Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Great Article on Coping with Loss

This is a moving article and gives a lot of insight into suffering and loss.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Cannot be Fixed Completely

I recently encountered a number of people, none of whom were bereaved, where discussions led to the topic of the heart and mind as they pertain to bereaved parents. Many of them were highly intelligent people. After some of these relatively brief informal discussions, I left feeling uneasy. Some spoke of the great need to talk about Hashkafa topics as a means of comforting bereaved parents. I tried to tell them that the problem with Hashkafa is that it doesn't help. That is not entirely true. There is a place for Hashkafa and sometimes it can even keep us focused. Yet something about that idea bothered me.

Somehow, I felt that they weren't really "getting it" and after much thinking, I came up with a hypothesis. All of the attempts and positions that were proposed were all a way of fixing the problem. These individuals,not bereaved themselves, were looking for answers. This "problem", that of losing a child is one which will remain broken. What bereaved parents need are tools not antidotes. This particular problem is one which will never be fixed. Never entirely healed. A scar, a painful one, will always remain. Bereaved parents need tools to get by, to lead normal, productive and (I dare say) happy lives. Yet the problem will always remain, lingering at the surface.

There are no easy fixes. There aren't even hard fixes. Our mission is to move on in spite of the fact that this problem will never completely go away. It will get better if you let it but neither time nor with any hashkafa insights will completely heal the wound. This is a difficult and uneasy reality and human nature is not to accept it. The first step to real healing is to accept this principal. The goal is how to ride a car with 3 wheels not figure out how to put the 4th wheel on.

This idea works hand in hand with the permanence of death. Once we accept the permanence of the loss and the fact that it will always be "broken", we can begin to heal. Because we do not want this reality to be true, we resist accepting it. We convince ourselves that denial will somehow alter reality. Yet, as we travel through the grief process, acceptance is almost inevitable reality. Until we take this bold step, we can never expect to move on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mind vs. heart

My wife found this on the web. I thought it expressed the issue of mind and heart very well.


People approach the topic of suffering from two separate perspectives. One is the "intellectual agenda:" A person is bothered by this issue and wants to intellectually understand it. The other is the "emotional agenda:" A person may right now be suffering (or know someone who is suffering), and it is bothersome emotionally. It's important to understand that these two agendas don't always coincide. Someone with an intellectual agenda wants answers, whereas someone with an emotional agenda is looking for relief. An approach for one won't work for the another.

As a rabbi, I have witnessed the most horrendous situations imaginable. I have experienced someone 20 years old who lost both of her parents in a car crash. Can you imagine a girl so close to her parents and in one day they're gone. I've lived through a husband coming home to find that his wife has collapsed, and in two days she's dead. There was nothing wrong with her before. And on and on and on.

Now when someone is in the midst of suffering, that's not the time to offer answers. It's a time to listen and empathize and say things that can provide comfort. I did not try to give any of these people the answers we will be discussing because when a situation is so emotionally wrenching it's not the time for answers. Rather it's a time to show compassion and empathy and be with the person as best you can. So let me just state in advance that we will only deal with the "intellectual agenda." If there's anyone going through a painful time and is looking for a sense of relief, I am skeptical whether these intellectual answers will offer any kind of relief.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Simchas haChaim

See original comment below this one.

Dear Asher,
   Of course I remember you and I appreciate your kind words. It gives my wife and I immeasurable nachas to know that people continue to gain chizuk from Nechama. She was far greater in person than we could possibly describe on paper.The thing that amazes me most, to this day, is that we truly never realized that she was aware that her condition was terminal. Actually, no one who was close to her was aware that Nechama knew her prognosis. Of course she knew that she was sick but we never spoke about death. Yet she fooled all of us. We only found out later from a confidant of hers.Nechama Liba a”h maintained her Simchas haChaim thru it all. We felt that she was just too happy; she couldn't possibly be aware of the fact that she was most likely going to die young. The “mussar” is: if Nechama was able to have such unwavering love of life and Simchas haChaim in the face of death, surely the rest of us can maintain our Simchas haChaim in the face of much lesser challenges.I wish you and your family the best. I have thought of you (and K) many times throughout the years.My wife and I appreciate your email more than you could know. Hatzlachah rabbah!Please be in touch.Glen

Dear Glen,It's been such a long time and I don't even know if you remember me. Rabbi Barry Nathan, who was in LA relayed to me the tragic news.Shortly afterwards, I came across this blog and was deeply moved. I related some of its contents to a large group of 9th and 12th graders at a recent Shabbaton in Los Angeles. In particular your comment about Nechama Liba living with a smile "cemented" on her face had a tremendous roshem on the kids. You have transcended worlds within your own lifetime. May Hashem give you and your beautiful mishpacha the continued ability to inspire others through your probing machshavos that are so real and relatable.b'vrachaAsher Brander

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Class Reunion (Fictional)

As a Baal Teshuvah of almost 20 years, I often think of what my old classmates were up to. After 11th grade, I left public high school to join an all boys, black hat yeshiva. Sometimes I dream about going to a class reunion from my old public high school. I imagine dressing up in my finest clothes, getting a car wash and buying a new dress and a new sheital for my wife. I would pack my wallet with family pictures and tons of cash. Singles in the middle, Twenties on the outside. As I walk into the crowded room, with my wife by my side, I start to recognize familiar faces. Not the faces of my friends but of their parents.

I imagine that an old friend would walk up to me and ask “How have you been? Is this your wife?”
“Sure”, I would respond. “How have you been”, I would ask.
<Him>” Not too bad. Been married 2x, have 3 kids. I’ve been in and out of work for several years. What about you?”
<me> “Well I’ve been married for almost 13 years. I’ve been working for the same company for 9 years. Life has been great. He would ask, how many kids you have? And what’s with the Jewish thing?”

<me> I would stammer: “Well, you see…uh… it’s sort of complicated. I mean what exactly is your question? Do you mean how many kids do I have… you mean like currently or did I ever had…and if you mean have, what does it mean to have a child. The nightmare ends there and I wake up in a cold sweat. My daughter Nechama Liba passed away last summer, 3 days before her 11th birthday.”

Generally, when asked about a child’s age, assuming it is within a week of her birthday, you could say 11 or 10. But Nechama will never be eleven. To say she was 10 would take away from 11 plus months of her life. So Nechama will always be 3 days before her eleventh birthday.

As I look back over the last several years, from the time that Nechama became sick until her ultimate death. I have to wonder what got me through those difficult years. And on a deeper level, did my Jewish beliefs help or hurt me.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Approaches To Grief

About a year ago, we met a bereaved couple from Brooklyn. This young boy of a few years old was born to the same parents. He had a fever. Everyday stuff. They gave him some medicine before both parents kissed him good night. He passed away in his crib during the night. Although they were parents to the same child and probably shared the same views on parenting, their approaches to grief were completely different. This is a common issue that arises between couples. Falsely believing that the couple, who are mourning for the same child, must deal with their grief in the same way. Yet just as men are from Mars and women are from Venus, their coping methods are different. There is the question of whether to look at pictures or not to look. Should you pack their room away or leave it as a sort of "shrine". To talk about it or pretend it never happened. To dive into work or become un-phased by the day to day. There are many, many questions and scenarios which arise and so many more answers and approaches.
This father from Brooklyn assured us that he was strong from start. He stated emphatically that Hashem carried my son to Gan Eden and I never
felt a bit of resentment or sadness from the moment that he left this world. On the other hand, the Wife could not get past the fact that she was never able to say goodbye.
The day before Nechama Liba passed, she woke up. We were weaning her off of the sedation with the expectation and hope that she would be
taken off of the respirator within days. Nechama Liba was unable to speak but she was able to nod her head. We were frightened. Imagine her waking up after being "asleep for weeks" with tubes, IVs and the generic scene of a hospital bed of someone who is in the ICU. In addition, she was forced to lie on a virtual bed of ice to keep her fever down. Before she had the chance to become agitated, I said” Do you trust me? Do you know that we will never let anything bad happen to you?" She nodded affirmatively and then she drifted back into her sleep. These were the last words that we spoke to her. My wife and I noticed, independently, that her hands looked like that of an old woman. Neither of us told that observation to the other until days later. We quickly pushed the visual from our minds. Nechama passed away the next day.

Ever since our first encounter, I felt great sympathy for this couple. I felt badly for the mother for what she was going through and perhaps worse for the father for what he would one day experience. One awful day, the reality of what occurred would hit him in a forceful way out of nowhere. There is no escape. To borrow a phrase “you can run...but you can't hide.” But I have often thought of what the wife said. It affected me in a profound way. I tried to understand on a deeper level why this, more than anything else, bothered her. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that since her child died so suddenly, she never got a chance to say all the things that she would have wanted her child to have known. “I love you. I will miss you. You mean the world to me. I am sorry for anytime that I wronged you. Many times, I had to withhold things that you wanted to have or that you wanted to do out of love. I am sorry for any time I yelled. I am sorry that I didn't spend more time with you or appreciate you when I had you.” I now understood why it shook this woman to the core. I did not have the opportunity at the time but, if I would see her now I would tell her the following: Your child, pure and holy was carried by Hashem to Gan Eden. In that respect, your husband is correct. And in the world of truth, nothing is hidden. Now more than ever, your child is aware of every true feeling that you ever had and knows all those things that you ever wanted to tell him. And even more, every subconscious feeling of love that you ever felt will be understood by that child.

To this child, you never needed to say good-bye.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Speech by Hakamas HaMatzeivah

Just found this from the Hakamas HaMatzievah from over a year ago.

The group is small and personal so I feel comfortable saying a few short words of a personal nature.

Being in Israel is a strange experience for me. Each step is a reenactment of the efforts that we took upon Nechama’s behalf over the past year and a half during my trips. Our families and friends went to extreme efforts, making tremendous personal sacrifices during Nechama’s illness. They were a tremendous support for us thru the years. They were always there for us, no matter what the task was. We knew that we could always count on them whenever we needed her most.

How appropriate that Nechama’s uncles have accepted to say Kaddish on her behalf.

May we share many simchas together.

Acherie mos – kedoshim.

When Aaron’s sons were nifter, he could have responded in many different ways. The pain of a parent that loses a child is beyond understanding from someone who has not experienced it chas vashalom. A person whose has not experienced is not shyiach to it (not able to comprehend). The Torah says “Vayidom Aaron”. Aaron was silent. There are no true words of comfort. No magical soothing messages that will ease the pain. There aren’t even questions to ask or even answers to seek. You don’t even know where to begin. We save all of that, all of the “why” questions for the olam haEmes.

“Achreia mos bnei Aaron”-is followed by the laws of Yom Kippur. What is their connection? Chazal say that the world stands on shtika (Keeping silent). When Aaron’s sons died, he could have expressed many complaints against Hashem, chas Vashalom. Instead he remained silent. It was as if he was saying, “Hakodesh Boruch Hu, when I could have ledged complaints against you, I remained silent. So, when you have taanas (complaints) on Klal Yisroel, please remain equally silent. That is Yom Kippur.

Acherie mos – Kedoshim :Nechama Liba was a special neshama. Her greatness was so hidden that no one understood who she really was until after she passed.. The pasuk speaks about Aaron’s sons and then the korbanos and halachos of Yom Kippur. What is their connection? The death of a tzaddik is a Kapara ( an atonement) for the masses.

What is the connection between a tzadik and the tzibur? The tzibbur grows and is inspired by the Tzaddik . The tzaddik is able to invoke teshuva and stimulate growth amongst the people. The tzibbur is inspired to take upon new mitzvos and strengthen their bond with their creator. Rav Tzadok says that the greatest moment for the nifteres is at the time if death. Only after the Tzaddik dies do we truly see the greatness of holiness of the tzadik. Real Kapara (atonement) is when it leads to teshuva. When we feel the pain of the loss and more importantly when we change ourselves, when we are inspired by the nifteres, that is the real Kapara for the tzibbur. Through the zechusim (merit) of the mitzvos which they take on. All of the mitzvos, the kabalos hamitzvos that we take on in her memory., That is the real Teshuva, that is the real Kapara.

In truth, nothing would have meant more for Nechama than for her to have witnessed the aliya (spiritual growth) of her family. Every mitzvah that her family, her immediate family, her siblings, her grandparents , her parents, her uncles & aunts, would be greeted with a shining light beaming with pride as she looks done upon us. We need to live our lives in a way that would make her proud. In this way she will never be forgotten and every act, no matter how small or large, will be a zechus for her and all of us.

The greatest lesson that we can learn from her ,now, at this difficult time in our lives is to move forward. Constantly growing..each day better than the previous one. We need to do it bSimcha. Nechama didn’t let her situation deter her , she used it to drive her to be better. We need to strengthen our emunah and bitachon. We were able to stay positive and have true faith during the darkest hours, we must build upon that. By moving forward, we can make a dramatic impact on the world. By having pure faith, living our lives Bsimcha, we have an opportunity to make a kiddush Hashem that few will experience.
We need to internalize that message. Envision that glowing face and sweet smile. We need to save the “why” questions for another chapter in our lives, when g-d willing Moshiach will come soon and reunite us. Her memory always live on thru the mitzvos that we do. May we only share simchos together.

Hashem should bring Moshiach soon bimhara vYamenu amen.

Monday, December 05, 2005

amazing chesed

We’ve all been to Simchas for both for families and friends. And we’ve all hosted our own Simchas for one occasion or another. There is always lots of food and entertainment. The first thing you do is scope out the scene. See what there is to eat, mingle with a few friends and acquaintances. Inevitably, you start to look for the Baal Simcha. He might be the father of the choson or kallah or the father of the Bar Mitzvah bochur.
Imagine, upon inquiry, you find out that the father couldn’t be there. He is sick in the hospital. You would probably sigh or feel a pit in your stomach. “What a shame.” you might say. But now there is an organization that is doing something to make the lives of these individuals and their families better. I recently had the privilege of seeing them in action. They do audio\video hookups in the hospital for parents or siblings who are too ill to go to a family simcha. The setup is absolutely amazing. Professional video crew is situated at the simcha hall. A cable is connected to a van outside the hall with satellite dishes on top. The signal is transmitted to another van (with satellite dishes) situated outside of the hospital. Cables are run from the van to the hospital room. This is where it gets really amazing. The hospital room windows are not allowed to be opened so they run the cable throughout the hospital. They laid the cable up the stairs, down the hall. Whatever it takes! And “poof”, you have instant, real time video\audio feed right in your hospital room of the entire simcha.
Now, first things first, these guys who are involved in this organization have an express ticket to Gan Eden (after 120years). Can anyone think of a greater gift to a family where someone is sick?! If you think about it, is there any sane person who would give up going to their child’s wedding or Bar Mitzvah? Would anyone miss their simcha even for an offer of tens of thousands of dollars? The "gift" that this organization is providing is invaluable and a tremendous chesed that can never be repaid. Fortunately, we were never in a position to take advantage of this but for those who do, it is an incredible service. I pray that no one should ever need it. But it is an example where we can do things to make the plight of families where someone is sick that mch better.

Song written by Nechama

Song written by Nechama Holman (age 8)

As I go to sleep I say Shema with Kavanna in my eyes
I fall asleep with a malach by my side
I have a happy smile on my face as
I have sweet dreams from Hashem who loves me so

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Another Couple

Years ago, we were on one of our typical “extended visits" to Columbia. Most likely it was due to a line infection. We spent Shabbos there often. There was a Chassidishe couple there. We ate the Shabbos Seuda together and passed the time with some light talk. We shared stories describing the difficulty situations which, we as parents, are forced to undergo when you have a sick child. Shabbos was always difficult, always put into awkward situations. I remember talking on the phone with a nurse one Friday night, before she hung up, she wished me Good Shabbos. I never hesitated to be "Machallel Shabbos" for Nechama's health, yet it always bothered me and left me feeling torn inside. While we finished our Shabbos Seuda, we talked about the fear of having a sick child and the impact on the other siblings. They had many other children who were "farmed out" at home while they stayed at the hospital. It was a source of comfort to talk with other parents who had been through much of what we had experienced. Something was struck me as strange about the conversation but I didn't pick up on it until later. Privately, the wife told my wife that the child wasn't theirs. The child's real mother had mental issues so they agreed to take the child. I can't imagine where they got the strength to voluntarily put themselves through so much trauma and pain for someone else's child. I was in awe of their chesed. This can't be compared to a one time favor like driving car pool for a neighbor or lending them some sugar. But the next time someone asks us for a small favor, we should keep in mind these people and do it with a smile. Mi cAmcha Yisroel.
My Goal is to post at least 2x per week on Sunday and Wednesday.