Jul 7 2014
My husband and I bought cemetery plots today. We are both only 42 years old and (thank God) in good health, but we are trying to do the responsible thing. My parents purchased plots when they were around the same age and we figured it’s always smart to prepare for the future.
Unfortunately, there were no available spaces right next to our family plots, but we were pleased to find a nice spot just a short distance down the pathway. In some ways, the location is probably just right–close to my parents and family, but not too close.
The thing that makes me a little sad–but also a little happy–is that (in 120 years) we will not be buried right next to our daughter. Four years ago this month, we lost a very difficult pregnancy at 21-weeks gestation. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 2 2014
It’s been two whole days. Two days and I still haven’t told my daughter.
When my daughter was little, I used to worry that she didn’t have an appropriate sense of life and death–that she might do something stupid, even if I told her it was dangerous, because she didn’t realize what “dangerous” could mean. The first time she asked me about death, I grabbed the opportunity to try to reinforce the idea that death is serious and final–only realizing later that I had neglected any mention of a soul that lives on after the body, or any religious perspectives one might think a believing Jew should be teaching her child. It was so important to me that she grasp the great divide between life and death, I forgot that I believe in a continuum.
I say “when my daughter was little,” but she’s 8 now–is that still little? I don’t know. I still don’t think she grasps the possible consequences of “danger” as fully as I’d like her to. The other day I mentioned that some friends of ours are finally on the verge of aliyah, after putting their plans on hold years ago, because the father was hit by a bus. (I couldn’t bring myself to say “bus”; I told her he was hit by a car. I think that’s the biggest–maybe only–lie I’ve ever told any of my children.) Her big question? “Did he have to go to the emergency room?” Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 1 2014
Too early that March morning, my mother came into our bedroom and told us, “You don’t have a Nana anymore.”
My sister and I sat up in bed, sleepy-eyed, and shocked into silence. We knew Nana had been in the hospital, but we had no idea she could die.
Although it is contrary to today’s thinking about children and death, I am still grateful that, at 9 years old, I did not go to my grandmother’s funeral. I know that forever after I would have thought of her suffocated in a box. Despite the trauma, at least my memories are of a smiling, well woman who delighted in me and whatever I did. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 25 2014
I say that I’m the oldest of five. But that’s a lie. I’m actually the second oldest of six. Four months before my life began, my 16-month-old sister’s ended. She’d be 38 this month.
Born with a congenital heart defect, her early death was fated–her life clock rapidly marching towards death with her first breath of life. And although her death was certain–an eventuality that could be prepared for–it was no less tragic. It’s taken me 36 years to fully realize just how much impact my sister’s life–a girl I never knew–had on my own.
I don’t know when I began referring to myself as the oldest of five. I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember. At some point, you learn that people you’ve just met (or even those you’ve known and befriended) don’t want to hear about your dead sister. So, you remove any possibility that your sixth sister will ever come up in idle conversation. Eventually, denying her existence just became a convenient habit. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 28 2014
One of the things I love and admire about Judaism is its focus on life. Judaism, unlike many other religions, is concerned more with this life than what comes in the hereafter. Judaism does provide rituals for mourners to cling to in those dark days after a loved one dies, but beyond the first weeks or year of mourning, life resumes, and any mention of the departed one brings sympathy and comfort from those around.
My dad killed himself 10 years ago.
The ritual afterwards was completely different. He couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery and asked to be cremated with no funeral, no shiva, nothing. Not only did we have to lose our dad and find some way to reconcile his taking of his own life, but we had to do it without the rituals, which are there for a reason. We had to carve our way, largely on our own and without a community. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 23 2014
He picked up my newborn daughter from her plastic hospital bassinet carefully, with nothing short of love.
“Did you know,” he told the nurse checking my vitals as he checked my baby, “that I’m not only this little baby’s pediatrician, but was also her mother’s? And I was the obstetrician’s pediatrician too!”
“That’s really something!” the nurse said, smiling.
And it was. This anecdote sounds like I live in a one-horse town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I don’t: I live in a pretty big suburb of New York, where people move away and life goes at a relatively fast pace. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 17 2014
Shortly after our discussions on Kveller about the appropriateness of the Purim story for preschoolers, my 4th grader needed to read “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry (whom I will always adore due to the “Anastasia Krupnik” series).
I knew it was a book about the Holocaust, and I decided to read it first, so that I could be prepared for any questions he might have. (I’d initially confused it with another title, which follows the main character and her family all the way to Auschwitz.)
What I found in “Number the Stars,” however, was a book about the Holocaust… kind of. Read the rest of this entry →
It all started on Purim in my daughter’s nursery school in Jerusalem. Her teacher went into a considerable amount of detail regarding the hanging of Haman and his ten sons and the murder of Queen Vashti when she refused to appear naked (“in just her crown”) in front of the Royal Court. I assumed that Raphaela had no real understanding of the finality of death, at the age of 4.5.
It continued with Passover, with the teacher’s in depth explanations of the 10 Plagues, with a liberal use of the words “death,” “died,” and “killed.” In this black and white view of the Universe, my daughter was taught that the plagues affected only the Egyptians and their property, because they had enslaved and abused the Jewish people. Pharaoh and the Egyptians deserved their fate, because they were wicked and the Jews were good.
Raphaela came home with two drawings, and described the scenes set out in both: Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 11 2014
“Mommy, are you going to die?”–My 3.5-year-old daughter as we drove to lunch.
“What do you mean?”–Me, buying time.
“Are you going to die like GaGa Marilyn died?”
My mind raced. What did that child psychologist say when I went to consult her about the impact of my mom’s death on my then 2-year-old? What was in those books that the rabbi gave me after the funeral? What do I want my daughter to believe about mortality? What could I handle talking about as I was driving? Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 12 2014
What do you say to someone who’s lost a child? I’ve thought about this from both sides, and I get asked often enough that I might as well write down my thoughts in case they’re useful. This might be a bit specific towards parents who have lost an infant, but I’d guess that a lot of this translates pretty well across all sorts of grief. So, my standard advice goes something like this:
1. Say something. So many people don’t say anything because they’re afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing, but there’s really no *right* thing. Nothing is going to make things *right*. So say something.
2. If you don’t know what to say, try “that sucks.” Really. You don’t have to have something deeply insightful to say, and everyone else is trying to fix the unfixable. Recognition that it sucks is meaningful.
3. Make food for the person. This seems to be universal around tragedies… somehow, it’s just hard to handle the day-to-day. Make food and drop it off. My suggestion is not to ask, because people will often say no out of some sort of guilt. But some people might get upset if they said no and then you did it anyway, so just don’t ask.
4. If it’s someone you’re not super close to, feel free to go above and beyond. When my son died, someone I’d never met on a poker site mailed me tasty BBQ from his hometown because it was his comfort food. I still tear up thinking about that. Read the rest of this entry →