Mourning my Son with no Name

The flutters intensify every year as we light the last candle. Eight flames burning is the signal; the moment we start counting down the week until our baby’s birthday, three days before his death.

This year, my womb contracted wildly with the news of another boy torn from his mother too early… too violently.

I held my breath for as long as he was fighting.

I could see him in that same place, under the loving watch of angels of mercy who call themselves nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit of Shaarei Zedek.

And my soul ripped apart when I knew they had taken all the tubes and wires out, cleaned his translucent skin, and wrapped him in a blanket gently so that his parents could hold him and say goodbye.

The cries that came out of me that night 13 years ago echoed through time and shot me where the bullets made another 21-year-old a mother, a mourner, and a broken soul.

The entire country is mourning a life cut short, mourning for his family and for the children we continue to bury who are always too young. Their names are etched in stone, dotting this land with reminders of who they were and who they could have been.

My sorrow, deeply embedded in this tragedy, greased and separated slowly, as this feeling I could not escape bubbled to the surface, as the funeral procession choked through the night air and heaved.

When my firstborn died, there was no funeral. The Chevra Kadisha took his body, gave him a quiet brit and an obscure name of an angel that I won’t ever know, and waited for someone else to die so that they could walk along the procession and bury him in the mass grave set aside for fetuses adjacent to the cemetery on Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives). There was no other option, halachically and legally.

They’ve changed the law since and given people a choice.

Our nation’s baby boy was buried, having spent the same amount of time in the same NICU as the son I wanted to name Betzalel because of his long fingers I knew belonged to an artist.

They named him Amiad Yisrael and eulogized him and cried for him and marked his little grave and left me feeling shattered and lost and ugly because, as much as I want to cry for them, I can’t help but cry for me as I wait for my son’s 13th birthday to come on Sunday so that I can count three days and the light a candle for the 13 years that never were.

And I think I am crazy, and I think I am jealous and resentful and incredibly selfish, but I am not sorry or embarrassed, because if you are nodding your head right now and crying with me, then these words needed to be said so that you know you are not alone.

Burial is a grounding act.

It allows pain to dig a hole and create a space to exist — a space that can be visited or left alone, a space that contains all the complexities of broken hearts and loss.

Without the act of burial, the pain, having nowhere else to go, becomes the air all around you. The only way to escape it is to stop breathing.

I am breathing the pain of my son with no grave and feeling the jagged shards of children wrapped discreetly and taken from empty wombs and incubators. I am with them on their last journey, alone, as they tag along with another death, and I am with them as they are placed in concrete tombs with other limbs they won’t call whole. I am unmarked and unmourned, and I am decomposing as though I have never been. I am the cold breeze and the heavy cloud and the sun that can never shine as bright. I am scraped from the inside and left to watch the funeral procession create a space to mourn that doesn’t belong to me.

I am angry and hurt and afraid to tell the world how it feels because I know you might squirm and hesitate and maybe even call me selfish when you are confronted by these thoughts I’m not supposed to say out loud.

I say them anyway because I know the only way to brush this away is to hold my breath until I die.

And I don’t want to die.

My son, Betzalel son of Bracha, son of Naftali, is somewhere on that mountain together with the sons and daughters who never got a name.

And maybe Amiad Yisrael’s tiny grave is big enough and deep enough to hold the lifelong loss of parents throughout this country and tether us to the ground.

Yehi Zichronam Livracha.

*Please read the updated law regarding burial after a loss of pregnancy to be sure no one ever has to feel like they have no choice.

Source: Times of Israel

Doing Something

For 515 days, my sister and I shared my Facebook profile picture, smiling to the world from a little circle above my name. My cover photo was taken that time we went to Jerusalem and she posed with my children on Yoel Solomon Street.

515 days ago I sat down and looked through all my pictures to find one of her actively living after 22 months of watching her actively dying.

 

Now, I update the images.

Update.

My heart trembling, I write:

Changing my profile and cover picture feels like a betrayal. As if Hudis should be everywhere I am, leading me with every interaction I have online the way she walks ahead of me wherever I go. But it’s also relieving in a way like I’ve let her be my little sister again and no longer hold her above me. She’s plastered on my heart, etched on the inside of my skin…her image, a collage of the face I met when she was born, the face I kissed when she died, and every moment I saw her in between, is bright and beautiful and tucked away in the drawer of my soul where the most precious parts of me go.

My daughter is watching me closely, reading over my shoulder.

“Ima, your words…”

She kisses me gently and wipes the tear that formed when I saw that she gets me.

The night my sister died I couldn’t sleep. Words were marching across the inside of my brain, demanding I let them out. I sat up in bed and wrote my goodbye.

“I figured it out,” you said.

“I know what death is.”

It was last August, at the end of an epic summer, and you were saying goodbye.

It was in the living room – on the couches you hated and in typical fashion, you spoke bluntly and decisively about the topic most people avoided around you.

“It’s just my body.  That’s all it is.  And I am not just my body.  My body is sick…my body will die…but I am so much more than that.  I am everything else that I am, and that will never die.”

Oh, Hudis…

You are right.

You will never die.

Your body is here now – finally pain-free…finally unhooked and untethered from everything that you are…

And Hudis you are everything.

You are the strength of a thousand people…

You are the courage of one lone soldier against a mighty army.

You are the love that binds hearts together….

You are the innocence of a million children

You are the joy and laughter of uninhibited play…

You are the song that rises from the brokenhearted…

You are the notes teased from ivory keys, rising and falling with every breath you no longer need to take as you write the lyrics to the greatest song on earth…

Hudis – we will play that song…

We will add notes and harmonies and a baseline that keeps us moving forward.

We will write the stories of our heavy hearts and weave them through your lines.

We will create a bridge that connects it all and we will sing it…

And we will surely sing it too loud and too intrusively and off-key – the only way you can possibly sing a song that can never die.

Achrona, achrona chaviva Hudis.

Save the best for last.

You’ll always be the best.

It was read to her body before we took her to a hole in the ground and covered her with dirt.

We sat.

We sat in our puddles of grief and people came and tried to comfort us.

But I am not comforted by words spoken at me.

The words that comfort me fly from my fingertips, race across the screen and scream with intensity as my lips close and my heart slows and I can feel my lungs fill with life.

Still, I have to do something.

My father set up a table with a box.

Chai Lifeline.

People dropped their dollars in as they left the weeping house. Death makes you want to do something.

I sat at her computer and wrote again.

A lifeline is a rope…a chain…a ladder
thrown into the depths of hell
pulled back into a safety net
where there is air to breathe.
A lifeline is strong…sturdy…unbreakable.
A lifeline is a last hope…an only chance…a leap of faith.
A lifeline comes at a moment of despair
a moment of panic
a moment of confusion
and slows down time
so the path can be seen.
It is a painful path
a broken path
a path full of pitfalls and craters hidden under beds of green
but all along the way
the lifeline is there
ready to jump in
ready to provide a hand
ready to descend into the pit
and pull.
That is a lifeline.
Then there is Chai Lifeline.
And suddenly
there is a way to be more than
the only possible way.

I sent it to myself and printed it out.

Her name was on the top like she had written it.

from: Hudis Storch
to: Bracha Goldstein

We made copies and put it on the table with the box of money. When we got up and walked around the block we had done something.

We started living again.

But we still wanted to do something.

Hudis was determined to run the Miami Marathon for Chai Lifeline. The day she was supposed to fly out, she woke up with a fever. She took her suitcase with her to the hospital. She never made it to Miami. She made her own finish line in the pediatric oncology ward in Robert Wood Johnson and crossed it with a smile that tricked us all. She looked so alive. We couldn’t have known she only had four months left.

Two of my sisters decided to finish it for her. They started raising money before we even go up off those chairs and they ran and walked and pushed themselves harder than they ever thought they could.

I watched them and felt something stir.

I wanted to do something.

I crossed the ocean when it was a year and kissed the slab my sister lies beneath. I wrote again because I don’t know how to do anything else. This time I read it out loud and my voice shook.

I can’t fly to Miami and run. I can’t keep the picture of my baby sister in front of me always. I can’t get my revenge on cancer. I can’t dig up the dead and force the world to stop and remember my sister and all the people actively dying while we passively live on.

My older sister is running the marathon again.

I can do something.

I can write.

And I can tell you about this life and this world and the bits and pieces of who we are as we pass through. I can string words around so that you get how it feels to want to do something as you watch people who have more courage than you can imagine walk into hospital rooms, look cancer in the eye and ready their weapons to fight, no matter how many battles they may have lost.

Chai Lifeline does something.

You can too.

Support my oldest sister as she runs for my baby sister.

Please. 

Click here and donate.

“Ima, you’re writing again?”

I look up at her, knowing she will read my words one day.

“I’m doing something,” I say.

Source

This Temple Speaks for Me

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

Broken bodies stumble across the floor as sunlight beats against the windows, demanding the right to shine in this desecrated space.

Pages, soaked in the bloodred color that paints my history, rustle in the winds of hatred blowing through these trembling walls.

The temple heaves in uncontainable sorrow.

I cannot speak as the vigil gathers outside, swarming the streets with wretched grief.

Candles flicker in shaking hands. Eyes well with loss and disbelief. This is not where we were meant to gather together and remember.

I cannot speak as the graves are dug. The soil of a foreign land swallowing up vessels punctured by bullets that drained the lives held within.

I cannot speak as the world spins again and the sun knocks against my darkened heart.

I cannot speak because my tongue is bound by words too shallow to hold the depth of pain that rises from my roots and rips my carefully constructed identity down to the naked truth of who I am and who I will always be.

I cannot speak as a Jew, alone in this crowd of comforting rhetoric that leaves me feeling wrung out and dried.

I am persecuted and hated. I am thrown to the lions and left to die. I am misunderstood, mislabeled and misbelieved. I am held as a beacon and obfuscated in contempt. I am riddled with gunshots, stabbed with steel terror and run over with crushing rage.

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

This temple speaks for me.

 

 

Paused.

It is ugly, this beauty.

It aches in a way that tastes of bile.

The light reflecting off the wall shines a spotlight on the pain…the empty feeling where feeling should be…her presence missing from the picture.

Dusk.

The in-between.

Where the day is and isn’t.

Starting and beginning…the pause between the two.

I am paused.

She was just here…with me.. this exact spot only yesterday three years ago.

Paused.

She paused.

And all I want is to be able to stop time from taking me away from that moment.

Disappear into the stillness

Find her holding her breath waiting for me to start the clock again.

She is missing in the space between time…missing me…the way I miss her.

Time is ruthless.

Night is falling.

It will not let me wait for her.

Letting Grief out to Play

Every year, I would sit down during the three weeks and write. I always wrote about pain and suffering, the land of Israel and the idea of redemption. I couldn’t run away from relating to the entire period so intensely and savagely.

Fearfully.

There was always an element of fear that flowed through my emotions. Maybe it was how I was raised. Maybe it was the depressing contatas I sat through every year in Camp Bnos. Maybe it was the Holocaust stories we read every Tisha B’Av. Maybe it was the song of Eicha sending shivers down my spine.

Maybe it was irrational.

Maybe it was real.

Some time has passed since I connected to this mourning period. I have sat shiva. I have ripped my clothes. I have recited kaddish at a grave. Somewhere along the way, I lost the part of me that mourned for the utopia I believed in.

Losing belief; I think that may be what I am mourning for.

***

I used to feel it.

I used to be able to touch the history of the Jewish people, to smell the burning temple, to hear the wails of mothers walking the narrow alleyways, clutching the emaciated bodies of their young. I used to have the torment that connected me to my heritage, to my land, to my people.

It’s gone now.

I buried some of it with my baby boy. Some of it slipped into the bag of my past I had to let go. I shoved a chunk of it into the dirt that encased my sister. The rest dissolved into the air around me.

Gone.

I sort of miss it.

Without it, I don’t know why I am here in this land. I am not sure where my place is among my people. I am lost in a world that doesn’t understand the unbearable weight of grief thousands of years old.

Without it, I have to view my own pain as immeasurable against the pain endured by the masses. I have suddenly become an individual with a hurt that cannot be locked in the confines of three weeks, taken out to be inspected for relatability on one day.

Without it, my grief is my own. It comes and goes as it pleases. It has no laws to follow, no schedule to keep. It pulls me back from the little joys I reach for and violently wakes me in the night.

I miss the container within the giant storage box where my grief used to lay; no different than the millions of little boxes cramped together in a collective hold. I miss the opening of the gates as the flock of grief poured up and over and pretended to make a difference for less than a month. I miss the quiet collection as the flock sunk back into the small spaces and clasped the lid shut tight.

I hate that I miss it.

I hate that it’s gone.

***

The feelings expressed above are rooted in my personal experiences. No two stories are alike, but we can find similarities in our journeys. How do you relate with the concept of mourning on Tisha B’Av? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

Quiet.

I am sitting on a flimsy plastic chair and I don’t think it can possibly hold my shaking body a second longer. My palms are sweaty. My heart is beating faster than my chest can contain it and I know I will burst.

And then there she is.

She stands on the stage. She comes up to the shoulders of her co-stars. Her eyes are huge and I can see the slightest flutter in her fingers.

I know how her tiny belly felt all day. The knots twisting inside my gut are shortening my breath and plummeting towards my toes.

I take in as much air as my lungs allow as she opens her mouth.

I am with her on that stage and I am here on my knees in the audience and I am so scared and so proud and so ready for her to blow the roof of this crowded community center auditorium away.

‘Quiet…’

And the audience is…

…because she is singing and she is looking out at them and her eyes are huge and her voice is bigger and she is Matilda and she is on Broadway and her voice is echoing through my soul and I can fly, even as my body grows numb as she pulls me closer to her and rips away from my womb with the power of a flock of birds, one million strong.

‘And though the people around me…their mouths are still moving…the words they are forming…cannot reach me anymore!’

She was in first grade and my heart was perfectly still when she stood in front of the school with a microphone in her hand and sang her little heart out. I smiled and she smiled and all the other parents smiled and she ran over to me and asked, “Did you see me? Did you hear me? Did you? Did you?”

I spun her around and told her she was a star.

She was in second grade when she skipped onto the stage and she was full of confidence and nothing could bring her down. She stopped for a moment, looked out into the crowd and said, “ooof! Shachachti!” and the whole school laughed and then they clapped and encouraged her and she looked into the wings and no one prompted her and she looked into the audience and everyone was smiling and her eyes welled up and she ran from the stage and I ran to her and nothing I could do or say could shake that feeling of shame from her shrinking little body as she swore she would never do this again.

In third grade she wouldn’t sing.

In fourth grade, she went to drama. Once a week, she trudged down the block with her head down and her shoulders slumped and came back with a straighter spine and a firmer chin. I held my breath all year and waited for her to get back up and prove to herself that she is a star.

I held my breath and prayed for her aunt to live another week so she could hear her sing.

On June 6, 2017, my beautiful baby girl got up on stage with her wobbly knees and her trembling hands and her face painted green and her mother melting a little in the audience. She channeled all her fear, planted her feet firmly on the ground so that they looked welded to the stage and opened her mouth and sang…

‘It well may be…that we will never meet again…in this lifetime…so let me say before we part…so much of me…is made of what I learned from you…you’ll be with me…like a hand print on my heart…’

My heart stopped. My eyes filled with tears and I saw my legs shaking, although I could no longer feel them.

Her voice got stronger and louder and her confidence grew and I could feel the crowd moving in towards her as she thundered up there on that stage as her star grew bright.

‘And just to clear the air…I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done, you blame me for…and none of it seems to matter anymore…’

My soul traveled across an ocean to be at my sister’s bedside.

Hold on…wait for me…

I could feel her with me and I knew she wouldn’t go until the song had been sung and she had heard it.

‘Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better…because I knew you…because I knew you…I have been changed for good…’

The audience applauded and my heart settled back into place but my soul tore a little inside.

She jumped into my arms and she caught her breath. She looked relieved and grateful and a little more like her younger self.

I sent the video and they played it for my sister and they said she heard…but I could read between the lines.

She went to bed and then to school and she was confident and sure…and then my mother called.

I hugged her tight before I left and I promised to play the loving goodbye messages she recorded on my phone, but just in case, I sent them ahead and made sure they were played into my sister’s ear.

‘I love you so much. I’m going to miss you.’

I arrived on June 8, 2017. My phone rang and they put me on video and I told her I’d be there soon and please don’t go and she didn’t.

At 7:00pm we pulled up to the house and I leapt from the car and I ran up the stairs and I stormed into the room and I wrapped my arms around her and I told her how much I loved her and that my children loved her and we were going to miss her.

And then my sister took her last breath and died.

Later, I played the song my daughter had sung two nights before across an ocean and I wept.

My star is asleep with a smile on her face. My body has returned to me and I am sitting in the silence and her voice is reverberating through me on what should have been my sister’s 19th birthday.

‘And it is quiet…and I am warm…like I’ve sailed…into the eye of the storm.’

20151006_153948

One Year

It has been one year…one entire year…

It has been one year since I gave up trying to sleep and sat up in bed at 5:00 in the morning with words writing themselves out in my head as I formed the pain we were all feeling into letters…words…sentences that maybe, somehow might express the choking loss grabbing at my throat…refusing to let me breath.

I wrote as the sun lit up a world without Hudis…I wrote as birds chirped and the world spun and people made coffee and got into their cars and went to work as if the world could continue to spin without Hudis…

I wrote a goodbye letter and a love note…I wrote words that were read to a body laying before us…a body that couldn’t possibly be…Hudis…

I wrote because that’s what I do when my heart beats too fast…too slow…sometimes not at all.

I write words that you hear as ideas yet I feel pouring out of my eyes…the pattern of my tears take shape and here we are…standing here an entire year after I wrote goodbye to my baby sister and buried her in the ground.

I am standing here now and I know I should be telling you about Hudis…about how I was a confused, angry teenager when she was born and how I discovered the sweet smell of a baby’s hair and would find comfort in her little fingers wrapped in mine…I should be telling you how precocious she was…how she watched everyone and everything and could read between every line…I should be telling you how she loved me even when she wasn’t sure how we were related or how she managed to insert herself into every picture at every wedding…I should be telling you how much fun we had together and how loudly she could sing karaoke…I should be telling you about her fights with my daughter and her blunt criticism of my art…I should be telling you about her bravery and her honesty and her thoughtfulness…I should be telling you about Hudis…

But you know all that…you knew her…or you knew of her…or you knew someone who knew someone who knew her…so you knew Hudis.

I don’t write about Hudis…Hudis wrote about herself with every breath she ever took…with every step she made in her short life…Hudis wrote an entire book that I can just read over and over again and hope to learn how to live a life like Hudis.

I write about life without Hudis…

The words that pour out of me scream pain and anger and hurt and love and life and joy and sorrow and grief and loneliness and emptiness and fulfillment and strength and courage and privilege…

Privilege…that I am here…that my heart hurts…and also loves…that my body works…that my pain passes…that I can share my life…with all the darkness and all the light…with people I love…and who love me…and I can live my life…a privilege…

I stand here today with the words that I write to try to express how it feels to live with loss..how it feels to love with loss…how it feels to move forward after loss…

And I can’t find the words…

But I can feel them streaming down my face and I know that you understand.

Hudis isn’t here tonight.

We are doing this instead.