No one sat on the gray speckled marble bench that adorned the family plot at the Cedar Park cemetery in Westwood, New Jersey. No names were engraved on this seated tombstone. A string of Hebrew words etched on the side of the bench read, “In memory of those who died in the Holocaust.”
From the time I was eight years old, I remember making the family’s annual pilgrimage to honor our dead ancestors. I focused only on the empty bench. My imagination soared upon visual contact.
The bench held the extended family I never met and never mourned. Each year more people joined my made-up group portrait as the stories from the past surfaced into the family's history. The cousins sat side by side waiting for the instructions from the elders about their reserved seating arrangement. I pondered their question in wonderland: Who would sit next to whom?
The dead aunt insisted on being next to the descendant that bore her name. In silence, the grandfather huddled with the grandchildren he never knew. A married couple stared into their own future and created two children licking lollipops.
After many decades, the bench disintegrated. After much discussion and conflict, we sprinkled the speckled silver marble pieces among the family graves.
Today, the spirits of those who died in the Holocaust protect the graves of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and finally my own parents. The vacuum of my descendants has been filled with memories of those we loved and lost and never knew and never mourned.