Apparitions in Our Lives


Mr. Kates

I was heartened some weeks ago by Mr. Nickolai’s story during Chaplaincy about the camaraderie that he and his dad developed while watching the Superbowl over the course of many years. These memories have taken on new meaning since his dad’s passing last year. 

I have similar remembrances of times with my mom, who died nearly 20 years ago. Sad as I am not to be able to spend time with her, I am much more sad about the people who she never met and the events that she couldn’t attend.

Unfortunately, we all need to deal with the loss of our family and friends. I hope that Priory students won’t have to experience this for many decades, but it will happen eventually. We need to find catharsis, or healing, to get through these difficult times.

For me, that catharsis comes from writing memoirs in poetry. In “It’s OK To Cry, Anne,” I responded to a few poems by Anne Sexton about the deaths of her parents.

It is disingenuous to pronounce that the dead ‘lost their battle’ with cancer or heart disease or any other malady. Their spirit is not wrecked by mortality. It is the living who mourn, afflicted with aloneness.

When the time comes, I wish that you too will find healing in writing, talking with loved ones or religious leaders, listening to or playing music, exercise (playing sports, hiking, dancing), or countless other ways.

Soon after mom died, I started writing almost every day for nine months. I realized that I had enough material for a book (my “baby”) and could share it with family and friends.

My mom was an oral teacher of the hearing impaired. (She actually studied at the Central Institute for the Deaf at Washington University in the 60s.) While she was ill with metastatic breast cancer, we received packages of cute get-well cards from elementary students at her school. 

And then it hit me: Think about all of the young kids with profound hearing loss who will never meet her, who will never be helped by her. I was lucky to know her for more than 25 years. What about those for whom she is simply an apparition?

My wife never met her mother in law. At our wedding ceremony, I was suddenly overcome with sadness. The proceedings, decorations, and audience were so beautiful. Here’s the first section of a poem “In Wonder” that I wrote about the wedding.


As I walk down the aisle

I can not control the feeling that

Something is missing,

As I whimper.


The beauty of the music,

Lyrical wedding marches:

Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,”

Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,”

Clarke’s “Trumpet Voluntary.”



The iridescent white of the chuppah, the ballroom,


Pure and soft as the wedding dress, her laced curtains.


She would have loved this,

And she is not here.


Mom would have enjoyed meeting attendees, both known and unknown. Nonetheless, she was but a framed apparition in the wedding hall foyer, outside the main event.

Now, I am blessed to have a son who just turned four. I tell him that this piece of furniture or that book belonged to his grandmother. We have watched a photo compilation video from her funeral reception. 

I wrote the poem “Completing the Circle” after my first book was published (which shares the same title). My maternal grandparents never got to meet their grandkids. That side seems to have bad genes (or luck), but lately those relatives are living longer.


And here we are

Completing the Circle

Again + again.


Mom often said that

It’s too bad my

Grandparents never met me.


They would think me

Kind and funny.


(I have a Jewish

Sense of humor,

After all.)


And now,

Little ones,

I must tell you:


Your Grandma

Would be so

Pleased to meet you.


She would think you

Cute and kind and funny.


It’s very sad,


I know.


Perhaps one day soon I’ll take my son to his grandmother’s grave. What would he call her? And what would she call him?