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

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.

 

 

 

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.

A Moment in Time

I am sitting in the room that has become your shrine.

Your picture is everywhere I look. Your art hugs the walls. Your space is tangibly empty.

This room holds a lifetime…it beats for an eternal second…it loses its breath and dies every day you are not in it…

I am sitting here and I am wasting away without you. I am losing something that I didn’t know I had until you left me.

This room holds the memories of you…this room holds the timelessness you have become…this room is choking me as I sit here and ache for you.

I want to scream and shout and cry and slam my fist against this room’s towering walls over and over and over again until my knuckles rip open and my blood paints the images of you parading inside my head.

I sit in this room and I am silent as I remember how much I do not remember.

Once you looked at me with a smile that made me smile and we shared a moment that was captured forever. I did not know that you would take your last breath twelve years later on that day. I did not know that you would not get to have the things I get to have. I did not know that you were not forever.

Had I known I would have held you in my arms and hugged you tight. I would have whispered my love for you. I would have let you feel my heart beat. I would have lifted you up and raised you high above my head and I would have made the world see you and cherish you.

Thirteen years ago I patted your head and laughed as you danced and walked into my own life without glancing back at you. Thirteen years ago I stepped away from you and let you find me without the urgency I would have had if I had known that thirteen years later I would be sitting in this room and wondering how a year could have passed since you walked away from me without looking back.

I am sitting in this room and I am aware of the lack of you. My heart is racing and my head is spinning and I am falling apart at the seams where I have been sewn back up too many times.

You aren’t in this room with me and you are in this room with me and you are playing with my head and you are looking up to me with your eyes wide open and you are never coming back and I am not sure if I can live another year without you.

Thirteen years ago I looked into your eyes and I smiled and you smiled and your timeline stopped and mine didn’t so now I sit in this room where you aren’t and you are and I am as still as a moment in time and I whisper your name and I hold your hand and we smile.

hud.jpg

 

Geoffrey with a G

We are sitting together on the couch and we are not paying attention to one another. We are both tired and need some time to unwind and let the stress of the day dissipate. I am reading a fluff piece and you are scrolling down our feed as we actively turn our brains off.

You suddenly gasp and I feel your body tense up as you raise your head and turn to face me. I feel a constriction in my throat because I know you are about tell me something horrible.

He’s dead, you say. Geoff is dead.

I turn to you and my eyes well up and I shake my head because I don’t think it can be true. Your eyes have filled with a pain too big to handle. My hand trembles as I reach for yours and we hold each other at a distance.

Our pain is too hard to face. We turn back into ourselves and we try to live another day.

It takes us until morning to hurtle back into each other’s arms. We interlock our fingers and we gaze at each other’s pain.

You speak first.

He took the Brooklyn out of me, you say, as the tears break through and pour down your face. He let me be me.

I squeeze your hand and I am transported back in time and I remember the boy from Brooklyn I met on the streets of Jerusalem. I remember how you walked inside your cage and surrounded yourself with the kinds of people who helped you blend in.

And then you met Geoff. Geoffrey with a G.

Geoff was a rock n’ rolling artist who didn’t care what the world thought of him. Geoff wore little ties and suspenders and had swagger long before people thought that was cool. Geoff sat for hours in his room with that boy from Brooklyn and talked about Star Wars and superheroes and punk rock. Geoff painted and the music blared and the layers of New York street slowly shed as the boy who loved music and thought deeply about the world with a sensitive, kind view was revealed.

I saw how you changed and I fell in love with the person you had been hiding away. Without understanding what he had done, Geoff became our stabilizing third wheel. He sat with us in our corner and called it an office. He laughed and he danced the rock n’ roll dance and we followed his example and let the weight of our past go.

We fought for him when others wanted to give up. We wanted him to be in our lives forever. We wanted his joy and light and art and music to be part of the foundation we were building.

We still loved him when we said goodbye. We still wanted him to show up one day, in his little tie, his hair slicked to the side and a goofy smile on his face.

We watched from far away, too far away, as Geoffrey with a G wandered around looking for something he so easily brought out in others. But Geoffrey with a G didn’t have a Geoff to lean on and he got lost.

Our kids do his rock n’ roll dance and don’t know where it came from.

You and I sit here now, in grief and regret, and wonder if Geoffrey with a G can see us rocking and if he is happy as he paints, dot by dot, line by line.

You look at me and your face is red and your eyes are swollen and you swallow hard as we hold each other and remember the broken boy who fixed another broken boy but could not fix himself.

Geoffrey, you will never know how much we loved you. You will never know how much you will be missed.

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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.