Family & Education

I’ll be missing Dad this Sunday

Sarah Ebner's beloved father died in October- so Father's Day with her children will be bittersweet


It’s Father’s Day on Sunday and, for the first time I can remember, I won’t be buying a card or seeing my dad. A lot has changed in the world since last Father’s Day, but the most seismic event for me took place last October. That was when my wonderful dad, Henry, died.

It’s all the more complex because, of course, my children will mark Father’s Day with their dad (my husband). It’s a day we can’t ignore and I’m expecting an odd combination of celebration and mourning.

I had never previously thought of how hard it must have been for Henry when Father’s Day came around. Perhaps that’s due to my own selfishness, or perhaps it’s one of those things you never consider until your circumstances change. His own father, Berthold (for whom I named my son, Robert), died just a few weeks after my older brother was born, and it must have been very painful to see the Ebner children grow up without their grandfather.

I was always something of a daddy’s girl and saw my father as a true role model. He was an honourable man who was full of integrity, but always had a twinkle in his expressive brown eyes. I probably couldn’t grasp all of that when I was a child, but I was aware that he was the kind of man who absolutely knew right from wrong, had a brilliant sense of humour (including an infectious laugh) and a temper which could blow up and quickly dissipate (something I definitely inherited). I also thought (correctly, of course) he was the most handsome father of all.

He bathed us, played football and cricket with us in the garden and took us on many wonderful family holidays. I remember him navigating canals in Shropshire, helping with our fishing nets in Devon, and driving us across Europe in our trusty Volvo. He was interested in politics, history, theatre, reading and sport, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of them all. What a pleasure he was to talk to, and how I miss those conversations.

Henry was an only child and his family was incredibly important to him, firstly his wife — our mum Ann — then the three of us and more recently our own children. My father was a fantastic grandfather, with a warm, special relationship with each of his seven grandchildren. He hadn’t known his own grandparents (who’d died in the Shoah), and it was clear how much family meant to him.

The pandemic meant our time together over his final year was truncated. I can’t remember the last time he came to our house, but we Zoomed together for Friday night meals and he very much enjoyed hearing my son bench. Our Zoom Seder was surprisingly good fun and I took to having a chair in the back of my car so I could visit, sitting across the road from him. I also rang more often, worried he would be lonely. I don’t think he was, as he kept himself extremely busy, but he missed the theatre, travelling and friends.

Last Father’s Day was surreal. We popped round to visit, and sat chatting to him outside while wearing masks. It didn’t cross my mind that the Covid-19 Father’s Day of 2020 would be the last we would spend together, but I know that must be true of many families. The past year has created a sense of collective loss.

My father did not die of coronavirus, but, when he went into hospital, the virus prevented my siblings and me from being allowed to see him while he deteriorated. We had a small funeral after he died, and online shivas (which meant his cousins from around the world could join us).

I have been very grateful for the wise souls who set up Zoom Shabbat as it has given me, and hundreds of other people, support and solace. I began attending when my dad deteriorated (although he was still very much “with it”), and added his name to the Refuah Shlema list, so the community could pray for him.

Since Dad died I have attended Zoom Shabbat weekly. It is a beautiful, egalitarian service and anyone present is invited to say the name of the person they are saying Kaddish for. It makes it very special and strangely illustrates how a person still very much matters, even though they are no longer present. I will be saying Kaddish for my dad this Shabbat and on Sunday, (once again) remembering how lucky I was to have him. After all, how couldn’t I think of the best father on Father’s Day?

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