Here’s a secret: I wear my father’s clothes every day. Not entire outfits, but a garment or two, always. I wear his striped t-shirts to bed at night, his vibrant dress socks under my boots. I’ve tailored his button-up shirts to fit me in the shoulders; I’ve removed a link or two from his bracelets. Yes, I am ashamed to admit, I have even worn his underwear. But that was only once, and, well, I happen to wear Calvin Klein briefs, too. I wear his jade pinky ring on my ring finger, and his army tag necklace never comes off my neck.
I thumb the words: MADDEN, JOHN L, #11500138, JEWISH.
Why the hell does it say Jewish? I asked my mother when she gave me this tag.
Because they had to know how to honor the dead, she replied, in case he died.
My father has been dead for one year five months and 12 days, as I write this. It was his lungs, not the army. I don’t have to check the calendar, or count, because my body knows. Each day, I think, I am not doing grief right. I am wading too slowly through this, or, at moments, too quickly, or not at all. My grief is selfish, my grief is smaller than other griefs, it is unjustified, my time for sadness is up; everybody dies, so it’s absurd to feel this bad, that my situation is unlike all others. Spoiler alert: That is grief talking, and none of this is true.
Every single day since November 2, 2015, I have asked myself that same question: How do I best honor the dead?
Because that army tag was incorrect. My father didn’t want a religious ceremony