Our winter was heavy with mourning for Jay’s dad. After so much worry during Mel’s illness I don’t quite know what I expected, but it wasn’t the yawning hole, where all that energy continued to churn in me, suddenly without purpose. Thinking, again and again, “Oh I really need to…” and then falling short. Because I really don’t need to, and in fact I can’t. Mel is gone, and the only care and attention we can give him is in our hearts, or with others who loved him. That’s a lot, but it does not always feel like enough.

It’s strange and unflattering, I think, that in trying to process my father-in-law’s passing I think so much about myself. I can barely string together a thought about him before I’m dwelling on some worry of my own, big or small. But as Yoda might say, dwelling on myself I am.

I feel discombobulated. Often. Seeing baby-faced 37-year-old Mayor Pete Buttigieg declare he’s running for president made me feel old, sure. But taking in the news that a gay, veteran, Christian, midwestern mayor is polling 3rd in the democratic polls kind of splits my head open. Never mind that it’s early days in the election. But hearing the conversations going on around Pete, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others make me realize that I do not, any longer, know what is possible, or realistic, or pragmatic. The next generations are going to save us, I hope, and the best I can do as a middle-age-guy is listen, and follow along with the best of these new leaders and ideas.

It seems inappropriate that at the loss of someone in their 80s, but I feel old and lost at 55. Denial or avoidance? Yes. Also maybe some of it is flashbacks of Mel’s increasing feelings of being at sea in the world. As he came to face dying, Mel seemed to shrug off quite a lot, as if saying “Huh, I’m not sure why this is what I used to worry about, but it’s not important now.” Toward the end his focus was just on who was with him, and what was happening right in the room. Even when he stopped speaking, his smiles were magnificent. Radiant. His loss has me thinking about everything that we eventually lose, which I guess is just about everything.

Firmly rooted in me somewhere are so many things that are no longer really relevant to my current world. The kid deathly afraid of being beat up if anyone discovered what I really thought about. The young adult who was told, by a kind and well-meaning college counselor, that education might not be a plausible career for a gay man looking to make his way in the world. The me desperate to please, who grabbed onto school, and being “good,” as if my life depended on it. I try to give these old selves some credit. It worked! I made it to adulthood, even thrived. But when my kids announce that they hate reading, or get in trouble for ganging up on the girls, or I hear what new and successful businesses are doing, I have to admit that many of my old, instinctive ways are ready to go. It doesn’t make any sense to try and bend them into the paths I followed.

Grief also has me thinking about what I want to keep. Passover and Easter are coming, and over the weekend I finally, at the very last minute, turned to scanning and fixing a few things about the Haggadah Mel put together that the Stowsky family used for years for their Passover Seder, and which we still use every year. Being a nerd in elementary school I know how the mimeographs on which this thing must have been created worked, and marvel at how painstaking his work was to cut and paste the drawings and typed text into the beautiful book he made. But I think somewhere toward the end he ran out of steam as one does on these projects; there are a few long sections I can’t follow, and we skip over them. So in addition to making more copies and cleaning up a few of the transitions, Jay and I agreed we’d make some additions. Add a reference to the welcoming chair and glass for Elijah, and the 36 times the Torah says Jews must welcome the stranger. Pledge to stand in support of those who do not yet have a place to call home. These are things I think Mel would approve of heartily.

So it’s not all the old ways I want to let go of. The beauty of a book handed down for celebrating spring and freedom should stay. The kindness and silliness we remember and celebrate in Mel. The decency, civility, and equality some are trying to bring back into our consciousness and culture.

The winter of grief has offered me a chance to look back at all my decisions and values, and see what I want to nurture now. My prayer is that I’ll be strong enough, and wise enough, to leave the things I no longer need behind, and keep the good close to my heart, bringing it forward.

Remembering Melvin Meyer Stowsky, 1931 – 2019