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

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

 

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, his mother will call to acknowledge our loss and we can finally feel supported enough to grieve.