Friday, March 14, 2014

Leave-taking: After the One-Year Memorial

It’s over: another milestone on the mourner’s path. Maybe you’ve been there, too. After so much anticipation of what new pain might be triggered, you wake up and it’s time to get ready, to drive to the place, to sit quietly while people gather, then to hold hands with your family and weep while you take in the memorial you have planned, the words you have asked friends to read for you. You remember your beloved person in the company of others, one year after the suicide.
            Our memorial for Noah is an intimate, homemade ceremony for the unveiling of his gravestone, ten days before the actual anniversary. This return to the grave with 30 invited friends and relatives is a re-immersion in grief without the raw shock and devastation of the funeral. Unlike last year, we are fully present to plan and experience the service, to hold Noah in the light, and share hugs from others. We don’t need so much of our Jewish tradition and community to shield and support us as we did a year ago. With this ritual, we create a container for our grief. On this day, as a friend suggests, we truly bury our son.
With my eyes mostly closed, I sense muffled cries and sniffles around me, the tears of my living son beside me. I focus on the personal touches that make the day meaningful. Starting with music of Avishai Cohen that Noah first heard with his French host family, ending with haunting Native American flute played by his cousin. The candle lit by his grandfather. Covering the gravestone, the frog-design quilt his aunt made for him as a child in a pattern called “life cycle.” The ever-evocative lines of Psalm 23. Our speech, inspired by the text on his gravestone. The words people call out when our friend leading the service asks how they will remember Noah: adventurous, inspiring, goofy, loving, wonder. The delicate, full-blown red camellias from his grandmother’s garden at the head of the grave. The small stones and shells that everyone places along the edges of the marker, snugly embracing it. Some are from his favorite places, like a surf spot; others from places he would have surely visited had he lived, like a best friend’s ancestral home in Italy.
Thus infused with love on a brilliant sunny day, Noah’s marker is beautiful to behold. This grave site will never again be so abundant.
            My cup runneth over.
            The sobbing begins at the end for my husband and me. The service is over. Our son’s life is over. This collective leave-taking is over. We do not want to leave; for us, it will never be over. We linger.
            Back at home, a welcome re-entry to the world of the living: friends, family, food, flowers. The buoying warmth of it.
            How will I try to remember Noah? Alive -- to life’s possibilities. 

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