Wednesday, September 28, 2005

ER Visit

My middle son cut his knee recently. He is almost 6 years and he was very brave. The pediatrician said that it was a pretty bad cut and would need stitches. My wife rushed him to the ER. I was at work at the time. I rushed to the ER from work to meet them there. Thanks to a close friend who worked at the hospital, we were seen right away. It was a deep cut but after all we have been through, it was far from traumatic. It brought back many memories. The doctors felt the Wounded Knee to access if there was any foreign object. Baruch Hashem, it was clean. Any touch to the raw wound was painful. The doctor applied an anesthetic to the site. It was the same anesthetic that was used daily for Nechama Liba in the ICU. Memories flashed in my mind. The anesthetic burned as they applied it to the knee. The knee was totally numb. He couldn't feel any sensation in the wounded area. Neither good nor bad. They applied the stitches. The doctor said" It is amazing how little we do, <nature> does most of the work. It is amazing how the body heals itself". He stitched the skin together and told us that it would take some time to heal. Baruch Hashem, he is doing better. All that is left is a scar.
As a bereaved parent, we go through a similar process, in the beginning the wound is too raw to touch, so we have to numb our senses and emotions. We need to put ourselves together and let time to heal the pain. But a scar will always remain. There is one difference, in a year from now, he will have forgotten the incident and he won't feel the pain if he touches the area that was wounded. Bereaved parents will always feel that same pain when they touch the spot. Time will give us strength to move on but the pain never goes away. However, in time, we will be able to feel other emotions of joy and happiness mixed with the pain. May Hashem give us the strength.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Retreat Part 2 (2005)

Friday Night davening is an interesting experience. It consists of 40% intense tefilah. The other 60% consists of about 30 individuals, from all walks of life, looking around the room trying to absorb the fact that basically everyone else in this room is a bereaved parent. Almost everyone you see has been through a similar experience that you have.

Everyone that you see shares the tragedy that you have gone thru. And to that person, his tragedy is as real and pain filled to him as your tragedy is to you.

Some of the Chai Lifeline staff breaks into a “rakeida”, a dance. I can't bring myself to dance. I am not prepared to cry but I see no room for dancing either.

Can someone tell me why we are dancing? I don't dance at home, and I have no intention of dancing here. What are we celebrating exactly? One of the parents speaks between Kabbalos Shabbos and Maariv. He is exceptionally open. I start to feel uncomfortable as he describes the strain that his child's death has had on his marriage. Why is he sharing these intimate details?

It begins to dawn on me that he is doing a tremendous chesed for everyone. He is breaking down the barriers from the start. He is paving the way for others to feel comfortable describing their own struggles. There is so much that is bottled up inside, we start to recognize that whatever we leave inside after this weekend will stay bottled up for another year. Walls begin to crumble.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chai Lifeline Bereavement Retreat Part 1

Chai Lifeline’s annual Bereavement Retreat was held this past Shabbos in Camp Simcha. I will attempt to give an insiders view of the experience. The invitation to the retreat is limited to those from the exclusive club of Bereaved Parents. There are a total of 4 groups. Firstly, the group sessions are divided by gender. The groups are divided again. One group consists of bereaved parents of children who died in sudden accidents and the other group consists of parents who children died after prolonged illness ranging from months to several years.
Every person has a story to tell. Each one more tragic than the next. Car accidents, cancer, rare disease. It is really all the same. Each parent left with an irreplaceable void.
There were many complaints of insensitive relatives and friends. One bereaved parent described the uncanny feeling of watching people cross the street to avoid contact with them. As if the bereaved parent needs to apologize for representing the unthinkable.
Other echoed the same experience. Other spoke of insensitive comments. One person described being at a PTA meeting at his child’s school. Someone asked him coolly,” Your kid, is he still alive?” Many parents felt that family members could not relate to them or their pain. “Get over it already, it’s been 2 years.”
But in this circle of strangers, was a deep understanding that the pain will never go away. You get thru your pain but you never get rid of it. Barriers start to break and people start to recognize that perhaps the only people in the world that will ever understand them are the people in that room.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Funeral Experience

This past weekend was the Chai Lifeline retreat for Bereaved parents. The highlight of the weekend is a speech given by Dr. Norman Blumenthal. I was honored that he read verbatim from the piece below that I wrote a little while ago. It describes my experience at the funeral of a daughter of a dear friend. It was his third child that passed away due to a genetic disease.

As they brought out the aron, I felt my knees betraying me. I grabbed hold of a friend by the shirt to keep me from falling. The aron was small. Having just experienced the death of my own child, I understood what was in that box. Everyone around me knew what was in the box. But, as a parent of a deceased child, I understood what was in that box. I cried bitter, pain filled tears.

After a few minutes, I walked with my “cane” (well actually a close friend who I held so I wouldn’t fall) towards the burial site. The Rav spoke simple and brief. Much like the life of the nifteres. He said that he was humbled by the experience and felt unfit to talk. He spoke about the fact that he had known others who were buried in that cemetery while they were alive. I think he meant it literally, but it was a reminder of the other 2 children, siblings of the nifteres, who had been buried there already. He spoke about the difficulty in understanding what was happening before us. The father spoke briefly and thanked those who had helped him and his family over the last few months. He and his wife are strong and noble.

I stood back, behind the circle of people. I was afraid to look too carefully. The sight of the open pit with a small wooden casket next to two other graves, which were siblings of the nifteres, was too awesome for my already broken heart. It was cold and quiet. The first swoosh of the shovel penetrating the dirt was loud as an airplane engine. Swoosh. What followed was the thump of the dirt hitting the top of the coffin. Swoosh. Thump.

Swoosh. Thump. Recently I was browsing through the diaries and scrapbooks of my own daughter, Nechama Liba. Reading through each story or browsing each picture, I feel transformed to another time. I am reliving the experience of each thought and digest every word. I turn the pages, and finally reach a blank page. As I flip through the pages that follow, it strikes me that the rest of the pages are blank.
The majority of the each of the books, diaries, journals, and scrapbooks are more empty than full. Each swoosh of the shovel hitting the dirt is like picking up all the dreams, hopes, aspirations that you ever had for that child. Every thump is like you are burying them. For this child, there will never be a first day of school. There won’t be a graduation or hearing her say her first words or seeing her walk for the first time. You won’t be able to walk her down the aisle at her wedding or hear about her first date. There are far too many missed memories to count.

Swoosh. Thump. It seems to last forever. Is there anything more mundane than dirt and wood? Is there anything more dead than dirt and wood? The thought of a flowerpot enters my conscience. Maybe this is where real life begins. The digging finally stops. I hug the father of the nifteres and tell him that G-d should give him strength. He says, “You have been where I am. You know something; it doesn’t get easier with practice. “

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Rosh Hashanah

One can't help but feel uncomfortable during many parts of the Rosh Hashanah davening. I am not simply referring to the parts of davening that describe our existence as a fleeting cloud or dust in the wind. Nor of those that install fear in each of us as do the prayers that discuss the various tragic deaths that one might face. These certainly cause anxiety-like feelings and vivid images that hope to awake us from our sleep. I am referring to the parts of davening, which proclaim Hashem as merciful, slow to anger, as one who does not wish the death of even those deserving of it. As well as the prayers that describe the All Mighty as one who knows the innermost thoughts of man, which is to do what is good. We describe the Sacrifice of Yitzchak in great detail as if to say "Hashem, Don’t forget your promise." One can't help but feel that we are trying to, as if it were possible, swindle Hashem or pull the wool over his eyes and perhaps manipulate the judgment in our favor as one might do with a mortal judge.

Are we likening ourselves to a 6 year old in the principles office?

As one grows older, the Rosh Hashanah experience changes dramatically. The realization of our lives hanging in balance becomes more real with each passing year. It starts with the prospect of dating, then entering into a marriage, getting a job, having children and raising them, preparing them for the challenges that will confront them. We increasingly exposed to sickness, death, tragedy and countless other situations.

As we grow older prayers such as Unesaneh Tokkef take on new meaning.
When we were younger, it felt like all we needed was a backpack, a one-way ticket to Europe and a friendly youth hostel. Life changes so quickly to the point where we can no longer live on $100 a month and eat cold pizza for breakfast. People rely on us. Our responsibilities increase and intensify. Carefree days have been replaced with great dependencies and responsibilities.

When we were young, death was something that happened to soldiers, the elderly and distant relatives. For most of us it had no reality in our lives and has made the words of our Tefillos seem to have little meaning in reality. But while we have gained in our experience of the realities of life, we have lost as well. Young people have an inner energy, they cling to inspiration, believe that things change and that people change. Young people believe that we can make the world a better place. All we need is the determination and resolve to do it.

There is a story I was told about a meeting that took place amongst the great gedolim, perhaps the Moetzes. While I do not know the particular issue being discussed, it may have been to stop the spread of Loshen Hara. A younger Rosh HaYeshiva, who was a relatively new member of the group, stood up and began to describe in an animated way and in an excited voice ideas about what could be done. “We have to go around and get people and tell them and send letters and petitions.” An elderly Rosh HaYeshiva, who was an experienced member of the group, sat in his seat and without saying a word, simply motioned his hand that the younger fellow should sit down.

If only it were that simple to change the world.

But year after year we tell ourselves that we will drastically change, that next year we will not be the person we are today. Within time, we come to the conclusion, that basically I am the same person that I was a year ago and the year before that and so on.
We lose the determination to change and simply plead for our lives that Hashem, in his infinite mercy, should grant us another year.

So it seems that when we were young, we were optimistic and inspired but lacked the realization of the significance of what is at stake. When we are old, we are forever aware of our dependence on Hashem but we've lost our resolve to change.

In school, the focus is on passing. All the way from first grade until graduate school and beyond, you’ll hear one student ask the other "Did you pass?" Students will look at the questions that they got wrong, but has anyone ever witnessed a student, after the test looking up the right answers to the questions he got wrong? Parents will ask their children,” Did you pass?” The Grandparents ask the same question. Teachers will give you a grade but little matters more than "Did you pass?"

This is not true of all parents. There is a joke about a student who returned from his first semester at college and excitedly told his father that he was placed second in his class. His father asked “Nu, Why weren’t you first?” The student returned to school and tirelessly worked to come in first, hoping to win his fathers pride. When he returned from his second semester, the boy ran to his father and exclaimed,” Dad, I came in first! I was the head of the class!” His father thought for a moment and said “So, you cam in first. You were the best kid in the class.” The father paused for a moment and said, “Well, if you came in first, it must not be much of a school.”

Another oddity about the prayers of the day is how we seem to be praising Hashem for things he already knows. But more than that, in some cases, things which seem to hurt our case, at least potentially. Hashem never forgets. Everything is written down, both good and bad.
Perhaps the tefillos in Rosh Hashana Machzor are not so much about us reminding Hashem, as it is about us reminding ourselves. Perhaps, it is reminding ourselves that every action is significant, that every deed has consequence, that deep inside of us we want to do our best. Hashem is merciful, he will help you along. That nothing is forgotten. Perhaps the tefillah is not made to persuade Hashem, but its' purpose is to persuade ourselves. Its’ purpose is to convince ourselves who the king is and what our responsibilities are. Rosh Hashana is less about getting caught and trying to get out of being punished and more about being aware and learning from our mistakes.

The saddest part of Rosh Hashana is that it's been so long since we've done a cheshbon hanefesh that we shock ourselves at where we are. The proof that we'd never truly make an honest assessment of where we stand, if the holiday of Rosh Hashana did not exist, is that Rosh Hashana is the only time when we actually do a cheshbon hanefesh. We need to take advantage of the opportunity to realize our dependence on Hashem, how much he gives to us. We need to appreciate it and use it as springboards to inspire ourselves like we did when were young, but we need to be more focused and realistic. We need to be aware of what we need to change and work on changing one step at a time. It doesn't take a year to make changes, it takes 365 days. One day at a time.

Discover where you are lacking and work on it bit by bit. People have their own weakness. Set goals for yourself, it can't hurt to have 2 sets of goals, realistic and thinking big at the same time. Don't be satisfied that you passed or you "made it" thru the year, work on yourself, so that the next year you may not be a totally different person but you are much improved in some of those areas that were a problem for you the previous year. You will be a better "you." So when you say the tefillos not just on Rosh Hashana but everyday, let them pierce you heart, reach down to your innermost soul, because deep down all of us want to do good, with some syata dyshmaya, we just need to push ourselves to get there.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Chani Liora Rosenfield

You can read Daniel Rosenfield's "speech" at Chani Liora Rosenfield's hakamat HaMatzeiva last June. She was a very young girl who died of cancer last June.
it is powerful and sure to touch you. It provides a clear insight into the perspective of what it feels like to be a bereaved parent. You can read it at:

Hakamat Matzeiva

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bnos Bais Yaacov Newsletter

Bnos Bais Yaakov Newsletter Posted by Picasa

Above is the BBY newsletter sent last February before the annual dinner.
There is a letter about Nechama in addition to a copy of the article from the Olemeinu titled "A little letter goes a long way", which contained Nechama's letter of Chizuk to Rabbi Stein.There is also an article with some information regarding the hall named for Nechama Liba A"H. The story below is amazing because Nechama did it without any fanfare. She heard the baby wake up and stayed up for hours at night so as not to wake us up. She expected no reward and we only knew because she looked so tired in the morning. The text of the article below reads:

The beautiful Simcha Hall, Ateres Nechama Liba, graces this community with its sophisticated elegance in much the same way as its namesake graced Bnos Bais Yaakov. Nechama Liba Holman A"”H was a beloved member of Bnos Bais Yaakov'’s fifth grade. Truly beloved.
Nechama Liba knew from the age of 5 that she had a medical condition which would alter her life. She was inhibited from strenuous physical activity and had to wear a "“pocketbook"” that administered her medication. These are daunting challenges for anyone. Could a young girl possibly be expected to overcome these challenges? Only a young girl brought up by the wise Glen and Saguite Holman and possessed of the incredible strength of character with which Nechama Liba was blessed, could hope to meet this challenge. And meet it with her Simchas HaChaim intact.
Nechama Liba was not bSimcha in a silly, frivolous way. In fact, there wasn'’t much that was frivolous about her at all. She maturely accepted her situation and refused to be sad about it. Her equanimity was so appealing and her personality so charming that her classmates vied for the privilege of spending recess indoors with Nechama Liba to keep her company when she could not play outside. There was never any resentment ,ever, on the part of her classmates where Nechama Liba was concerned. They were willing to inhibit and even forego their own activities just to bask in her warm and comforting presence.
Nechama Liba was very aware of her parents'’ emotions and needs throughout her ordeal. She knew that her mother was exhausted after the birth of the family'’s most recent baby and Nechama Liba wanted to help her in some way. So when the baby would cry in the middle of the night, Nechama Liba would pick him up to cuddle him so her mother could catch a few more moments of necessary sleep. A commendable gesture from any eleven year old, but a magnificent one from a child for whom the exertion of picking up the baby was monumental.
Despite her young age, Nechama Liba served as a true role model of a bas Yisroel. Her concentration during davening, her modesty, and her outstanding character traits were extraordinary. This exceptional girl, in the brief time that Hashem allotted her, touched many hearts. Her beautiful smile will be missed. Her Simchas HaChaim will be missed. Her quiet charm will be missed. Clal Yisroel so desperately needs Hashem'’s mercy.
May Nechama Liba A"”H, use her compassionate and caring nature to beseech Hashem for compassion for us all.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hasgacha Pratis

Once while we were in the PICU, there was a Spanish speaking family in the bed next to us. There was nothing particularly outstanding about them. The patient was a newborn baby. The mother ,aunt and grandmother took turns hovering over the child. After a day, I noticed that a man with a yarmulke was visiting the baby. Somehow we started talking. He was the father of the baby girl. His wife,sister-in-law and mother in law were a Jewish family from a country in South America. I actually had a friend who was born in that country,came to the states for many years as a bochur. Then , he returned there for a few years after he was married to teach.Then my friend came back to America permanently. I thought it was a long shot but I asked the man if he knew my friend ,Jose-Chaim (not his real name). His jaw dropped and he was almost moved to tears. He explained that his daughter was born a few days earlier and had serious heart condition in South America, and that she would die within a few hours. This man took his newborn on the next plane to Columbia Presbyterian in New York. My friend had been his wife's Rebbi when he was last in Panama. Since they came to new York they had been trying to find my friend but he was not listed. Within minutes, I gave them my friends' number at work.
I do not know what they discussed but it gave them a tremendous amount of chizuk.
My Goal is to post at least 2x per week on Sunday and Wednesday.