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

Crash.

Oh my darling.  My beautiful little girl…

I am watching you cry.  You sob as you twist and turn your little body on the kitchen floor.

I can’t, you say.  You said this medicine will help me…but it’s not changing my feelings!  I can’t anymore!

I slide down beside you, leaning against the refrigerator door as I watch you writhe.  It’s hard to watch you writhe.  It makes me want to reach deep down inside you and destroy whatever energy is coursing through your body in a way that makes you say, I don’t know what to do…I want to scream…I have to scream…I need to…I have to…AH…IMMA!

And then more tears spill out from your beautiful big eyes.  I pull you closer and wrap my arms around you.  You can’t find a comfortable place…but I don’t let go.  I rock…we rock together…back and forth…back and forth and still I say nothing.

Imma I’m trying so hard.  You lean against me as you begin to talk…using words that threaten to break the dam behind my eyes and let my feelings pour out to join your wet check against my wet arm as we rock back and forth on the kitchen floor.

I’m stressed.  I’m trying so hard.  I decided to work harder than I ever did when I started taking the medicine.  I thought if I tried super hard, the medicine would work better.  But Imma, I’m so stressed.  I’m not myself.  I don’t know who I am anymore.  I’m just a girl with ADHD who can’t do anything in school.  I wish I didn’t have this.  I wish I was a kid who could keep her cubby neat and write everything down like we’re supposed to and not have anything that makes my brain not work so great.  Imma, I’m so tired.  I want to be good…I want to be special…Imma I can’t!

My heart is breaking my darling.  Can you feel it?  You are pressed against my broken heart here on the kitchen floor while I absorb your pain.  I am pulling your energy into my soul…I am breaking down any tough fibers in my heart to make room for your pain…I am taking it from you and trying so hard to make it all go away.

You rest your head on my chest and sigh.

I lean over your shoulder.

I don’t always have an answer, I say.  But I will always listen to you.  Thank you for talking to me.  I love you.

You sniff and nod your head and I pull you in for a hug.

One day, you will read all the things I have written and will write about you.

One day you will know how I feel right now.

One day you will see yourself as unique and special and you will embrace it.

For now, it is my embrace you feel.

My arms are wrapped around you tight and I am never going to let go as we rock…back and forth…on the kitchen floor.

 

How Are You?

How is she? 

They ask, everywhere I go.

Sometimes I answer.

It’s hard.  They’re trying something new.  We still don’t know.

And sometimes I don’t.

Fine, thank god.

They want to know news, they want to know progress…they want to know black and white.

I confide in some.

I deflect others.

Mostly, I seethe.

I know everyone means well.

I mean well sometimes too.

How is she?

But do you really want to know?

How is she?

I don’t know.

So tell me dear, dear sister.

How are you?

I bet it hurts.

I bet it’s really bad.

I bet you don’t even know how to explain it to me.

I bet you don’t even want to try.

I bet you want to close your eyes and wake up when it’s over.

I bet you want to travel back in time.

I bet you want me to stop asking you how the hell you are.

I’m fine.

You say it always.

And I wish I could answer you honestly.

You don’t have to be.

 

 

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.

The Only Squeeze Hug I Can Manage

Hey Sis…this one’s for you…

This one’s for the times we couldn’t stop laughing…

Inside out kisses and shoulder blades…

Djoghurt and Stonehenge…

And that toot guy.

This one’s for Friday nights…

People watching in the park…

And Super Hatzlacha.

This one’s for the times we forgot to say I love you…

And the times we knew we never could.

This one’s for the times we had when we were young…

And it was okay to hold hands…as I took you to school…

And hug tight those few times I came back.

This one’s for the current hugs…

The squeeze hugs…

The (uninvited) hair playing…

The constant (sometimes annoying) desire to be so close to you it literally hurts.

This one’s for music videos and mashups.

This one’s for birthday parades and hafganot…and that one levaya.

This one’s for capstones and deadlines.

This one’s for pushing things off and pulling all-nighters.

This one’s for your friends.  ‘Nuff said.

This one’s for philosophy and the matter of your existence.

This one’s in case you’re not really here.

This one’s for your production. 🙂

This one’s for all the things we thought we knew about each other…

And all the things we found out along the way.

This one’s for learning about sisterhood…

And how to form a bond amid a storm.

This one’s for all the things we can’t say out loud.

But probably should.

This one’s for Uptown Funk and Michael Jackson.

For playlists and music education.

For Sukkot and Channuka and Purim and Pesach and another Seder and Lag Ba’Omer.

This one’s for endless laundry and sleeping on the mirpeset because of…laundry.

This one’s for the space you’ll leave…physically and also…not.

This one’s for what we built…

Through good times…

And less good times…

Through courage…

And change.

This one’s for the kids.

This one’s for Naftali.

This one’s for me.

This one will always be…

For you.

Skin Deep

“Imma,” she says in her ‘I’m going to tell you something incredibly insightful now so you better stop what you’re doing and focus and make sure your phone is on hand to record this’ voice, so naturally, I turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this, so I’m telling you now you have to trust me that it’s true.”

I nod and put the phone down.  I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of those ‘let me tell you what happened on the way home from school’ stories, maybe a bit Mulberry Street-isque, but nothing I can’t breeze through on this typical, absolutely ordinary day.

“My friend told me white people are better than black people.”

Woah.

Stop.

I know she’s looking at me, expecting some sort of response…and I know she thinks this an important conversation based on how she prefaced it…but I am stuck with her words swarming through my mind because for some reason…I AM NOT PREPARED.

*

My first clear understanding of how white people who aren’t racist can sometimes get stuck staring down the barrel of racism came from an incident involving my little sister, my mother and the neighbor one lovely afternoon on our front stoop.

The neighborly conversation was interrupted by my sister’s investigative reporting on the color of skin.

“Mommy,” she said in all her innocent glory as she scrutinized the neighbor, “Why is her skin brown?”

My mother froze.

There was only a slight pause before the neighbor very gently squeezed my mother’s hand and took over.

She said something or other about the color of blood and how it’s all the same on the inside.

I don’t really remember that.

But I can still feel that pause.

And here I am in that same damn pause.

*

I must have gasped because she’s assuring me that she knows…but like, really knows, that this girl is wrong.

She knows that people are people and we are all part of the human race.

She knows that what makes you better are your actions and what makes you above are your reactions.

She was really asking me why people are racists…more importantly, why a fellow second grader who is her friend, is a racist, and I have so many answers and all of them are sort of my fault because I have not done enough to fight it.

I am not a racist, yet I hear racist conversation in the park and don’t respond loudly enough.

I am not a racist, yet I live in a community where the ethnic diversity is mind-boggling nonexistent.

I am not a racist, yet my city segregates residents and calls it ‘absorption’.

I am not a racist, yet I say nothing when my son’s ganennet mixes up the names of the children of Ethiopian descent and laughs it off because she “can’t tell them apart”.

Oh, I cringe.

I cringe when I hear complaints that “Ethiopians” are hanging out in the park and breaking ‘our’ public benches.

I cringe when my son asks if the street cleaner who greets us every morning lives where all the brown people live.

I cringe when my daughter and her friends refer to children born in Israeli hospitals to immigrant parents, (just as she was), as Ethiopians.

And I cringe when I find myself pausing that long, uncomfortable pause.

I don’t want to cringe.

I want to shout.

For some reason, I haven’t had the urgent need to shout because I somehow thought this was not my problem because I am not a racist.

I have the ‘right’ color skin so I never really felt racism.

I never had to fight for the right to be treated as just another human being.

I need to start fighting and it needs to start with that pause.

Because what I remember most about that day when my neighbor stood up for herself was that it felt like she was defending something.

The color of skin is not something we need to defend.

The answer to a little girl’s question should not have so much weighing on it.

And I will start right now.

For Baltimore.

For Tel-Aviv.

For the world we all share.

Grown-up

I guess I’m a grown-up now, I think, as I sit here translating her words in my head, then translating my words before I stumble them out of my mouth and into the air where they embarrass me by screaming out “FOREIGNER” in this big room that can’t possibly hold the emotions she so casually throws at me with each word I am poorly translating in my overwhelmed brain.

I guess I’m a grown-up now.

Grown-ups sit in chairs built for little girls and stare across a giant desk and listen politely as big things are said.

Grown-ups can handle acronyms with A’s and D’s and H’s Boggled together with the shake of a wrist.

Grown-ups don’t think anything is wrong or that it’s anyone’s fault.

Grown-ups can be parents first and people wracked by guilt second.

Grown-ups can accept.

Grown-ups can get up and walk home briskly, make pizza for their children, reach out to another grown-up for help, and use the entire World Wide Web to understand exactly what it all means.

So here I am.

A Grown-up.

A gut-wrenching, soul-ripping, broken-hearted Grown-up.

Here lies a Grown-up…curled up on the couch…surrounded by crumpled tissues and words like psycho-didactic and evaluation and letters like MOXO and ADHD…

Here lies a Grown-up…feeling defeated by a system…mocked by fate…winded by the constant curveballs she always seems to miss…

Here lies a Grown-up…wishing with all her might that her not-yet-grown little vulnerable girl…could have been handed the card that this grown-up never knew…the one that didn’t make things difficult…the one that paves the path with rainbows and unicorns and never gets so dark and so scary that she hesitates…

Here lies a Grown-up…trying to breathe…to get the air she needs…so that she can open the door with a smile…and greet her wonderful, beautiful baby girl…with all the grown-up things…that will turn her into…the best kind of grown-up…any grown-up can be.