• Letters to my father

    The morning I was born you held my hand. The morning you died 

    I held your hand. What’s left to forgive? – Peggy Shumaker

    You went into hospice nine days after your 64th birthday. We didn’t know that day, eating chocolate mousse in celebration. But you knew. When you called me close with a crook of your finger, whispered in my ear that you wanted to give me a kiss on the cheek for the camera. A kiss goodbye, framed on my desk, so I can look into that moment forever.

    I don’t believe in regret. But as I was returning to New York, you asked me to stay a little while longer to sing with you. I am sorry that I didn’t stay. It is the only thing I would change.

    I returned to you 10 days later. Sat at your bedside in hospice. Paced the backyard labyrinth. Slept alongside you at night, holding your hand. Prayed for you to die.

    Your death used to be my greatest fear. There has never been a daughter who loved her father as much as I love you. Of course it was inevitable — we all go sooner or later — but I did not know how to bear a life without you.

    But I am thankful that you died. Grateful. For your death was not the great tragedy; your illness was. It is the only thing I would change.

    You waited until we were alone together to go. We both wanted the same thing: for me to love you on your way out of this world in the same way you had loved me on my way in.


    *          *          *

    I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song.

    I just can’t remember who to send it to. – James Taylor

    It has been a year-and-a-half since you died. I think about you every day, talk to you every day. I see you in everything that glitters and sparkles, hear you in so much music. Now I am living in Israel, the land of our births. I see you on the balcony of your favorite hotel, think of you during every breakfast, see you in the faces of everyone you loved.

    I have written very little about you since you’ve gone. A few poems, some notes. How can you contain all the grains of sand on all the beaches and every star in the sky within a single bottle? Words have never failed so perfectly as they fail in this.

    I have handled your death with the grace of the princess you raised me to be. I have gone on in the only way you would have me do: in joy. For this my grief has been mistaken. Underestimated. As if I never cry for you. As if your loss was anything other than the astronomical chasm that has left a well within me. A well I both grieve into and draw life from. One should never underestimate me. I contain multitudes.

    I would describe my grief as a poet once did, as a panic that suddenly comes upon me. When I hear a certain song, when I read a certain poem, when I walk down a certain street, my resolve to remember you in laughter gives way to salt.

    Sooner or later, we all look back.


    *          *          *

    My father taught me that immortality isn’t about how long you live

    but about how well you love. – Cory Booker

    Yes, you are immortal. You taught me to love. Well. Myself and my fellow man. That people have the capacity for good. That love knows no bounds. That caring for one another is imperative. That money is a false god. That kindness is a kind of currency. That in being good we are as rich as sultans.

    You were the defender of the voiceless. You got kicked out of Lunardi’s grocery store for defending poor Mexican children. You hired a homeless man to clean the windows of your office. You rented out your properties to the down-and-out, no matter how many times you were burned by them. You were good. Truly good. A good that is lost on corporate America, but that makes you a god among men.

    Like a god, you live among the stars. You are Orion. Having become one again with the earth, you live on in every flower. And you live on in me. In my future children. In music and dreams, in earth and light, in miracles.


    *          *          *

    Oh mirror in the sky, what is love? – Stevie Nicks

    What I have learned from your death is that there is no death. That we go on. In joy. In song. In laughter. In light. In memories and stories and photographs. In the life of the heart. That is where you reside now, in the life of my heart. I carry you with me every day. I feel your presence unequivocally. Whether it is because you are watching over me through a cosmic window or because the energy that comprises us does not die when our bodies do — but, rather, becomes something new — I do not know. Nor does it matter. What matters is that you were good and kind, that you were full of love, and that you made me in your image. What matters is that I was loved by you. That I will always be loved by you. That because of this we are both immortal. What’s left to say?

    • This was simply, perfectly beautiful. Your love for your father is so clearly evident. How special, to have had a relationship like that. May your heart continue to heal, and may you always feel loved, even from the everafter.

      • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

      • October 16, 2013 at 8:49 am
      • Reply

      Thank you, Debra. How special to have had a relationship like that, indeed.

      • Erin McConn

      • October 16, 2013 at 9:00 am
      • Reply

      True beauty in every word spoken. You carry on his goodnes my dear friend. I see it in the way you smile and in the way you live every moment of this life. You are pure in the most honest sense. Your father must have taught you that too.. Your words give me courage, for this I thank you for sharing these lovely thoughts and writings of your father. Live on and love deeply like you continue to do and have, since the day I first met you!

    • Beautiful story with love. I just wrote the other side of this story when you hope for someone to die as their time is upon them and they are no longer themselves. Some live too long. C heck out my blog if interested.

      • Norma Liliana

      • October 16, 2013 at 8:18 pm
      • Reply

      On Sunday, as I was cleaning out some old notebooks, I discovered a prose poem you wrote about your father and a guitar. How the poem untangled in it last lines. How beautiful to read in this column what that poem never said, what it couldn’t yet say.

        • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

        • October 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm
        • Reply

        Time is amazing, isn’t it, Norma? A very pared down version of that poem actually made it into my M.F.A. thesis, which was, in large part, about my father’s illness and death. A process which started long ago in a living room in Kensington…

      • John Richardson

      • October 16, 2013 at 11:40 pm
      • Reply

      True beauty of spirit. God Bless!

        • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

        • October 17, 2013 at 3:21 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, John.

      • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

      • October 17, 2013 at 6:24 am
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      Thank you, Madge. My heart goes out to you for your mother’s plight. We should treat humans as humanely as we treat animals and give them the right to be put out of their misery when they are ready to leave this world.

    • Once again, you prove to me that you are just as pretty on the inside as you are on the outside.

        • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

        • October 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm
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        Thank you, Donald. I can thank my father, in part, for both the inner and the outer beauty. 🙂

      • Maya North

      • October 17, 2013 at 4:40 pm
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      I wish that I’d had parents that I would honor and miss the way you miss your father, but with all my heart I am trying to be the mother and grandmother who stays in my daughter and granddaughter’s hearts the way your father still lives in yours. May his memory be a blessing…

    • This was moving and beautiful. I”m so sorry for your loss, which you craft, nonetheless, into a form of continuing the relationship. Wise and true: “What matters is that you were good and kind, that you were full of love, and that you made me in your image. What matters is that I was loved by you. That I will always be loved by you. That because of this we are both immortal. What’s left to say?”

      • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

      • October 20, 2013 at 8:04 am
      • Reply

      Maya, If that is your aim I am sure you will meet and exceed it. Your daughter and granddaughter are lucky to have you.

      Judith, Thank you. I love the idea of crafting a loss into a form of relationship. It is a beautiful idea and one I know you, too, do this with those you have loved and lost.

      • Valbona

      • November 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm
      • Reply

      I cried. Then i understood what a wonderful father he was.

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