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 →
Feb 10 2014
All the parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read this week.
-Do more equal marriages mean couples are having less sex? In short, yes. Or at least those were the findings of a study which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year. Check out the New York Times’ fascinating reporting on the subject, which is bound to be the topic of dinner table discussions for a while. (The New York Times)
-Losing a nipple can be a traumatic side effect of breast cancer surgery. After losing her nipple in a double mastectomy, one Israeli survivor spent a year studying with a silicon designer who specializes in prosthetics and invented the first ever a prosthetic nipple–filling an important niche for women all over the world. (JTA)
-Are Jewish day schools gender-typing our kids as young as preschool age? What is long-term impact of an elementary education that encourages Talmud study for boys and Challah baking for girls? These are the questions raised in a new book by Elana Sztokman and Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman titled, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools. Check out Tablet’s fantastic podcast interview with the book’s author. (Tablet Magazine)
-Here’s a novel idea: using beans to talk to kids about money and charity. Since kids often can’t compute number in the five or six digit range, this author suggests breaking down the family pie visually in order to foster a healthy discussion about giving and where the family finances get distributed. (The New York Times)
-Check out this poignant essay by Kveller contributing editor Adina Kay Gross about losing her father when her twins were just 18 months old and how she keeps his memory present in their day-to-day lives. (Modern Loss)
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Dec 19 2013
A child has died.
A sweet, brave, smiling, bald 8-year-old boy named Samuel Sommer died from acute myeloid lukemia on December 14th. This is such bad news, I can barely type it out without getting furious. There is no calm way to understand this. An absolutely terrible thing.
And yet children die all the time. According to the World Health Organization, whose website I just clicked over to, millions of children die every year. But the millions of other poor dead children don’t move me the way Sam’s death does.
Why do I care so much about this one kid? Why do I know so much about this one kid? Read the rest of this entry →