Well, here we go. Careening into the ‘holiday season’. For many people, this is a very difficult time of year under the best of circumstance; for someone who is grieving the loss of a child, it can be excruciating. That loss throws everything into razor-sharp focus, and the sadness and longing juxtaposed with the expected cheeriness of the holidays amplifies the hole left by their absence a thousandfold. How difficult is it to sit at a holiday table with friends and family, all in good spirits, supposedly, and look to the empty chair where your beloved child should be sitting? For many, it is an impossible task.
We managed Thanksgiving alright. Chinese dinner with friends, and then, because we didn’t have any leftovers for turkey sandwiches, I made a mini-Thanksgiving for Shabbat dinner. Stuffed turkey breast, gravy, some orange yam casserole, some steamed veggies, and three kinds of cranberry sauce. Just Terry and me. Seemed harmless enough. But when I went to make the blessing over the wine, I couldn’t do it. It took me several minutes to collect myself enough to whisper the words, tears streaming down my face, dripping into the silver kiddish cup that once belonged to Terry’s father. It should have been passed down to my son, his namesake. I cradle it in my hand every Friday night and think of both of them. What was and what should have been. Now all we have is the ‘what is’. I never met Jack, Terry’s dad, but she tells me there was a lot of him in Jake. They would have loved each other, of that I am sure.
This year Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights, starts the 17th and ends on Christmas Eve. Now those lights are dimmed, and one is missing. We won’t be hosting a party as we did every year with endless potato latkes, home made applesauce, laughter and light. We won’t be going to my Mom’s traditional Hanukkah party this year either. I am not quite sure what we are going to do. Maybe try to leave town. Maybe just lay low. Oh, we’ll fry up a few potatoes, kindle the menorah that Jake made one year as a child, and look for his spirit in the gleaming lights, but as every holiday is these days, it will be diminished. Something missing, the day incomplete. This was one of Jake’s favorites too. He used to do a candle making activity at our shul for the kids every year. He would help them make their own candles, patiently dipping the braided cotton wick into a pot of melted wax. Helping to bring more light into this world. They loved it, and so did he. Watching him with the kids, so patient and careful, was a joy for all of us. In fact, he did it last year at the shul’s holiday party, resurrecting a tradition for the first time in many years. For the last time.
Before Hanukkah gets here, however we will have the unveiling of his headstone next Sunday, the 14th. Family and friends will gather from near and far to honor his spirit once again. We’ll read tehilim (psalms), say one more Kaddish, and have a good cry. We’ll uncover the polished black granite stone, engraved with his name, so final, so immutable. The unspeakable truth finally set in stone. It will be yet one more heartbreaking day in an unbroken string of heartbreaks. Then comes the New Year. How will we ever celebrate New Year’s Eve with the same hopeful optimism that every New Year’s Eve brings? “Next year will be great”, we always said. We buried our beautiful boy on New Year’s Eve. Our ‘party’ was the first night of shiva. No hopeful optimism there, no champagne, no fireworks. Just a house full of silent, shattered people trying to make sense of the senseless. How do we ever forget that? How do we move beyond that to laugh and sing, bang on pots and toast to the new year? Not this year, that’s for sure. Maybe next year will be better. This one sure sucked.
So, as I say, it is going to be a tough few weeks. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.