Yahrzeit

Harris Lee Wittels. April 20, 1984 — February 19, 2015

Harris’ last show at Meltdown, February 18, 2015. Photo by Tyler Ross.

I think about the day a person dies, how the morning is just a morning, a meal is just a meal, a song is just a song. It’s not the last morning, or the last meal, or the last song. It’s all very ordinary, and then it’s all very over.

The space between life and death is a moment.

Last February 19th was a day like any other. I took some photos of my baby flipping through a book called Lost Beauties of the English Language. I made coffee, drove to work, taught my students, ate some lunch. I noted the beautiful day. I drove to meet my family at speech therapy. After my daughter’s session, I changed her diaper like I’d done a thousand times before.

All the while, you laid lifeless on a rug a thousand miles away, and I had no idea. Until I got the call, I had no idea. In one moment you were alive, and in the next, you weren’t. That fast. In one moment, I was myself, and in the next, I wasn’t.

Because a huge part of me is you.

And, while it was over for you in a moment (at least I hope it was that fast), it will remain alive in me for hundreds of thousands of future moments. I am forever changed by something that happened to you in a moment.

The Greeks called it a peripeteia: a sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances; a point of no return.

I wonder what led up to your point of no return.

I wonder about the first thing you thought when you opened your eyes that morning.

I wonder what you ate for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner. I hope one of them was Chili’s nachos. Or a plate of melted string cheese. Or the chocolatey bottom of a Drumstick.

I wonder what Phish or Alkaline Trio or Islands songs you heard while driving in your black car with the windows down, smoking a cigarette, wearing your Ray Bans.

I wonder what jokes you typed on the notepad of your iPhone.

I wonder if you watched any adorable videos of your niece and, if so, which ones.

I wonder what plans you made for later that day and for tomorrow.

I wonder what you thought about before you did the thing that changed all of us forever.

I wonder if, despite the bruise on the inside of your arm, you were happy.


I see your friends’ lives moving on online. I see proposals, weddings, babies. Things for which you would have been there. Things you’ll never have the chance to do. God, it hurts. These are the things that pile up inside of me.

And then, suddenly, it’s 11:30 on a Sunday night, and I’m standing in the bathroom, steadying myself on the counter, wailing about how bad it hurts. These sorts of messy, guttural explosions are less frequent over time, which is helpful. They use up so much energy. There would be none left.

Mostly, I’m learning to live with the feelings. When I do cry, it’s usually alone with the door closed. I know how to breathe through the sobs so only silent tears pour down my face. It’s not that I don’t want to feel the feelings. I don’t mind feeling the feelings. I welcome them, in fact. I just don’t know what else to say about them. I don’t know how to talk about them anymore. My brother is gone. He’s never coming back. And, it sucks. And, it hurts. And, it will always hurt. And, that’s just the way it is.

Thank God I have Iris. And Mike. And Mom. And Dad. And Wiley, the Dog. And my friends. And my students. And the Sun. And the Sky. And the ability to Laugh.


Today, a Yahrzeit candle will sit on our kitchen counter and burn brightly in memory of you. We will light a Yahrzeit candle in your honor every year on this day. And, every year, when the candle burns out twenty-four hours later, it will be my birthday. And, every year, that cruel juxtaposition will remind me that life is moving on without you.

Rest assured, while the candle only burns for 24 hours, your light will continue to burn inside me every minute of every day of every year for the duration.

Your light will continue to burn inside all who loved you.

In your death, you are light.

זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה