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.
To know he wants you to let go – stop suffering – if you had died, and he were alive, would you want him to halt his life with horrendous pain – rejoice him – enjoy his memory – find peace –
Leslie- Thank you for your beautiful thoughts. We are learning to live again, without Jake. We laugh through the tears when we remember him. We cannot ever let him go, but are relaxing our grip on the grief. Peace to you this holiday season.
Thinking of you Ed as you make your way towards the first anniversary. The unveiling is a threshold one crosses over, and the journey continues. I hope that the jagged edges of the first year begin to smooth a bit in the second. Best to the both of you.
Yes one of many thresholds we cross. Most of those jagged edges have worn down somewhat, but there are still razor sharp shards that pierce the heart at the most unlooked for moment. Those moments when I shake my head and wonder WTF.
It never gets less heartbreaking…. but it might get more bearable as the years go on ……except onthose days where it seems like yesterday you held him in your arms…. such a heartbreaking loss…. of what seems to be such an extrordinary young man so full of life.
EXTRAORDINARY!!! (I meant)
The heartbreak is permanent, that’s for sure. It is learning how to manage that chronic condition that is the trick. Slowly we are moving through the fog to a brighter, less dreary place. Two steps forward one step back. Better than one step up and two steps back which is what this year has seemed like. Thank you for your lovely thoughts.
You have a very difficult time ahead of you. Seeing your child’s name and a brief span of years from birth date to death date on a headstone is unbearably heartbreaking and all wrong. Our children are our future, so moving to a new year without them doesn’t even make any sense, For you and Terry transitioning to 2015 will be even tougher. It is like leaving our children behind. I will light a yahrzeit candle and say a prayer for Jake. I hope there is an afterlife so Jake and Graham can meet, I know they’d like each other.
Thank you so much for your kind thoughts. We will never leave Jake behind, we have to remind ourselves every day that he existed. We are bracing ourselves for Sunday. I know it will be emotionally treacherous, but that comes with this strange new territory we are traveling through. I am sure Jake and Graham would have liked each other, and in other circumstances would have been good friends. Nothing makes much sense now, but we have to make what sense we can. Peace to you at this trying time of year.
AAhhh, the first year! I couldn’t stay home, spent hours at the gym! Suffering with people around was easier for me. Now, entering the fifth year, our love is without limit for our Jake, Yaacov. He is buried in Jerusalem, the city he loved, where his children were born. We saw it on our last trip for his son’s bar mitzvah. Hoping we’ll go back for a wedding some day.
We never had a funeral, we received the phone call from Israel, our son was already dead and buried. No ritual for our great grief. It was all very surreal, and it took us a few years to get to Israel, on the bar mitzvah of Jake’s son. and to see his grave. To show his grave the invitation to his son’s bar mitzvah. We spread it out on top of the stone slab. Jacob’s widow, Rebecca, told us it was a mystical ritual. His candles were lit, I don’t know by whom.
I hope that the unvieling brings you peace. You’ve survived the hardest year! Mazel-Tov, you’re on the road to healing. Love, Abby
I am so sorry to hear this. As gut-wrenching as his funeral was, it was humbling to see the ocean of people who came to honor Jake. I am sure your Jacob had a similar honoring at his funeral. I am not sure this is truly the hardest year. Perhaps the most raw and the sharpest pain, but as you say, our love and our grief is without limit. As time passes, the sharpness gives way to a more enduring sorrow. I don’t have to elaborate, you know full well what I mean. I am glad you got to close the circle with your son, finally, and I am sure you will be returning for a wedding and other happy occasions as your son’s spirit lives on. Peace to you and your family.