wall, I got chills. The night that my father passed away we were saying Kaddish outside on my parents’ deck when I noticed a crane fly on the rail. It just sat there through the entire minyan and then appeared in the kitchen. My brother killed it – much to my dismay – but when another one appeared in the same spot moments later, I couldn’t help but believe that it was my father. I know that sounds odd, but after my father passed away, I became a believer in a different kind of “spirituality” (for lack of a better term). And, when I saw that crane fly above me, I couldn’t help but believe that my father wanted to be a part of my Bar Mitzvah planning.
Before you dismiss my words as a bunch of new age hoo-ha, I need to explain that I am not the type that ever believed in hearing from those beyond the grave. Before my father passed away, I figured, “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” But, so many things happened (more on one amazing experience at my niece’s Bat Mitzvah in a bit) and so many people have shared their stories with me of departed loved ones who appeared in the most unexpected ways, that I had to believe that the spirit hangs around for a while.
Back to that crane fly: my father played a huge part in planning my niece’s Bat Mitzvah, which took place four weeks after his death. He went to every vendor with my sister and helped stuff envelopes. He shopped for dresses and put together the women’s head coverings. He had suffered a stroke several months before and all of this kept him busy and engaged. My mother and my sister had met me at the decorator’s and a moment after they left, the crane fly appeared. When I explained its significance to the decorator, she believed me and even shared her own similar experience.
Whether I’m right or wrong, it was comforting to feel that he was there, just like he was for my sister. No doubt, he was giving his opinion – I was hoping to make my own centerpieces (read DIY or Not to learn about my grand plans for craftiness and how most of them fell apart), but I am running out of time and the logistics are just too daunting – how can I possibly set up centerpieces the morning of the party? Honestly, I have no idea. I think my father was telling me to just let go of the stress and use a professional decorator, budget be damned.
So, if my father made an appearance during the planning stages, I am sure he will be at the party. That brings me to that amazing experience that I mentioned earlier. My niece lit a candle for my father at her Bat Mitzvah – after she blew out all of the candles, my father’s candle relit. A guest at the party recorded the candle lighting ceremony and caught the moment on tape. It is truly extraordinary to watch and is proof that he was there in spirit. Since my own son’s Bar Mitzvah is only 6 weeks away, I have been thinking of ways to incorporate my father’s memory, as well. D will wear my father’s tallit. My mother was planning on burying my father in it, but right before the funeral, we decided that not only would he want D to wear it, but this way a piece of him will be on the bimah with D. D will also light a candle and we can only hope for a repeat of my niece’s Bat Mitzvah.
Based on my informal facebook poll, lighting a candle and reciting a poem ranks among one of the most popular ways to commemorate a loved one – for good reason; it’s simple and it lets all of the guests reflect for a moment, as well. Other ideas mentioned include wearing the loved one’s tefillin (small black leather boxes containing parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah and worn during weekday morning prayers) the week before the Bar Mitzvah; incorporating a loved one’s favorite food or color during the celebration; playing a loved one’s favorite song; holding a moment of silence in remembrance and my favorite – including pictures in the montage of the Bar Mitzvah boy / Bat Mitzvah girl with a loved one who has passed away.
I have already collected many pictures of D and his grandfather for the montage. I know that when it plays there won’t be a dry eye in the house. I know this, because I, along with many other guests, cried our eyes out during my niece’s montage, featuring pictures of her and my father. Our grief was raw, because it was only a month after my father’s passing. Even six months later though at D’s Bar Mitzvah, it will still elicit a tear. But, that’s a good thing – having a simcha after a tragedy is always bittersweet and by letting our tears flow and taking a moment out of the celebration to honor those who have passed away, we keep them present not only in the moment, but in our hearts always.
A special thank you to Janine W; Sandey P; Amy M and Chari N for sharing your ideas.
A Reader Responds
“I just wanted to respond to this week Mitzvah Diaires, a biting mosquito. I was reading it with tears in my eyes thinking of my father. He passed away three months to the day before my wedding. And just like Stephanie, there were signs he was with us. During the wedding ceremony, a big pot of flowers fell over. I didn’t even realize but my aunt told me later, it was my father showing his presence.
I had moved into a new apartment before he passed away, but he never got to see it. Well one day i was doing dishes and there was one bubble that wouldn’t go away. It floated thru every room of that apartment. I always felt it was him coming to see the apartment. We also had a small mat by the kitchen sink with a picture of cactus. My husband and I did not notice until after my dad was gone that the cactus were shaped like letters of his name JAY. He was watching over us.
My youngest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah is just 5 weeks away and although she did not know her grandfather, I know we will feel him looking down on us and watching.”
About Stephanie Kepke Kaplan
Stephanie Kepke Kaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. Before kids she was an arts reporter, covering the Boston music and cultural scene (even though she is a born and bred Long Islander, she lived in Boston for nine years and her first son was born there). Now, she blogs at Boys, Dogs and Chaos (about life with – you guessed it – three boys and two dogs) and Mitzvah Mom. She is also working on a novel about a PTA mom. She has also written for Long Island Parent magazine.