“Why the Death of a Child?”
“Is that the very best you can do?” Now I wish to disclaim any professional expertise in matters of death, dying or grief management. On the contrary, together with other bereaved parents, the only common relevant credential is membership in the club to which nobody wishes to belong. I became bereaved on Wednesday, November 22, 2000 when my son Ben died.
Though we must return their bodies to the dust, we vow to sustain the lives of their spirits, of their souls if you like. It’s somehow right and fair, isn’t it? And it is for this reason and none other that we build shrines to their memories.
Why do we affix a memorial leaf to a “Tree of Life?" Though the leaf serves as a poignant reminder of the end of Ben’s life, its purpose is to remind us to celebrate the time of his life-no matter that it ended prematurely, abruptly and painfully.
Jewish custom holds that a mourner recite the Mourner’s Kaddish” when, at and following the burial of his loved one, he is most vulnerable at a time when the immediacy of death may lead him to choose apostasy as an understandable but ultimately misguided approach to grief.
Neither a lamentation nor a dirge, the Mourner’s Kaddish is a reaffirmation of life and makes no mention of death whatsoever. Still the very worst part remains the attending paramedic’s deposition that Ben was both conscious and able to speak for a brief while before finally and permanently losing consciousness, and that he understood what had happened, while he suffered horrendous pain and bespoke his fear that he was dying.
As Ben’s dad, the certain knowledge that my son’s last waking moments were consumed by such trauma and fear leaves me cold and quiet, my thoughts inchoate. As a Jew, I am thankful my faith is one of eternal optimism and which teaches us that life is inherently miraculous and therefore holy. We serve as guardians of its sanctity. This belief sustains me when all that tangibly remains are a white shirt, suit, some old boots, a bicycle in need of repair and the unexpected discovery of his boyish signature while turning the page of a scrapbook.
The absolute enormity of a child’s death leaves one feeling so insignificant, so powerlessly tiny. To have to navigate these treacherous waters daily is no simple task as we are invariably reminded of how vast is God’s ocean while we remain adrift in such a small boat! The only antidote to the pain of our loss is the tenacity with which we remember our children. It is incumbent upon us that we simply refuse to allow their memories to die. Though their bodies are gone, their physicality ended, our linkage to them becomes one of remembrance, of dedication and rededication-all of which remind us of how fortunate we were to have enjoyed our time with them for as long as we did.