How Can I Sing With a Broken Heart.

We went to a concert last night. Hawaiian music. Keola Beamer, a master of Hawaiian slack key guitar, and Henry Kapono. They were two of the progenitors and drivers of the Hawaiian Rennaissance during the 60’s and 70’s. It was a lovely evening, albeit emotional for Terry and me. There were a couple of songs that touched me deeply, songs written for a father, songs written for children. Songs of longing for home. Irreverant songs that were hysterically funny. It was like being in these people’s living room as they talked story and shared their music. The final encore was Hawai’i Aloha. Part of the requirements of this particular song is everyone must stand, join hands and sing. Even if you don’t know the song, you sing. It has a simple melody and Keola’s wife, Moana, spoke the words before each stanza, albeit in Hawaiian. In days past I would have joined in with gusto. I can follow a tune, could fake the words. Last night I stood mute, tears streaming down my face, unable to utter a word. I tried to sing, but nothing would come out.

Throughout my life, I have had my heart broken, or so I thought at the time. Failed relationships, failed friendships, and each time the music brought me through. Music has the power to rearrange those hidden invisible pieces of your soul. In the past, I was able to play and sing to re-order those pieces. I would bang on my guitar and belt out Dylan (who always managed to catch the essence of heartbreak), old gospel songs, mountain dirges, fiddle tunes, till the ache eased. This time around, things are different. Somehow the music isn’t working.

Maybe tonight it was because of our connection to Hawai’i. We went there on our honeymoon and very nearly didn’t come back. I wish we had stayed. For years, we would take our family vacations there and felt at home. We were always treated like locals. People would invite us to private luaus, to after-hours hula sessions. It was surprising and at the same time, completely natural. We felt like locals. We would return year after year and it seemed as no time had elapsed between visits. We are headed there in July for a family vacation and look forward to the trip with a mixture of joyous anticipation and dread. There are so many memories lurking there.

The last time we were there was in the summer of 2005. One of our very last family vacations, all of us together. In retrospect, the storm was brewing but hadn’t broken yet. Will I be able to sit at the counter of Hamura Saimin and not see Jake sitting next to me ordering chicken sticks and lilikoi pie? Will I be able to golf the Makai course and not see us huddling in our golf cart during a torrential downpour only to see the magnificent rainbow just a few minutes later? Can I drive past the Tahiti Nui and not see Jake and Shane digging up the Kalua pig for the luau? Or see the 2-year-old Jake dancing on stage with the “Hula Girls”? Can I ever be on a beach without thinking of the tiki hut we would build every summer? Of course not. He will be there the entire time. After all, we carry him with us wherever we go.

I will take my uke, but I am not sure I will be able to play it. Perhaps I can play, but sing? Somehow I don’t have high hopes. This is what Mark Twain must have been referring to. He compared the death of his 24-year-old daughter Susy (Jake was 24), to the burning down of a house.

“It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man [or a woman], all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live. There is but one reasonable explanation for it. The intellect is stunned by the shock of it and but gropingly gathers the meaning of the words. The power to realize their full import is mercifully wanting. The mind has a dumb sense of vast loss – that is all. It will take mind and memory months, and possibly years, to gather together the details and thus learn and know the whole extent of the loss….It will be years before the tale of lost essentials is complete, and not till then can he [she] truly know the magnitude of his [her] disaster.”

Years later, I am still learning the extent of this disaster. I am still compiling the tale of lost essentials. Jake was essential and now he is lost and all the pieces of our lives he carried with him are gone as well. And here is where it gets even worse. As you begin to comprehend the extent of the tragedy, the raw emotion subsides and you are able to evaluate what you have truly lost. I am still discovering what I have lost. The discovery will continue forever, I fear.

Neil Young said it. Only love can break your heart/what if your world should fall apart. If the magnitude of our heartbreak is measured by the depth of our love, my heartache is immeasurable. My world fell apart on December 28, 2013. Like the broken teacup, I am struggling to rebuild it, but there will always be missing pieces. I pray one of those pieces won’t be music. Perhaps it is just under the sofa in this darkened room and I will stumble across it one of these days.

Until then, we take what pleasure we can from our lives, but we are fundamentally changed. Last night was a lovely chance to soak up some true aloha from our beloved islands. We live, we laugh, we love, but alas, for now, I do not sing.

Posted in Coping, Grief, Jake Colman, Sadness, Tragedy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

December 28, 2017

fbstone copy

Thursday was December 28, the 4th December 28th since Jake’s passing. 4 years. It doesn’t seem possible, but in this new world I now inhabit, anything is possible. It is one of the curiosities of time that it can be so long ago and yet it was only yesterday that I got the terrible telephone call on that bright December afternoon that changed our lives forever.

We spent the day quietly and went to visit the cemetery, something we don’t really look forward to doing. After all, Jake isn’t there, so in a way, it is almost unnecessary. I visit him every moment of every day. He is wherever I am. But we wanted to make sure his headstone is clean and orderly, wanted to leave some stones and bring him some M & M’s and a box of Sno Caps, two of his favorite candies.

It was a clear, chilly afternoon, the low winter sunlight streamed across the manicured lawn in the Garden of Rachel. The nearby fountain whooshed and splashed, its 20-foot high column of water jetting into the air and tumbling back into the large round pool. We cleaned his stone and scattered the candy around, arranging it just so while we waited for the sun to clear a nearby tree. A bright splash of light streaked across the name, Jacob Samuel Smilen Colman, and we snapped a few photos. It is curious. I can look at this carved slab of black rock, read the inscriptions, note the dates, pretty much with dry eyes. But whenever I get to the last line, the one that reads “Our Beautiful Boy”, that’s when the waterworks open up. Every single time.

It’s as if this terrible grief has relaxed its hold on me somewhat, the 28th doesn’t have quite the power to incapacitate me it once did. Not even this 28th. But it is still there. Buried just below the surface. The scab is harder, more durable. After all, you can only deny something for so long. But the bewilderment persists. The grief can still grab my heart with an iron grip. Take my breath away. No, I don’t walk around in the same daze, but every day I wake up and wonder, how did this come to pass. How is this possible that I will live out my days without my beautiful boy.

The death of a child is not something you ever, ever get over. Just as you don’t “get over” his birth. Both events are life-altering moments. You are never the same afterward. Never. We carry the love of our children with us forever, wherever they are. Wherever we are. The sadness never goes away. Tempered by time perhaps, but no less painful, no less immediate. Slowly we learn to live our lives in a different way. Not “the new normal”. More like the new abnormal, but we learn in our own time and in our way. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how or how long you must grieve. We will grieve forever.

Jake’s friends left moving tributes on his Facebook page, on our Facebook pages. Photos, memories, bits of him that no one will ever forget. One of his friends said, “I’ve come to realize that the older I get the more I miss him and Austin and all the time we were robbed of to spend with them. I always have memories and that’s never going to be good enough.”

Exactly. As time goes on, I miss him more and more, not less and less. All the time we were robbed of. The memories are sweet, but they will never be good enough. There will never be any new memories to make. His friend’s loyalty and friendship are beautiful. They give us small comfort that as long as they remember, Jake will live on. And they do remember. They remind us that in his short incandescent life, he touched so many people. People who will carry him in their hearts for a lifetime.

Tomorrow is the 4th anniversary of the second saddest day in my life.The day I laid my beautiful boy to rest. For many, New Year’s Eve is a time for celebrating the anticipation of a fresh new year. A look forward to all the things to come. For me, it is the day I began this dreadful journey into my uncertain future, a life irrevocably changed.

Shine on, Jakey Jake. We all miss you terribly.

Posted in Ceremony, Coping, Grief, Healing, Honoring Jake, Jake Colman, Jake's Spirit, Memory, Progress, Sadness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

In the Beginning …

“You say you lost your faith, but that’s not where it’s at.
You had no faith to lose and you know it.”

Bob Dylan – Positively 4th Street

We have just come through the three weeks of what is called the High Holy Days. It begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year. A time for reflection on the past year and the promise of a new year. We dip apples into honey and wish each other a good year, a sweet year, a year filled with happiness, health, prosperity, and progress. 11 days later comes Yom Kippur, a day where we fast all day, consider our shortcomings, beg forgiveness from those we may have wronged, and vow to do better in the coming year. After all the fasting and atoning comes the harvest festival, Sukkot. We build tempory sukkahs or ‘booths’ in our backyards and ‘dwell’ in them for a week. We take our meals in the simple structures leafed over with palm fronds or other natural materials. The marathon of holidays concludes with Simchat Torah, literally the happiness of the Torah, where we joyously dance with the scrolls, conclude reading the 5 books of Moses, and because Jews are eager to continue Torah study, we re-roll the entire thing and immediately begin reading from the beginning.

Those three weeks can be exhausting. Preparing elaborate dinners, the day of fasting and atoning, building the sukkah, receiving visitors for meals, interspersed with many mornings in shul praying, observing special services, and for me, the blessing of the Kohanim. I perform the blessing with love, as commanded, but the rest of the service is just words. What is most exhausting, is that I no longer get any spiritual recharge from these holidays. Most of the meaning has been lost for me. Perhaps it is sad to admit, but my appearances in shul are mostly perfunctory. This year I didn’t even go to the Simchat Torah celebration. I don’t really read the prayers, I go through the motions.

Those prayers ring so hollowly now. They speak of the Merciful God who protects his children, who answers prayers. Why couldn’t he protect my child? Why didn’t he answer my prayers? I know I have been over all this before, but sitting in shul, looking at the words in the book, it all comes rushing back. My prayers for Jake’s safety. Asking God to watch over him, to keep him safe. The only thing I ever asked for. The only thing I ever wanted. My entreaties fell upon deaf ears. So why bother asking for anything now? More questions for which there are no answers. If my faith was stronger, perhaps it might give me some comfort, but to paraphrase Bob Dylan, I had no faith to lose and I know it.

I did not grow up in an observant home. When I entered my teenage ‘existential’ years, I questioned everything. As far as I was concerned, there was no magic man in the sky who wrote everything down, who knew secret thoughts, had the future all pre-ordained. I was a consummate skeptic. Over the years my spiritual beliefs waxed and waned, but I never really bought into that omniscient being that controlled the universe. When Jake was born, we strove to bring him up in a Jewish home. Terry lit the candles every Shabbat, we celebrated all the holidays, built a sukkah, something I never did as a kid myself. As he grew and we found ourselves in a local Chabad for his bar mitzvah preparation, I began a journey back to a more observant place. The study of Torah was, for me, mostly an intellectual exercise, I liked the discussions, the way some of the writings applied to our daily lives. I went to shul every week, learned the Blessing of the Kohenim and in general, participated more fully in our community. I prayed, not fully ‘believing’ but rather to hedge my bets. What if it was all true?

Then came December 28 and all that carefully cultivated “faith” shattered. Where was the merciful God? Where was the god we prayed to that protected his children? If God was infinite and timeless, capable of such miracles, why in the hell did he take Jake? How could He need him more than we did? More like a selfish, indifferent, and capricious god as far as I was concerned. Or maybe there wasn’t a God who pulled the levers of our universe at all, as I suspected all along. Maybe we live in a random and unpredictable world where each one of us is responsible for his or her own lives. Where life can change forever in an instant. Where shit falls on us out of the sky for no reason, where senseless things happen daily – things for which there is no explanation, no understanding. This is the world I now inhabit.

Years ago, during one of my spiritual ‘quests’ I came to the conclusion that our purpose on Earth was to enjoy this magnificent planet as much as we can and to do as little damage to it and to one another as possible. I still think that is true. I also now know, that when Jake was born, my true purpose was revealed to me, and I reveled in that knowledge. Now, I struggle to find my purpose. To find the same complete fulfillment, or even a fraction of it, I experienced as Jake’s dad. It has been nearly four years now, and that struggle goes on every day. Who knows when or if I will ever find it. But I don’t have the luxury of giving up the search. As it is written in the Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, “You are not obligated to complete the work (of making the world a better place), but neither are you free to desist from it. 


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A Perpetual State of Bewilderment

It seems unbelievable that exactly three years ago, I wrote a post for this blog titled “A New Stage”. It was a stage of grief that isn’t really discussed in the “grief literature”, one that I named the WTF stage. Back then, just four months into our surrealistic journey, I wondered what happened. How my life, our lives had come to this. I simply couldn’t believe it was all happening. That Jake was gone. How could this be? In other words: What. The. Fuck.

The other thing I couldn’t understand was how could the rest of the world continue without acknowledging my personal tragedy. My world had imploded, but during our daily walks, I’d see people going about their lives as normal. Didn’t they know the world had suddenly changed? Couldn’t they see it would never be the same?

Now, three years later, I am still wondering what happened. Not so much what, I know the what, the who, the when, the where, but I’ll never figure out the why. I lie awake some nights, (like tonight, for example) and roll those same baffling questions around and around in my head, questions for which there are no answers.

I have come to a different place than I was then. That indescribable agony of those first months has softened a little; the scab is thicker, rips off less frequently. But the pain and confusion still simmer along. Maybe not quite so close to the surface but it can come bubbling up at any time without warning. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. There wasn’t any indication that we would end up like this when Jake was growing up. All the promise, the joy, the excitement, the pleasures of his life, our happy family, the fulfillment of purpose I felt; that’s what I expected. Not the hollowness of days that followed his death and continues today.

Even when we were going through his battles with addiction, even when we didn’t know if he would make it, I always believed, with a father’s certainty, that he would. That he would survive. That we could carry him. The all the love of all the people who loved him would pull him through. I couldn’t imagine anything else. And we thought, during those last few months, he had finally turned the corner at last. He, we, had been through it all before and we thought, this time it would stick. He had his own apartment, he had a wonderful job prospect, had friends who stood by him, who loved him. He seemed genuinely excited about his job. Had his chef’s whites pressed and ready to go for the Saturday night shift he would never get to. That’s why his death was such a shock, was so mystifying, left so many unanswered questions. We thought we were out of the woods.

The code words we used describing his passing, “suddenly and unexpectedly”; people who knew what we were going through knew what they meant. Other parents who were fighting the same battles knew. Anyone who lost a loved one to the same disease knew. We called it an accident, and in fact, it was. Not an auto accident, or a boating accident, or a climbing accident, but a horrible accident of prescription pharmacology. An accident of muscle relaxants, and mood stabilizers, and pain killers. Such a waste. Such a tragic waste. My rant on the failure of the medical and “rehab” establishment will have to wait for another time, but it is coming. Perhaps a little late, but it is coming. Right now, I just don’t have the energy.

This is not something I have talked about here, thus far. I have avoided it because of the societal stigma of addiction and didn’t want to tar Jake with that brush. Most people view it as a moral failing or a weakness of will or some personality flaw. Jake had the strongest will of anyone I know, the most dynamic personality, a clear sense of morality, and yet, inexplicably, he succumbed to this dreaded disease. How that came to be is just another part of my confusion.

I will never fully grasp the why. Part of my frustration stems from the impossible exercise of “what if” or as some prefer, “if only”. What if we had gone to Palm Springs that weekend to celebrate New Years? If only I had done this or that the month, the week, the year before? How could I have “let” it happen like this? All the things we “should have done”. And of course, I couldn’t have changed the outcome no matter what we did or didn’t do. I say that, but I don’t really believe it. Goddammit, what if …?

So I have to live with my decisions, his decisions, our decisions, as agonizing as that is. Perhaps as the years slide by, I will be less concerned with trying to figure out the why and the how, but I will never have the answers. So I live in this perpetual state of bewilderment. As I posted three years ago, I will be in the WTF stage for the rest of my life.


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Loving My Son, After His Death

I came across this again today, and thought it worth sharing. She lost her son around the time we lost Jake and he was almost the same age. Different circumstances, same emotions.

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Where are My Simchas?

In Hebrew, ‘simcha’ means gladness or joy. It is often used as a noun to denote any celebration because a celebration is always a cause for happiness. Simchas are usually connected with one’s children: births, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, weddings. It is a blessing to share in other’s simchas, and of course, we invite our friends and families to share in ours.

Lately, we have been attending weddings of friends of Jake, children of friends of ours, our Rabbi’s son, whom we have known since he was a boy, and most recently a member of our shul, a young woman who has become the adopted daughter of the congregation. While we want to celebrate other’s happiness, it can be brutal for us. Especially when it’s a friend of Jake’s. Last year, I sat at a table in the back of the room at one of these gatherings and wondered where is my happiness? What will I get to celebrate with such unbridled joy as I was watching? It is all well and good to participate in other’s blessings, to wish them well on their journey to a new chapter in their lives, but I won’t have any of my own. There won’t be a wedding, a birth of a grandchild, a brit milah to revel in. There won’t be any more Colmans or Smilens to carry on our families names. What, exactly will we celebrate in the coming years?

At the wedding last week, held on the outside patio at our little shul, our rabbi asked for any Kohanim present to give the couple the three-fold Priestly Blessing. I already wanted to do it for them, and here was my chance. Not that I have any special power to confer blessings, I am merely the conduit. I stepped forward, raised my hands and suddenly it hit me, again. This was the blessing I gave Jake every time we parted those last few years. It all came rushing back and nearly overwhelmed me. Ambushed again. I paused and slowly, haltingly spoke the words in Hebrew: “May the lord bless you and protect you.” “May the lord make His face shine light upon you and be gracious unto you” “May the lord lift up His face unto you and grant you peace.” As I began the third one, my voice caught, and I could barely speak. Somehow, I managed to contain my emotions long enough to finish and turned away, tears flowing. Not exactly what you want at a wedding.

And this is my life now. Every celebration tinged with sadness. No longer able to rejoice completely in other’s simchas, searching for my own. And I have come to realize, I won’t really have any real simchas from now on. I can enjoy the moment, have a laugh with friends, appreciate beauty in art and nature, but the deep fulfillment that comes from the celebration of true joy, of watching your children make their way through life, which is a joy and a blessing unlike any other, is now denied to me.

Passover is in a couple of days. It is the holiday that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and the creation of the Jewish People. It is one of the most solemn and at once the most joyous holidays on the calendar. It is a holiday on which I am commanded to relate the story to my children, so we never forget we were once slaves. One of my great pleasures was leading our family seder. Friends and families gathered around our table from when Jake was born up to a few years ago. It was always a lively affair with discussion, laughter, finger puppets, and Jake’s interactive 10 plagues. I relished in my duty to relate the tale to my son. It was one of my simchas.

We haven’t had a seder here for the past three years. I simply can’t bear it. We will go to some friends homes both nights, people who knew and loved Jake. They helped us get through those first horrific days, and continue to be there for us, people who are both firefighters and builders. We will sit at their tables and help tell the Passover story to their children, our surrogate sons and daughters. We will share in their simchas as they come. But for us, we will have to be content with basking in the reflected warmth of their joy.

I wish everyone a happy and meaningful Passover. May you find freedom from your own personal Egypt, whatever limitations they may be, and may you have many simchas of your own in the days and years to come.

Posted in Ceremony, Coping, Friends and Family, Grief, Jake Colman, Sadness | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Silent Grief – The “Aloneness” of Grief

Thoughts on the ‘aloneness’ of grief. Thank you, Rebecca for sharing this. I can only echo her sentiments. There are those of our friends who have not remained silent and continue to stand by us. The silence of others can be deafening. It is not always their ‘fault’ most people simply cannot deal with grief, their own, let alone someone else’s.

Grief: One Woman's Perspective

Our Western culture has inadvertently conditioned us to avoid death and grief. Our society tends to isolate those who are struggling with illness, pain, death and grief — hoping that if we don’t see their pain and struggles, the pain doesn’t exist, and won’t alter our tidy and predictable lives.  We tend to behave as if death and pain are contagious diseases, ones that if we stay away from, we can avoid contracting ourselves.

I don’t believe this insensitivity is intentional. Society has not prepared us for how to deal with pain and loss. We are brought up to believe that life will remain predictable and under our control. Then when the unexpected, death or illness, does happen in our lives, we are ill-equipped to deal with the emotional pain, and upheaval, that it brings. Society subliminally sends us the message that we are expected to quietly bear our pain…

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