As grief loosens its grip, Noah is less and less on my mind. That seems both natural and terribly sad. It’s almost another Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and I haven’t set aside time to repent for what I failed to do to help Noah or to ask for forgiveness, even though I still feel guilt and regret. Instead I’ve been thinking about shortcomings of the past year and new intentions for the coming year. I’m living more in the present and, I hope, directing more loving energy to the people in my life, especially my son, Ben, who felt shortchanged in the early years after his brother’s suicide.
Yet I’ve been present with Noah in other ways in the weeks leading up to the High Holidays.
Noah was uppermost in my mind when we packed our valuables in response to the be-ready-to-evacuate warning for the Bobcat fire. Everything I grabbed when I first heard the warning was of or by Noah--photos of him, photos made by him, the portrait painted by his cousin. I filled a few bags with what's left of his life that feels like it can never been replaced--unlike mementos of the living.
I’ve also been writing poems about Noah, one that lets me dwell in sweet memories of him as a child on the soccer field and one that voices anguish at his death through lines from prayer. As I rework that poem, I am working through remorse and repentance with a different lens.
My husband and I visited Noah’s grave together in advance of the memorial services on Yom Kippur, which we’ve never done before. We added new rocks from our travels to the perimeter of his gravestone and sat beside it, huddled together under a big sun umbrella, reminiscing and imagining. Noah would have been incredulous, we agreed, about this pandemic, the unbelievable death toll, the lack of federal response and the restrictions on daily life. He would have wanted to be with friends in France or helping Ben with art installations in Berlin. If he’d been working in the movie industry, as we often imagine, he might have lost his job and had to move back home. We flipped through photos, reminded of his long-limbed grace and hold-nothing-back smile. I sang a lament I wrote for Noah soon after his death that I rarely sing these days: How I wish that I had told you/Every day and every night/That I loved you and would help you/And everything would be all right.
“May his memory be for a blessing,” Jews traditionally say after a death. I always thought that meant the wish that our lives be blessed with memories of the person. But as a tribute to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes, the expression also means that “it is up to those who bear her memory to keep her goodness alive … it’s up to us to carry on her legacy.” Of course, the legacy of a 21-year-old is vastly different from that of a beloved, venerated 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice. For Noah, it’s about his big love for friends and cousins and his grandfather—and for most of his 21 years, his readiness to laugh, have fun, and seek adventure. Our family honors this legacy with support for life-affirming youth activities like wilderness trips through the Noah Langholz Remembrance Fund . And as I made my list of intentions for the Jewish new year, I realized that one item on the list keeps Noah’s goodness alive and breathes his spirit through me: Make room for joy.
In spite of everything. Because of who Noah was. Because of who I am.
Noah would have said Amen to that. How I wish there were still joys for him to relish and for us to share.