Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Letter to a friend who also lost his daughter

Dear *****,

I write this letter with a heavy heart and tear filled eyes.Your words in the past have given me so much chizuk. I can feel how much you cared and continue to care for us. You and your family have been on my mind and that of my wife and have dominated most of our conversations, dreams and thoughts for the last week. I have replayed your words from this past week in my mind countless times -“I could never understand your pain until now.” Only someone who has lost a child, Hashem Yerachaym, can understand the extent of the tzaar from the loss. The pain is overwhelming and all encompassing. It is physical, mental and emotional all at once. I write this letter bToras “ Devarim hayotzei min Halev.” My heart pours out to you and your family. And I feel a stronger kesher to you than ever before.

There are many aspects to the mourning period that follows the shiva. There is a strong mixture of emotions ranging from the warm feelings of pleasant memories of a time before the pain to the nagging pangs of guilt and lingering feeling of fear. The strongest pain is the one felt when you experience the separation, the shock that something unnatural has happened. For me, the pain of the separation is like experiencing death itself. When a child passes, a part of the parent dies as well. A shutif, partner, can split a field with his neighbor 50% each or they can each own every part of the 100%. Losing a child is not like losing a limb or losing half the field but it is like a little part of every part of you dies. In a poetic book titled “ A thread of Blue” by Mrs. Belsky she discusses the guilt that every parent who loses a child experiences. She talks about the guilt metaphorically as a big gray balloon that floats. The balloon gets larger and larger until one day she realizes that subconsciously she is the one blowing air into the balloon. She was one the one giving life to it and she pushes the balloon away. It has been said that a grieving parent creates his or her own guilt. It gives us a feeling of control that somehow we caused the loss to happen. Nothing is more fearful to a person than recognizing that they have no real control. Wanting to be a better person is good as long as it leads us to becoming one. Guilt is always bent on destroying a person. Dr. Norman Blumenthal says, ”The pain never goes away completely. But over time you move from being your pain to having your pain.” In the beginning, the thoughts of the nifteres dominate most of your waking hours and all of your sleeping hours. As time passes, you allow yourself to think of other thoughts and aspects of life beyond the nifteres begin to take on importance again. Most importantly your family and friends.

If I love my child and recognize that Hashem is doing what is best for me and my child, then why does it hurt so much? At a recent Chai Lifeline retreat for bereaved parents, I asked the fellow question to my fellow bereaved parents “If given the opportunity to bring your child back, would you? If you know that she is in Gan Eden, would you bring her back?” It was interesting to note that although there were different answers, everyone could relate to this idea. On one hand, there is an emotional side, which is overwhelming. We miss our child so much that it hurts. On the other hand, there is the spiritual-intellectual side that tells us that Hashem loves us. There is a more permanent world. Hashem orchestrated these events with a higher and greater purpose in mind. It has my absolute best interest in mind and the best interest of my family and of the nifteres. In reality these 2 sides (emotional and spiritual) are not contradictions at all. My Emunah can be pure and real and yet still miss my child to the extent that it physically hurts. This idea is one of the most significant issues that effect bereaved parents. There are those who cannot bring themselves to believe that there is a higher purpose and yet others who cannot forgive themselves for hurting so much. At the retreat, there was a man from Boro Park who lost his son. He himself was a child of a Holocaust survivor. He couldn’t forgive himself for being in so much pain. I asked him “ Why is the fact that you miss your son so much of an affront to your yiddishkeit.” Another gentleman was offended by any talk about the idea that anything that happens is for the ultimate good. He felt that recognizing that there is a higher purpose somehow cheapened the loss of his son and his pain. There are 2 parallel tracks emotional and spiritual. They live side by side.

One of the most difficult aspects of the loss is sometimes referred to as triggers. These are events, even seemingly minor events, that suddenly remind of the nifteres. It might be a song or a picture or seeing someone who reminds you of the nifteres. Recently a friend was bemoaning the excessive amount of money that people spend on bat mitzvahs these days. I found myself feeling choked up as I had always wished that Nechama Liba had lived to have a bat mitzvah. I wanted to scream “I would have made the biggest bat mitzvah possible were I to have had the opportunity.” These triggers come and go and sometimes they come out of nowhere. Fortunately, the pain dissipates and life moves on.

I think of the loss in another way as well. When a child dies, a tremendous energy is brought down to the world. It is an energy that cannot be contained. A bereaved parent will never be the same person that they were before the loss. This awesome ball of energy will either drive the bereaved parent to self-destruction or somehow bring greater meaning to their existence. There is no complacency. Chas Vashalom, the death of a child has the potential to bring about negative consequences. On the other hand, it has the ability to bring families together. It also has the power to give greater meaning to one’s life. For example: Over the past 6 years, my other children did not get the attention that they deserved. Now, every time that I spend extra quality time with one of my kids, it somehow gives meaning to my life. After Nechama passed away, one of the greatest challenges for both my wife and I, was relating to my other kids. Nechama was extremely mature in all areas of life. Even her “big sister” from Chai Lifeline used to tell Nechama about her shidduch dates. My other children act according to their ages. In another way, Nechama had the ability to decipher whatever we said. One of the greatest pieces of advice that we got was to speak to the children directly, that children are not always adept at symbolism and subtly. This is especially true at this stage of the grieving process. The kids need to know that we are there for them but we need to speak to them directly. In order for us to expect them to open up, we need to open up to them. We need to tell them how we feel and be as specific as possible. This will give them the opening for them to feel comfortable to open up to us. This is no simple task.

As I strive towards becoming a better, more sensitive person, it gives meaning to my life. When I walk in the streets, I recognize that people look at me and think, “ there is the guy who lost a child.” If I smile, if I just go on, it will be a source of inspiration. When I accept my situation because Nechama Liba accepted her situation, it gives new meaning to my life and also strengthens my connection to her. In a sense I am living in her footsteps, living, as she would have wanted me to live.

The road ahead is a long journey with several “bumps in the road”. There is pain left to endure. A parent never forgets his child and the longing never goes away. There are new opportunities for growth. There are still new and undeveloped aspects of personality to explore. As you said to me a few days back “Together we will get through it.”



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12:31 AM  

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