Complete

I write when I am complete…when my love, my fear, my pain is whole…when I get what it is I am feeling.

I write from a place of understanding…from acceptance…from the perspective of journey’s end.

Last year, I didn’t write.

I was torn up inside and out.  I was in too much pain about my past, about my family and about you.

I didn’t forget though.

I went to visit you.

I stared across at the mountain and I felt the hole you left in me.

But I didn’t cry.

I was angry.

I was so, incredibly angry.

And I couldn’t write.

This year was hard for me.

It was a struggle to push through every day…to survive…

I missed you so much…there were times I wanted to be with you.

It hurt…so badly…and the anger simmered beneath it all.

The anger has always been there…I just accepted it as part of me…and didn’t realize how it was consuming me.

Because it’s not fair.

Non of it.

It’s not fair that I didn’t get to have a childhood.

It’s not fair that you didn’t get to have a life.

It’s not fair that I have had to wade through everything that has been thrown at me…and still have to take responsibility.

It’s been hell.

But I’m writing now.

So that means I’m complete.

And I am.

I have come to accept me as I am…complete with the hole you left inside me…

Complete with the pain of my childhood…

Complete with the loss of my family…

Complete with the shame I sometimes feel for no reason at all…

The hurt that curls me into a ball of tears…

The emptiness I feel without you…

I am complete…a whole vessel with many holes…

I am loved.

You are loved.

We talk about you all the time.  We light a candle every week for you.  We call you brother and son.  You are very much loved.

It’s been ten years now…

And I will never let you go…

Because you make me whole…

You make me complete.

When There Is Nothing Left To Say

There is so much I could say…so much to write about…

I could write about my sister…and her cancer…and what it feels like to be so far away…to be torn between my children and the baby I held in my arms at 14 years old…whispering my secrets to one of my only family members who couldn’t be angry at me…who I knew would never judge me.

I could write about my daughter…and how she has blossomed and regressed at the same time…how third grade is revealing what the course of her school life will look like…how she reminds me of me…at my most vulnerable age…and why that scares me.

I could write about my oldest brother and his grief…his mother-in-law and her table full of guests…how she battled another type of cancer…and lost.

I could write about my other sister…who is taking one day at a time…and trying her best…and how proud I am of her…and how much I wish I believed in prayer so I could get on my knees each day and pray to keep her going.

I could write about yet another sister…who is changing her life…is making emotional sacrifices she never thought she could make…so that she can become the big sister who swoops in and gets things done…perfectly each time…and how I wish I could speak to her every day.

I could write about my sister who is most like me…and so could never be written about…because it would not do justice to who she is…and I could never express how much I miss her anyway.

I could write about my parents…and how I almost lost them…and how I thought that whatever progress was made was never going to be actualized…until cancer came along and changed the direction of the path we had embarked on.

I could write about Israel…and the blood that is spilled…and the daily attacks.

I could write about Europe…and Paris…and Belgium and the United States and Obama and the outrages and the silences and the hypocrisies and double standards.

I could write about it all.

I should.

But I won’t.

Because tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Pain is flowing out of my eyes.

Sorrow is stopping my heart.

This broken world is spinning too fast.

And I can no longer feel enough to breathe.

All I can do is spill it out…through my fingers…onto the keys that form the letters to write…that I have nothing left to say.

Broken Grief

This feeling…this sad feeling…covers me like a blanket…suffocating me slowly.

It is not a new feeling…it is an anticipated one.

Do not project…they told me…do not lose faith in humanity…you can never know the outcome…you can never know for sure.

So I tried not to project…not to expect to be hurt…

But I am not entirely foolish…and I let that part of me that knows better live next to the part of me that pretends risks are worth taking.

I knew.  I always knew…that I would be sitting in this puddle of pain…this dirty pool of sorrow…and there would be no one to pick me up.

This is Grief…this is all the damn stages…when you lose something you loved…or thought you loved…

At first…I kept a quiet Denial.  I was alone and afraid but if I didn’t say a word…it was as if it wasn’t there.

Then I yelled…screamed out the Anger that was consuming me…turning on the world…on myself.

Then I Bargained…for love…for attention…for validation.

And now…I’m sad…it is a different kind of Depression…not one born in my Denial…one that is like taking a deep…long breath…and holding it in for just a second more…

Because I’m ready for Acceptance.

I am ready to calmly walk away from my dying past…calmly acknowledge that I will not have what I deserve…and learn to love all my broken pieces…without the ones I’ve lost.

I am still sitting here…in my sadness…looking for a helping hand.

What I can see though…are all the Broken People…and they are reaching out with hands as filthy as mine…and we are singing our song again…irritating the Unbroken…as we bombard them with the truth of our shattered selves.

The Unbroken will ignore us for as long as they can…because the Unbroken do not like the smell…they do not want to deal with our puddles of shallow shit…they do not want to acknowledge the broken-hearted…they would rather turn us inside out…hang us outside the camp…and pretend they cannot see as we shrivel up and die.

So Broken People…let us become our own Broken Family…let us Accept together…let us finish mourning all the Unbroken who walked out on us…who left us buried in the sand…and let us move on without them.

But you Unbroken People…you don’t know what I know…you don’t know that being Unbroken…just makes you…Breakable.

When you’re sitting under your blankets of pain…I will be there…and I will reach out with a strong…reinforced…and loving hand.

For Harry

In the darkness…

a swift sound…

a scratch and a hiss…

and a slight whoosh…

as the match bursts into a flame.

The wick catches and slowly steadies the light…

as gently…

warmly…

gracefully…

the dance begins.

Memories…coming to life…in shades of yellow…orange…red…and blue…stain shadows on the walls.

Swaying from side to side…the wick tells the story of life…the flames cast light on the love that was…and lost…but will always be.

Years will pass…some filled with hopes and dreams…others dragging with despair…and life will go on.

But every year…an immortal boy who never got to be a man…will live in a dancing fire…and warm hearts all over the world…with his everlasting glow.

Flutters

The sun is setting.  It is time.

I strike the match.  I light the flame.

I cry.

I need to light the other candles now.  The ones to bring in Shabbat. And pray for my family; my husband and my children…all my children…

So I strike another match.

I light one…two…three…four candles.

Four candles to represent my family…

Plus the one on the counter…the one that will burn all night…and all day…to represent the child we buried…

Five candles.

I set the table…one…two…three…four plates…and look over at the candle again.

We take our seats.

We eat.

We talk.

We look at the candle.

We tuck the kids in…one…two…beautiful, healthy children…and the candle still burns…

We slip under our covers.

He falls asleep.

And I start to feel…those flutters…

I stare at the ceiling.  I try not to go there, but my hands are already resting on my stomach, pressing down to find the flutters, to release them, and I am trying not to imagine, but the images are too powerful, and they flood my mind.

I am cutting through my body…

digging…

hands soaked with the blood of my child…

and I am desperate to find the beating heart I feel within me…

and hold it…

and protect it…

but no matter how much I dig…

how much I search…

I cannot find it…

and all I can do…

is lay here…

in a pool of pain…

and feel…

fluttering…

deep inside me…

where I cannot reach.

Later, I tell my husband, cautiously because I don’t think this is normal…

..how I have been feeling our child move inside me…

for eight years…

every single night…

and he reminds me…

how people can feel a limb that’s been amputated…

and I suddenly have the words to describe the phantom flutters of my phantom child…

and I cry…

and cry…

and cry.

A Giant Falls

When a giant…

…comes crashing down…

…from heights unknown to man…

…it is only natural…

…that some…

…will try to climb…

…his fallen frame…

…and proclaim…

…something…

…or other.

I only wish…

…I was strong enough…

…to move a mountain…

…to reveal…

…the crater…

…formed…

…when the giant fell.

Lion Man

It’s hard to form the words, ignite the flame of remembrance when my memories are few.

It’s hard to eulogize a man I barely had the chance to meet, but that one last time, the last of a handful of times, I think I may have seen the lion man.

Sharing a beer together, watching him watch all of you, I saw what you have always seen.

I saw him look across the room with a small smile, a simple smile, giving him a rosy glow as he sipped slowly and watched and watched and watched. And when it was time to go, he turned to me and nodded his goodbye from his watchful eyes, accepting me to his domain.

He was a lion. Strong, steady and fearless, he led his pack with fierce love. He stalked through a world of deserts, jungles, and muddy swamps, picking his fights thoughtfully, cunningly. When he fought, it was a fight for truth. It was powerful. It was deadly. It was real. When he walked away, it was with his head high, his shoulders back, his spine still. He faced every day with the kind of bravery found in an undisputed leader. He was a lion man.

A lion doesn’t lay down to die. A lion fights until the end. A lion leaves a pride.

So be a strong pride, for the lion man. Be a true pride. And go off in every direction and make a lion out of another man.  Set your spirit down in stone and watch your pack carefully, lovingly, and remember the lion man who made you, the lion man who led you, the lion man who left you standing still, in a world of deserts, jungles and muddy swamps, ready to be a lion man.

As The Candle Burns

My mother calls and brings it up before I do.

“It’s tonight…I’ve been thinking about it…remembering….”

I choke back a sob.  “Yes.  It is tonight.  And I’m sad…”

I fall apart.  I tell her the thoughts I have.

She listens, she shares and she hurts with me.

I feel something shift.  The depression lifts and the sadness rolls in.

“I wrote something,” I say, and I send it to her.

The day ends.  The darkness comes.

He walks in and looks at me.  His eyes are sad…but flashing with life.

He hugs me.  I shrink a little.

“I spoke to the Rabbi,” he says.

I pull my head off his shoulder and wait.

“He said we can light a candle.  He said it’s ok.”

My heart stops.  I don’t know how I feel.

He looks at me and whispers, “the Rabbi said it must be so hard for you….he thought of your emotions…he didn’t just rattle off an answer…”

I am surprised.  Someone with religious authority thought of me as an emotional being and gave me a right to emote.  I am beginning to feel alive again.

We sit down to dinner, the candle ready in the center.

I stand silently and strike the match.  My hand shakes as I lower the flame to the wick.  The candle burns.

After seven long years, a candle burns.

And now I am sobbing in my husbands arms and he is holding me the way he wanted to hold me that night, when I last let go and cried from the depths of my soul, and I am weeping and weeping and I can’t stop and I hear a little voice…saying “Imma!” and I shake even more and wipe my tears and turn to my beautiful little girl.

“Imma, why are you crying?” she asks as I sit her down in her seat and place food on her plate.

So we tell her and she takes it in and process it and tells us about a girl in her class who’s Imma had a baby but the baby wasn’t strong enough to live so it died, and our little boy also wasn’t strong and there wasn’t a medicine that could make him better and we look into each other’s eyes across the table and something settles over us as we begin to heal.

I go to the grocery store in the morning and cook dinner and feel normal as the candle burns and my thoughts are with a departed soul at the same time that I am with those around me.

I have never felt that on this day.

As the sun sets and the flame dies down, I breathe deep and remember how I felt yesterday.

My mother responds to the tormented words I sent her when I didn’t know today could be a real day.

Thanks for sharing.  I spoke to the girls yesterday about your (our) loss.  It was therapeutic for me as well and I’m glad you can light a candle.  Secrets and hidden things don’t sit well with our family.

Love,

Mommy

The support gives me strength to put my pain aside for another year and keep moving on.

Next year I will have the table set, the food warmed and the candle ready.

Next year I will invite a friend in to share the memories.

Next year I will let the tears fall slowly.

And maybe next year we can finally feel supported enough to grieve.

The Day I Die

The house is quiet.

I sort the laundry

wash the dishes

change the linens

organize the closets

prepare the food

make a list

and try,

try try try

not to think.

But here I am.

Thinking.

*

Last night I had a dream.

Someone died in my dream.

Someone close enough to me that I had to mourn.

Tear my clothes.

Sit for seven days on a low stool, in a house with covered mirrors and quiet murmurs.

And in my dream,

the next year,

I made a big meal to break the fast and everyone gathered together as we lit a candle for the one who died and eulogized and comforted.

And in my dream I stood in the corner, hiding the second flame I finally lit, and my heart was full of a mourning that had a place to go, and my soul began to heal.

And when I woke up, I realized it was a dream.

I realized that tonight, when the sun goes down and it becomes that day, I will not light a candle, gather together with loved ones, prepare a meal to soothe…move closer to that final step of closure.

Tonight, when that day comes, I will lay in bed and wish I could have died today and met him somewhere, anywhere at all, and he could have told me why I am denied that simple act of mourning.

*

I sit, in the quiet house, and try not to think.

But the thoughts I am chasing away are meant to be thought today.

It is a day of mourning today.

A day of fasting.

A day when sorrow is acknowledge and accepted.

So I take a bite to eat.

And pretend today is another day.

As I fold the laundry

and hang the sheets out to dry

and try,

try try try

not to wish

that today should be the day

I die.

Flames

The flames are dancing again.

They sway softly, reaching up just enough to reveal blues and greens before settling down into the rhythm of orange fused with a yellow-white, burning my eyes as I stare.

There is a sudden leap in my heart as one little flame tries to escape and jumps off its wick carelessly.  The air crackles as the tiny flame realizes, too late, that it cannot defeat the oil-filled glass pulling at it relentlessly.  It falls back into the oil, diminishing in size and, defeated, meekly resumes its dance.

My heart, aroused by the plight of the dancing ball of fire, falls to the ground and shatters into a million wrenching cries.

I am screaming silently as I smile at my children and spin the dreidel, round and round and round…

I am mutely deafening the heavens as I sing songs of latkes and maccabees and kiss the kids goodnight…

I am nearing a pitch that can pierce through my silence when I break.

I turn towards my husband.  In a whisper, I bare my soul.

“I miss him.”

And then the dam breaks and I am filled with all the sounds I never got to hear.

The thin wail at his birth…the howl at his bris…the hungry whimpering at night…the coos of content in the early mornings…the pouting whine at naptime…the robust cries of triumph as he climbs up a stair…the sweet sound of peaceful breathing…

NOOOO!!!!!!!

The screams emanating from my soul are not enough to drown out the memories of the beeps and whirs an incubator makes at it labors to keep its occupant alive.  And through the noise, I can hear what underdeveloped lungs sound like when they are working too hard…not hard enough.  And no matter where my mind takes me and what I use to try to change directions I can still hear…the silence…when there are no machines…no breath…no life.

The first year, I was pregnant again.

I watched the flames and thought of him and prayed it would be different.

The second year was harder.  I looked at my little girl and thought I saw him dancing around her.  When the flames died, he slipped away.

When the flames danced in our window again, I thought of him and slipped away to the bathroom, scissors in hand.  My hair fell into the sink but it didn’t stop my tears.

At the four-year mark, I wrote.

He would have been four years old…instead, he is buried on a mountain with other sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts; forever a tiny babe.

He is happy there and well taken care of.  He does not feel the pains of growing up.  He does not suffer from physical ailments.  He does not lack anything.  He is safe.

He needs only my love.

I love my little boy so much.  I know where he is.  I want to go there.  I need to be good enough to go there.  I will do everything in my power to see him again.

It was suddenly there again.  The lights.  I wrote again.

It’s this time of year again and I’m thinking of you…wondering…how you’ve been.

Wishing you could see me now…look at me with those big, big eyes…maybe even smile.

It’s late…you should have come home from school long ago…I ache to see you burst through the door.

The bag we would have picked…together…slung over your slight frame…weightless.

Your face would have lit up…as you held out…the special treat your Rebbe gave to you…for Chanukah.

Chattering about your day…as I prepare your supper…and tend to the others…you flit about my mind.

And I miss you.

Five is a big boy now…I remind you gently to let me go…big boys know better.

You fade away from me…but cling…your tiny hand grasping…my pinky…forever.

And then we lit the lights again.  And I waited.  For eight days.  I held out.  Until I saw the little tiny flame fighting to break free and I broke down and wrote again.

It’s been…six years…filled with love…joy…happiness…hardships…and longing…for you.

My happily-ever-after…standing before the lights…watching the flames dance…to the beat of the perfect little life inside me…dies with the last lick of fire…and left a hole…where you used to be.

The day you broke away approaches…

I am not ready…to face the dark memories…the images of you…slipping into another world.

The truth is…I am angry with you…for giving up…for giving in…and letting the pain…consume you.

You should have lived…should have struggled through the pain…like I do every day…and been there to be held by me…touched by me…loved by me.

My love…for you…sits inside me…killing me…forcing me to hold back…with everyone around me…chaining me to the place where you tore your body from mine.

Sometimes…secretly…shamefully…I wish…you would have waited just a few more moments…maybe hours…and then…you would have taken me with you…far from the intolerable feelings…and maybe I would have been…lying near you…in the cold ground…so I could keep you warm.

Every day that passes…I miss you more…there is no comfort…nothing can ease the sorrow…I can only wait…and long for the day…when you will come back to me…and tell me…why…you didn’t want…to stay.

Now, as the flames finish twisting and turning, I breathe deep and exhale my tortured thoughts.  Together, my husband and I sweep up the pieces of my heart off the floor and into our cherished box of shared pain.

As my head sinks into my drenched pillow, I hear another sound.  It is you.  The woman in the NICU…holding her lifeless little one…and you are screaming…and you want so badly for someone to say the right thing…but no one does…because no one can…and you want so badly for someone to write that to you…to share her thoughts with you…about how a child is never forgotten…always loved…always pulled back by the strong oil-filled glass with the upward-reaching wick, united with a flame…one, unique flame…that is forever jumping away…

And then I am sitting up in bed and my screams become a shout…and then form words…words I hear you saying…as you and I are joined by all our sisters as we storm the gates of Heaven with prayers begging…pleading…demanding that our Father bring back the ones He didn’t’ let us have…crying together as mothers of children who deserve to live in a glorious kingdom full of all the love and happiness they were denied.

Please…please, bring them back…please bring us home…together…all of us…whole.