If it weren’t for my kids and now my grandchildren, I probably would never celebrate Chanukah. Mainly because this is where it stops being a happy celebration for me. I can still see this night 38 years ago burned deep into my memory, almost as vivid as the night I was there. Although no longer angry or bitter at God, I’m sure he realizes how much it hurts and how there’s still an emptiness longing to be filled.
Tonight would be the night 38 years ago that I was waiting for my dad to come home from his pharmacies, either from Baycrest or Wellesley, as we would light the Chanukah candles on the menorah together. Normally, he would be home around just after 6:30pm or so, and I would be waiting at the babysitters until he arrived and we would go upstairs to our apartment. He didn’t arrive at the babysitter’s apartment that night and I was worried by about 7:30pm.
I went upstairs to the apartment to see if anyone was home. When I got upstairs and went into the apartment, the first thing I did was call out for my dad. Of course there was no answer. I then went to look around the apartment as there were lights on, and I went into my parent’s bedroom.
That’s when I saw my father slumped over the dresser all purple with spots on his arms and legs. I didn’t know what to do and I was curious and scared at the same time, because I called out to him and he didn’t answer me. He was just slumped over. My sister walked in and saw him and all I saw was her face all horrified as she was screaming, “Daddy’s dead!” My mom got home and rushed to my sister and me holding us both. I was scared at that point because I was rushed back to the babysitter with my mom asking if I would be able to stay the night. I just wanted to see my dad. My mom said I could see him in the morning. I held onto that hope as my dad was not dead at the time, like my sister thought.
Morning came and I was anxious to see my dad as my mom came to get me. We went upstairs to our apartment and I saw all of the mirrors covered. My mom and my sister sat me down and told me that “daddy was not coming back” and is in Heaven. I was in disbelief and I wanted to see him. My sister told me we couldn’t because he died in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even allowed to go to the funeral to say goodbye.
Chanukah at that moment turned from joyous celebration to emptiness and bitterness for me. I felt shut down. As time passed and anger swelled, I eventually stopped lighting the menorah. Chanukah lights got replaced by a Yahrzeit Candle. Somewhere inside of me is a 7-year old that wants his dad. The one Chanukah gift that I can never have.