Monday, March 3, 2014

This May Be the Last Time: Approaching the One-Year Memorial

In about two weeks, it will be a year since Noah’s suicide. Next week, we will have a graveside memorial for the “unveiling” of the stone. A month after that is the official yahrzeit, or one-year anniversary, according to the Jewish calendar. 

 For the past month with the countdown to the unveiling, time has sped up, like a meteor falling earthward. I have felt frantic and overwhelmed, as if I should be preparing for some impending disaster. I thought I should be getting a lot of work done so I wouldn’t have to think about it in March. At the same time, I wanted to stop everything and attend completely to griefwork. My sleep, digestion, and health were disrupted, just as they were after Noah's death. A therapist suggested that I felt out of control.

 I realized that although I had not been re-experiencing every stage of the last few months of Noah’s life as I expected to, I had been reliving the powerlessness that we felt as we witnessed our son’s decline and ongoing refusal to get help. A year ago, we thought Noah was at the beginning of a chance to heal and redirect his life; we assumed that time lay ahead to support him in that process. We had no idea that he was so wound up that he felt his own clock ticking down—that what we saw as a new start, he saw as an inevitable end. We had no clue that in one rash instant, we would be robbed of time and son.  

 Last March, we were still too frozen in shock and anguish to be fully present to mark Noah’s death. We made hasty choices for his burial and funeral, guided by others with steadier heads. We couldn’t formulate words for a speech. We sequestered ourselves out of sight during the service and rushed away moments after the coffin was lowered, not wanting to be there or to be approached. We couldn’t believe our child was dead, and by his own hand. We couldn’t believe we were leaving him in a box in the ground in an alien place full of old people. Nothing felt real.

Since then, the mourner’s path has often led my husband to the cemetery, me less so. We have huddled by Noah’s grave under the privacy of a large umbrella, crying and calling out to him, or quietly telling him the news he is missing. We have chosen his marker and fingered the little love objects others have left there. That little patch of earth with his name has begun to feel familiar. It’s still hard to grasp that he is not away on a long, exciting trip, bound to come home full of presents and stories.

When I was Noah’s age, I used to sing a doleful gospel tune in harmony with friends, “This May Be the Last Time”:
This may be the last time we pray together
Oh, it may be the last time, I don’t know.
This may be the last time, this may be the last time, children,
This may be the last time, oh, it may be the last time, I don’t know.
As a young person, there was bittersweet forboding in the lines that made the present moment more precious and poignant. Now when I think of that song, it weighs me down. There was a last time that Noah and I ate together, talked together, walked or cooked or played together—and I didn’t know.

The unveiling will be the last time a large group gathers at his grave. Most likely, it will be the last gathering of any kind that is focused on our son's life. We will publicly take our leave of Noah and say good by in a way we couldn’t do at the funeral. My husband and I have been focused on planning exactly what we would like said and done at the memorial, sifting through grief poems, writing a speech, arranging food. We are in charge this time; we are not helpless. We are still wounded. But we are not the same family who hobbled away from the grave a year ago, missing limbs.

This may be the last time. I hope to be present in the moment with an open heart.


  1. May God be with you and your family for this difficult time of the unveiling at Noah's grave. I will put a rock on top of his stone in my thoughts to honor his memory although I only know how really special he was through your words.

    1. Thanks so much. I hope all of us in the survivor community can be there in spirit for both the first memorials and all the ones down the road in the future for the precious people we have lost.

  2. We hope yesterday's memorial service provided healing and peace.

    esther and joel