Today is the last day of Rosh Hashanah. It’s the Jewish New Year and the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. For this holiday, the meal includes apples dipped in honey, to symbolize a sweet new year. But for me, this holiday has both sweet and bittersweet memories.
My family was not particularly observant. We followed some traditions and didn’t follow others. But when it came to the holidays, we were all in. Not as much for the religious significance as for the opportunity to be together — all of us — extended and immediate family.
I remember visits to grandparents and great grandparents, aunts and uncles, where there were so many of us, we spilled out onto the street. I remember long, laughter-filled dinners with immediate family and, sometimes, friends, where every square inch of the table was covered with food; and the cooking of those meals seemed to go on for days. They were truly wonderful times and I smile every time I think of them.
Now, so many years later, it’s sort of a shock to see how few of us are left. It’s part of life, of course, and shrinking families is something we all experience sooner or later. But we’re so much more aware of it at times like this. Not that it makes me sad, I’m not sad, what it is, is more like nostalgic. Except for one memory.
It was 1987 and I’d been living in Toronto for about two years. I had booked the time off to go back to Montreal to spend Rosh Hashanah with my family. It had been booked for at least a month, maybe longer and everyone at work knew. A couple of days before I was scheduled to leave, one of the account directors came to see me. One of his clients had a new project and had asked if I could work on it.
“No,” I said, reminding him I was going home, to Montreal. He persisted and I kept saying I couldn’t. He was really relentless and eventually he wore me down. I knew my parents would be disappointed, but I also knew it was consistent with the work ethic they had instilled in me and they would understand. I called and asked them if they minded and, as I had predicted, they said they understood and assured me it was the right thing for me to do.
My dad’s birthday would have been two weeks later, on October 15. I promised them I would come home for that instead — and I immediately booked a week off.
As it turns out, I was there for my dad’s birthday. But he wasn’t. He passed away unexpectedly, on September 27, a couple of days after Rosh Hashanah.
There’s not much I regret in my life. It’s not that I haven’t screwed up. I’ve screwed up plenty. Who hasn’t? We all do. Humans aren’t perfect. We learn a lot from our mistakes, at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. So I tend not to regret making them. I focus on the lessons instead.
But this I regret.