Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Third Passover: Dayenu

Last year, the symbols of this holiday triggered tears, and I could barely free myself from endless questions about Noah’s suicide in order to be fully present for the four traditional questions of the Passover seder. This year, we are again in denial about the holiday, not wanting to face all the work of preparing for it--but really just not wanting to face another big family holiday without Noah, especially one that came only a week after his death in 2013. 

So when a friend brings up the word dayenu for contemplation at our Jewish meditation group, it takes me a while to face it. Dayenu is a favorite song of thanksgiving during the seder that recounts the series of miraculous events in the Exodus story and at the end of each says Dayenu – it would have been enough, it would have sufficed. As in: Had God brought us out of Egypt and not divided the sea for us, Dayenu. 

I knew that I couldn’t say Dayenu for the years we had with Noah because 21 years are not nearly enough. So my first impulse was to try to say Dayenu to Noah for all the things that didn’t happen, but could have had he lived: 
Had you come home from college and taken a long break to rest and regroup, Dayenu.
Had you taken a long break and decided not to go back to school, Dayenu.
Had you not gone back to school and drifted for a long time without a focus, Dayenu.
Had you drifted for a long time and kept us at a distance, Dayenu.
Had you kept us at a distance and insisted on tackling your demons on your own, Dayenu.
Had you tackled your demons on your own and lived an ordinary life, Dayenu.

The verses stall, not fitting. I wish Noah had known that it would have been enough had he simply lived; we loved him and would have helped him however we could to tame the demons. But would I truly have had compassion for his struggles? Would I have accepted his choices, his limitations, our continued estrangement? Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone

Before I am engulfed by that sea, other verses come to mind to clear a path:
Had we had the loving support of our family but not that of our friends, Dayenu.
Had we had the loving support of our friends but not that of our community, Dayenu.
Had we had the caring support of our community but not the help of support groups, Dayenu.
Had we had the understanding help of support groups but not that of therapy, Dayenu.
Had we had the insight of therapy but not the healing of nature, music, yoga, writing-- Dayenu.
Had we had the healing of many things but not the health to restore our lives, Dayenu.

This litany, more in the spirit of Dayenu, could go on for many verses. We are deeply grateful for all that helps sustain us through grief.

What do we want to leave behind on our personal journey of liberation, and what do we want to take with us? I want to leave behind my oppressive memories of Passover from the past two years, when it felt literally contaminated by Noah’s suicide. I want to find a way back to my love of the holiday so I can create new memories in years to come.

*Note: The illustration is the Dayenu page from The Golden Haggadah, made c. 1320 in Barcelona. Thousands of artful haggadahs are still being made today to accompany the ritual of the seder meal.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Year 3, Day 1: Memorial Bracelet

Today, day 1 of year 3 since Noah's death, I am excited to be wearing a bracelet in his memory, made for me by my dear friend Ellen.* I love looking down and seeing this circle of Noah's life around my wrist, a constant reminder that I can see, touch, and kiss. Precious stones, precious life.

Here is what each piece means to me:

- dog charm for Noah's bond with Wags (our family dog) and other people's pets
- turquoise for his love of the ocean, surfing, sailing, kayaking--and his dream of circling the globe
- croissant charm for his time in France, his passion for cooking and good food
- peridot for his green eyes, his eye for film and photography, the mountains we hiked as a family, the Marne River where he lived on a houseboat in France
- 3 balls for his years of juggling with his dad, brother, and others at festivals and family events
- golden pearl for his beautiful mind and tender soul
- heart charm for the love he gave and received from all of us who hold him in our hearts
- amethyst (my birthstone) for his place in my soul and mine in his

* For more info on memorial bracelets, please see the Resources page of this blog

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Wrestling with Time

From the day of Noah's suicide almost 2 years ago, time was frozen in shock. It, and we, stayed suspended in disbelief for months. One ruined day or night dissolved into the next. Calendars with future dates, pointless except for memorials; prior dates, precious because Noah was still alive. We hated time, so desperately did we want to wrench it back. The ordinary time we took for granted we would always have with our son, snatched away. How could we possibly move forward?

Time hangs like a hammer, says essence in her moving grief song, “Shape of You .” 
Will it ever, ever be/Time for time to pass?

Grief is supposed to get easier with time and mostly, it has. I feel less buffeted and bereft, with shorter crying spells. My husband and I can usually function in the world, find things to enjoy, no longer see everything through the lens of loss. I can even choose, sometimes, when and how I will mourn rather than being overcome—though I cringe to say such a weird thing. Last night, for instance, I thought of looking through a box of memorabilia, but I felt tired and watched TV instead.

Before the first anniversary of Noah’s death last year, we were re-living the trauma of his decline, his last days at home, finding him dead. If my husband had taken a final hike with Noah on March 5, he was thinking of that on March 5. If my last conversation with him was a Monday, I was ruing that day as the clock ticked down. This second year, the dates are less haunting or triggering.

Still, the other day, when I saw a sign with instructions for CPR, I flashed on the neighbor who rushed to help when I found Noah in the garage. Things could have been even worse without him there, I tell my husband. We go over each moment in that fateful day’s events, weeping at the kitchen table. I wish you didn’t have to be the one to find him, my husband says, twice. It’s nobody’s fault, I say. Except Noah’s. (And not his fault either, if he was ill.)

I want to compile all our photos and videos of Noah in one place, to know they are safe and accessible. What’s the rush? says my husband. He isn’t ready to archive his son. He wants to keep stumbling on stray photos and emails. There's a lifetime ahead of us to mourn and remember Noah. If we do it all now, what will be left?

But if we wait, what will be left? Already, so much has happened without him. The young people in his world have moved on with their lives while he stays forever 21. His untimely death hijacked time, held back the waters for a long, ghastly moment like some parting of the sea. But eventually, the waters close again around his absence, filling it with the onward rush of life. We want to remember, to hold on, to feel the presence of our lost ones, but the traces of them dwindle, crowded out by the present. At least, that’s how it’s been for me as the years go by after a loss. With time, there’s simply less room for the dead in our lives, less occasion to think of them and cry for them. That may be natural. I just can’t bear to think it will happen with Noah.

More experienced survivors would say that with time, we find a new place for the person in our hearts that merges with who we have become since losing them. But right now it feels like another layer of loss: The same time that heals also carries us further away from our loved one--and our love.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What I Want

March Madness for some; March Sadness for us as the 2-year mark approaches.

I’m back to making lists, like I did in the early months. Now: What I Want.

What I really want: while gazing out the window one day to see him walk up the drive, whole and healthy, smile spreading as he sees me, bearing gifts from his 2 years away, telling me it was all a big mix-up; he’s sorry, he’s back, he loves me, stop worrying.

I can’t have that, so I focus on other things.

I want to remember Noah always, healthy, happy, himself.

I want to dredge up more family memories, hear memories I never knew from his friends, see photos I never saw--recover memories of his life till they outweigh those of his death and decline.

I want Noah’s young friends and relatives to talk about him openly, remember him always, and cherish their precious lives. I want to stay in touch with all of them.

I want to have all the time I need to grieve and write.

 I want to keep sensing, when I see certain pictures of him, that his beautiful green eyes are still looking right at me, as if sitting at the kitchen table.

I want to feel his presence when I expect it, like at the ocean, and when I least expect it, anywhere, anytime.

I want to see Noah in my dreams and recall what I saw when I wake up. I want to feel his love and hear the message he has for me.

I want to look at the star jasmine that blooms so sweetly in the yard in March and remember Noah’s spirit--not the deadening of it and the funeral and all the people who came to the house in spring of 2013.

I want to design a beautiful memorial bracelet for him and wear it every day. I want to look at it and remember his loves and our love for him and have people ask me about it so I can talk about him.

I want to understand his state of mind and what happened. I want to understand why young people kill themselves.

I want to meet more mourning moms and talk, walk, cry, and heal with them.

I want my words to move people and help people.

I want to find a way to memorialize Noah that helps other young people who are struggling.

I want to cherish always within reach my love, tenderness, and compassion for him.

I want to sustain the intimacy and more open communication we have with some treasured friends and family since this loss--and be there for them when they need us.

I want to spend more time with my living son and hold him close, never taking him for granted. I want him to find a way to deal with life’s sadness so it won’t overtake him. I want him be happy.

I want to be inspired by Noah to live more fully and freely in the moment--to seek out friends, fun, adventure.

In prayer or meditation, when I focus on breathing in ahavah (love) and breathing out simcha (joy), I want to be in touch with the love we had with Noah and the joy he brought us without feeling bitter. And I want to be open to the possibility of love, joy, and even celebration as we restore our lives.