Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Letter to bereaved Parent #3

Dear Mr. & Mrs.,
     I have spent a lot of time thinking and contemplating what to say to you. Trying to find the right words of comfort. Hamakom y'nachem etchem b'toch sh'ar availai tziyon vYerushalayim. Only Hashem can provide true nechama. The loss of a child leaves a void that will never be filled. Time does not diminish nor take away the longing for your child. Many people look for a vort or dvar Torah to give a clear answer. All the Divrei Torah in the world can serve only as an attempt to appease the mind but the heart is still left wanting.
     I heard a story of a holocaust survivor who lived well into his nineties. He had witnessed and lived through one of the darkest chapters of Jewish history. He rebuilt his life after the war. He got married and raised a family. Towards the end of his life, his son, who was in his seventies, passed away. He said that for him, the pain of losing his son was worse than all the suffering from the Shoah. My point is not to take away from the suffering of the survivors, yet this story speaks to the pain of losing a child at any age.
The beginning of the “grieving process” is analogous to someone who looks directly into a light. For sometime, he will see spots no matter where he looks. He sees them even when he closes his eyes. The thoughts of your child dominate most of your thoughts when you are awake and all of your dreams. After shiva, many people find it difficult to adjust to “normal life”; to the daily mundane routine. Others find it a welcome break from the intensity of the pain. The expression “Time heals” has no real meaning when talking about the loss of a son\daughter. But over time, it does get better and it does get easier! I remember the first time that I felt real joy after Nechama Liba A’H passed away. It happened a few months later at a baseball game fundraiser when my son met his hero, Jim Abbott. Mordechai had corresponded with Jim a few years before via email and he had always dreamed of meeting him. We only decided to go at the last minute and we had no idea that Jim would be there until we saw him on the field. The photographer took pictures of the 2 of them while Jim had a catch with my oldest son. I was smiling from ear to ear. The circumstances led me to feel, in my heart, that somehow Nechama Liba had orchestrated this “chance” meeting. I felt true joy for the first time. It proved to me that I was capable of feeling happy again. It taught me that feeling happy wasn’t an insult to my daughter’s memory.
At the end of my daughter’s illness, she was hospitalized for 5 weeks in the ICU in Columbia Presbyterian. Like, your son O”H, she was on a respirator. What I witnessed with my own eyes, no parent should ever witness. Not many people can actually relate to what you were going through. When I went to visit you in the hospital, I saw in your faces pain but more dominant was your tremendous strength & emunah. I was in awe. I was truly inspired by your bravery and courage. You passed the test! The test wasn’t governed by whether or not Hashem chose to take your son or not. The test was how you were going to react during the time of crisis. And you passed with flying colors. You both were a true Kiddush Hashem and I will forever be inspired by your righteousness and strength.
A few weeks before this past Rosh Hashanah, someone mentioned that there was going to be a group of people who were going to be saying Tehillim for your child. I asked if I could tag along. I don’t think anyone expected such an incredible turnout. I felt a surge of emotion. And that night everyone who was there cried and prayed that this child should be granted long life. In spite of the incredible efforts of the family, community and friends, Hashem chose to bring him to Gan Eden. And as someone mentioned, he was carried by all of those zechusim done on his behalf.

Hashem created a Yetzer Hara specifically for the difficult times in life but there is a specific Yetzer Hara for bereaved parents. His name is guilt. He is sly and powerful. He neither sleeps nor gets tired. And he takes advantage of every opportunity that he gets. And his helper is our need to be in control. Human nature incites us to find someone to blame. But there is a weakness that exists in this Yetzer Hara. His weakness is that he has no independent life source. He lives because we give him life. Our own conscience is his life source.  We need to recognize 2 things. Firstly, that there are certain things that are beyond our control. And secondly, that I need to do my best with whatever is in my control. How we react to crisis is in my control. And how you both handled yourselves is something that your family and you can be very proud of. Don’t give life to the guilt.
I believe that the key to moving on is to somehow maintain the relationship with your child. The death of a child creates energy of sorts. We need to recreate ourselves. Not in spite of our loss but because of it. Not withstanding the difficulty in doing so, but it is to our benefit to use those situations and experiences that remind us of our child as a way of connecting to them. I suspect that this is a very long journey and a difficult process. I think that the way to grow in the relationship with our children is by making them part of our lives. Not just in a superficial way, like looking at a picture but in a real way. By learning from the best that our children represented, and growing from it, we maintain an internal connection to them. For example, Nechama Liba A”H was brave even though she was frightened. She was strong even though her life was difficult. By making those ideals a part of which I am, and then she becomes more of who I am. In that way, our relationship grows.  It gives me the strength to get up in the morning and smile at an acquaintance that passes by. I see her smile and it gives me the strength to withstand grief from strangling me.
I often dream of being able to wish away all the pain of all the bereaved parents. All I have to offer is that I wish you all the brochos in the world. May Hashem give you Syata Dyshmya in finding new and inspiring ways of remembering your son, O”H. Whether it be creating an organization or just by telling stories of your son or whatever keeps the kesher “alive”. We should share only Simchas together time and time again.


                                   Glen Holman

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Guiding Light in my life

Based upon the request of someone, I compiled all of the posts from this blog into a word document. I categorized them as best I could and corrected a spelling mistake here or there. As I look through the introduction, I noticed how much had changed. The ages of my other children had moved up a notch. I was no longer at the same job or in the same industry. Also I noticed that it stated that “my daughter had passed away last summer” This was no longer accurate since, Nechama died almost a year and a half ago. I changed it to say”the summer of 2004.” Upon reflection, I realized that her passing became an official date. It was slightly less of a blur and more of a reality. Nechama has been my guiding light, certainly, since her death. She has been my constant motivation in everything in life. It is an amazing phenomenon how someone can be such a significant part of your life yet the void hasn’t lessened in any way.  The feeling of being separated is as strong as ever. The wound is still so raw and the pain so real. Yet Nechama remains the propelling force in every part of my life. Because of her I feel that I cannot go on but because of her I can’t stay stagnant. Nechama was such a special person and each day that goes by causes my recognition of her greatness grows stronger. Nechama was truly a Gadol in the true sense of the word. I hope that people will learn from and be inspired by her example as I have.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Vehicle for a Miracle

On a frequent basis, I meet people who have sick children. Often, they are in critical situations. I am referring to the heart pounding, frightful and ever so fragile situations of having a child who is critically ill. We often hear the term" critical condition" or "stable but critical condition". As spectators, we hang on the word "stable" and assume all is ok. Without having experienced it, it is hard to imagine or absorb how fragile and tenacious this situations are.
A wide range of emotions are confronted. I met a parent recently who was struggling with the unanswerable question of Why. She broached the subject of death on more than one occasion as her infant daughter's life remained in balance.
"I always had my guard up, never taking life for granted. When the doctor did a sonogram and said that everything would be ok, I let my guard down." Struggling to find an answer, Guilt was on hand to provide an answer. Seemingly a logical response:” It is all my fault".
The feeling of guilt is over powering for parents in general but under the circumstances, clearly Guilt has the upper hand. But even more than that, she was preparing herself. There is a prevailing feeling that somehow, if we prepare ourselves, the blow of death will be gentler. Yet the reality is that you are never prepared for death. It is always a shock no matter what the scenario. Contrary to popular belief, the pain is not lessened by negative thoughts or pessimistic perspectives. In addition, there is a feeling that if you beat yourself up, then somehow that will be added to the scale. She did not realize that beating yourself up isn’t a zechus.
I told her that when given the choice between 2 approaches, 1 negative and 1 positive and there is no practical difference, always choose the positive approach. Choosing to be negative won't make things better.
One of the thoughts that got us through those 6 weeks in the hospital was based upon this past week’s parsha. It was more than a vort; it was our way of life. Why does G-d dictate the world by the laws of nature? And once G-d has chosen to do so, why would those laws ever be broken? When Moshe raised his staff to split the sea, the sea did not part. It wasn't until Nachshon ben Aminadav plunged into the sea until the water reached his neck, that the waters parted. G-d makes the laws of nature to "hide" himself. Hester Panim. When we choose to see beyond the laws of nature and pierce through that mask, we make ourselves a vessel for a miracle. If we choose not to bind ourselves to the laws of nature, then Hashem will not bind us by those laws and we become a vessel to accept a miracle. We become the vehicle for that Nes.
So as long as we see Hashem, beyond the tubes and doctors and statistics, and we recognize that Hashem is not bound by technology or medicine, then Hashem can create a miracle. I don't claim that this is in any way a sure fire approach but at the end, you will benefit. Even if the outcome, chas vashalom, is not what we wanted, then at least, we get the zechus of believing in Hashem against all odds. Against logic, Nachshon ben Aminadav plunged into the sea, and became the vehicle for the geulah. May we be zoche to see our own geulah, both individually and collectively speedily in our days!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dear Entertainer

Dear <Entertainer>,
     Firstly, I wanted to thank you for the concert that you performed during the event last week. Friends of mine, who had attended previous events where you played, had told me that the concert would be the highlight. To be honest I was skeptical. However, the Motzei Shabbos experience greatly exceeded any expectations. The atmosphere that you created was so bSimcha and energetic that I could not help but sit back and smile. Rav __ was smiling from ear to ear; he was beaming with pride. But the highlight of the evening was when the Rosh HaYeshiva Shlita was dancing with all of the children in a circle. That is when an idea hit me.
     My wife and I have been organizing an event for bereaved families for the.  As I was watching the dancing, I was imagining what simcha it would bring to the families if you could have a concert for them. This group of people has undergone the greatest tragedy that one could imagine. Yet despite their nightmare, and in spite of their struggle, they manage to “move on” with life. This group, from the parents to the children, is a group of heroes, literally. They are inspirations to everyone around them. To watch them daven and do mitzvos with such love, despite what they have experienced and continue to experience on a daily basis, earns them the title of hero.
     I am offering you this opportunity to play a concert for this group for 2 reasons. One is that these people deserve a weekend filled with fun and excitement. They are entitled to this break. We owe it to them. And secondly, when you stand on stage and watch the group filled with energy and simcha, take a long hard look. As you move on in life, and are able to appreciate what these people have lost, you will be forever thankful that you took advantage of this opportunity. This memory of what you did, out of the kindness of your heart, will be etched in your mind. In the zechus of doing this, may you have hatzlacha in your future and current endeavors.
I appreciate you taking the time to consider this opportunity.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Don't be afraid part 2

My previous post might have been too far reaching or “painted with broad brush”. I received one email from close friends apologizing for not mentioning Nechama’s name during a brief encounter some time ago. Not every situation or meeting is appropriate for discussing the deceased child. The point is not to be afraid to talk about the child that has past. If you have a story to share or a picture, feel free to go ahead and share it. I have been asked on a few occasions by friends if it is appropriate to give a video clip of a deceased child to the parents. My advice was “Run, don’t walk. They will be forever indebted to you.”
     Dealing a bereaved parent is tough business. And even bereaved parents are anxious and cautious when talking to other bereaved families. The “right” thing to say one day is wrong the next day. Sometimes it fluctuates by the minute. You can never be guaranteed that what you will say is going to be the right thing. All you can do is to try your best. If you are sincere, that will come across. “If it comes from the heart, it will enter the heart.”
     Unfortunately, there is more than one story about a bereaved parent whose friends stopped calling or worse. I have been told on a number of occasions of friends who crossed the street to avoid having to meet with a bereaved parent. And it did not go unnoticed and it did hurt them. But it is sort of a purification or filtering process.  In the end you will know who your real friends are and who you can count on in your family.
Fortunately, we have very good friends and family and our feeling of appreciation knows no bounds. Well, you might be more worried now than you were before, but just do your best. If you have something to share, don’t be afraid.if you don’t then you needn’t go out of your way to make something up. “No matter which way you go if you are sincere (with a small amount of common sense), they will appreciate you.”
My Goal is to post at least 2x per week on Sunday and Wednesday.