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


Blogger Jay Lapidus said...

Thank you for identifying Guilt with the Yetser haRa. Your metaphor is powerful.

9:43 PM  

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