customs/rituals, death, death rituals

How Do We Remember?

Harold working as an extra in a Pepsi ad with a chimp. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold Dresser with a chimp, working as an extra in a Pepsi ad, mid-1990s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My husband, Harold Dresser, died on February 2, 2007. For the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to commemorate the occasion in a special way.

I had his name and death date engraved on a gold plated marker that hangs on a Memorial Wall inside the Alevy Chabad Center, an Orthodox Jewish place of worship here in Las Cruces. On the date of his death, the light adjacent to his name will burn brightly. Then for the rest of the month the light will merely flicker.

Recently, when I went to see the marker for the first time, the rabbi kindly turned on the light so that I could take a photo to send to my non-local offspring. Harold’s name alone stirred sorrow within me, but with the adjacent glowing light, the sadness intensified.

Harold's memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold’s memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There are many ways to remember a deceased loved one. In Cruces, I often see memorial car rear windshields as exemplified below.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Commonly, fatal auto wrecks are commemorated with floral displays and crosses at the site of the carnage.

090126 - Kennesaw - Friends and fellow students of Garrett Reed, 16 gathered at the scene of roadside memorial Monday morning, January 26, 2009 at Sylvia Drive and Midway Road where he died early Sunday morning. Drive and hit another car about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. Reed died at the scene. The other driver, Richard Reyes, 25, of Dallas, was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in stable condition, Pierce said. The wreck happened less than a mile from Harrison High School, where Reed was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Reed was the second Harrison athlete to be killed in a wreck in recent years. Luke Abbate, a junior on the school's lacrosse team, was killed, and four of his teammates injured, in a February, 2006 crash. The funeral for Reed will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at West Cobb Funeral Home. jspink@ajc.com

Back to the Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle (Yahrzeit candle)  that burns for 24 hours marking the death date. But with my night prowler cat, Sweetie Beattie, it is dangerous having an unattended burning candle while I sleep, so I have switched to an electric one that does the job safely.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

What are the ways in which you memorialize a deceased loved one? I would like to know and share the information with others.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist feeling sad at this time of the year.

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18 thoughts on “How Do We Remember?”

  1. Aww that’s a heartwarming story about your Harold. For us it’s not the death date but rather celebrating on Dia de los Muertos. I remember my dad taking my older brother and I as kids to the cemetery in Juarez to sweep and clean up the tombstones and light candles (veladoras) on them.. Then we’d break out a picnic on lawn chairs at the gravesite if the weather permitted; otherwise we’d eat in the car nearby. My dad would sing songs that my deceased grandparents used to like while my brother and I played around with a top or yoyo or a pirinola (similar to a dreidel) that we would spin. I stopped doing it as a young adult but have the memories.

    1. That’s a sweet memory, Yolanda. I also celebrate Harold on Dia de los Muertos. One year, thanks to my friend, Denise Chavez, I had a friend help me make a suitcase shrine to him during that celebration.

  2. Oh dear Norine, my heart is with you as you acknowledge this anniversary of your sweet Harold’s passing. I’m coming up on the second anniversary of mom’s passing….which amazes me as it does not even seem like that long. After much nagging, my brother finally got her gravestone finalized and it’s been placed (3 days before her Birthday in November) so I’m planning a visit to the grave site probably in March and will have a some people there to say a few words hopefully. I’m not big on religious observances of any kind, so I remember and “memorialize” her in more of an “in the moment” kind of way….when something happens that makes me think of her which is quite often. When a friend makes a great pun, when something really wonderful happens in my life, or most recently when I had a horrid case of the flu….these are all times that bring memories of her sharply into focus.

    1. I think about your mom, too, especially when I hear or read a pun. She had a lot of impact on many of us. Mostly I think of her when I laugh, although I am still haunted by the photos you took of her as she was leaving us.

  3. It’ll be ten years that my Dad died in August. It’s strange because how different of a person I am now than then, and, it doesn’t seem like so long ago. I tend to write more about him and how I see him in me during that time of the year. Perhaps that’s my tribute.

  4. I remember Harold’s wicked sharp sense of humor, and the two of you being so kind to my son while he was in the throes of teenage wasteland behavior. That may have been 30 years ago, but it is a treasured memory. When Yahrzeits come around in our house, we tell stories about our memories, always kind ones. We save snark for other days.

    1. After death, snark takes a holiday. I remember one friend at her mother’s funeral saying, “My mom has now become St. Sylvia.” Before death, it was a different story with snark aplenty going in both directions.

  5. Yep, snark does take a holiday if we’re lucky. Thanks for your priceless wisdom all dressed up in poignant humor, and thank you for the cheer of that incredible photo of the chimp embracing Harold – always said those chimps were smart & knew a good soul when they saw one. Harold would surely love what you’re doing with your life. He’s no doubt still cheering you on just as he always did. Our own electric Yahrzeit candle has been in pretty constant use this month as we commemorate 4 family deaths: 2 grandmothers, Stu’s Dad, and my brother. Continue to inspire us, dear Wise One, as we travel the path of the unknown.

    1. The light is so powerful, isn’t it? Physically and metaphorically, it stirs us. Thanks for your comments always. You are constantly supportive of me, and I truly appreciate that. I love you and yours, N.

  6. I always learn something new from your columns, Norine. I’m sorry I never got to meet Harold, but he must have been one wonderful fellow because look at the lovely folks he left behind. He lives on through you all. Cyber hugs all around.

  7. Norine, February 2 is my Dad’s birthday. I have been recuperating from a broken ankle since October, a long ordeal. My sons are the lights that reflect my father’s soul. Susie Fein

  8. Yes, I remember your dad’s birth date. He was such a sweet man and my favorite uncle. He liked to tease me because when I was around 6 I turned his market in to the Wonder Bread company because he didn’t carry that brand. His brothers loved him a lot and were devastated when he died at such a young age. I am happy that your boys bring you such joy — and your granddaughters, too. I hope your broken ankle heals properly so that you can resume running about. Lots of love, N.

  9. I never knew Harold but he must have been a wonderful man for you to have picked him over all the other suitors you must have had. One never looses the love for their partner no matter how long the have been dead.I put up a memorial bench for Harriet that looks directly out to the Golden Gate Bridge right on the Bay in Berkeley. I’m coming up on 19 years and when I read your blog, it brought out the sadness that is always there, usually well under the surface. Big hugs to you from me.

    1. Yes, Dan, I agree with you. We move on and continue living (that is our obligation to our families), but deep down there is a sorrow that never leaves us. Thanks for your kind understanding. Hugs right back at you! Love, N.

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