Kaddish for an Absent Father

black and white photo of empty park bench

A dear cousin of mine reunited with her father decades after he had walked away from his family. Time had healed some of the wounds, a natural balm, perhaps. Some lingered. They had a couple of years after his reappearance to learn about healing and forgiveness. He died recently, and I was struck by the challenge of saying Kaddish—such an intimate and loving prayer—when that intimacy has been severed. This is what I wrote for my cousin, in answer.

I knew you, God,
in my mother’s breath,
and her sighs
that she thought I
couldn’t hear,
late at night,
and sometimes in the evening,
when she reached for
a dish,
or a glass,
or a box
kept on a high shelf,
and the effort
of her stretch
added to the effort
of her days,
and Your name
escaped her, unbidden,
hidden by the rustle
of days and time.
She thought I didn’t hear.
But that is how
I knew You first.
She taught me
effort and stretch
and the glory of Your name,
the simple in and out of
that is awe,
and fear,
and mercy,
and love.

I knew you, God,
in my father’s absence,
a hollow presence
that became
over time
and the wheeling of stars.
Stars are impossibly
beautiful and
improbably far,
and silent,
like solitude,
or the grace
of longing.
Absence settles in,
a blanket of almost
and hoped-for.
And I could feel
You there
in its folds
and tattered edges,
and the
absence of
my father’s

And I know you God,
in this ache
of loss
that breathes through me,
this grief that
began with absence
and time,
and ends
with a single
a last
a whisper of Your

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