Just One Mournful Day?

If my heart carries sorrow every day, am I required to mourn beyond that? How do I add a layer of communal loss onto the burden that already weighs me down, to grief that is emotionally deafening on more than one mournful day. Haven’t I had enough? And why should I attempt a display of sadness for a temple I have never seen, that stood in bygone days in ancient times?

I own a personal, family tragedy, heavier and greater than any and all misfortune through the ages. It is worse, simply because it is mine, and it overshadows and obscures everything else, significant or not, from view.

So how can the 9 of Av, a day of mourning for every Jewish community, be meaningful to me? Do I need more sadness in my life? How can I find room next to the brokenness in my heart for even more fragments of grief? Side by side; sighed and sighed.

It’s been 3 years and I am still lost. Functional and lost are not mutually exclusive, I have discovered. Granted, I get dressed and go to work; I am busy and at times happy. Yet something is always amiss, grating on my psyche, tearing at my heart. I often sense Gilad’s tangible presence inside of my soul, but maybe it’s just the absence of his being I feel, the void where his human spirit so spectacularly filled the room and our lives.

I am functional but philosophical; able-bodied but not always of sound mind. It may be a good sign that my life is now chock-full of work, volunteering, socializing, with activities that occupy my mind and distract my soul. I have chosen to be engaged, but when it’s to the point of exhaustion, I wonder why I don’t simply choose the road less traveled.  My 80-year-old mother has more energy than I do. If I could plan my life, I’d sleep late, play daily with my yummy grandchildren, have coffee with friends, get massaged in every corner of my body, exercise my angst away, and then at sundown I would curl up on a soft couch, plug myself into a computer for fun, and relax in front of the box that provides endless HD entertainment in every imaginable form and forum. Mindless relaxation reenergizes, it seems. My father encouraged productivity, but who knew this felt better?

These days my postings on caringbridge – and now this blog – have been few and far between. But all the while, the chatter inside my head has not abated. I wonder why I stopped letting the words drift out of my head and arrange themselves in sentences and paragraphs; I well know that sharing with the world was nothing short of cathartic. Electronic journaling is trendy, but I truly wonder who wants to hear the ramblings of someone else’s mind, to read a personal and too-private commentary of life?

In spite of that, I‘ve made a choice. The grief counseling is over, and I need an emotional outlet. Some days my thoughts and emotions leak, overflow, are begging to be articulated, to break from the confines of my mind. I often sit at work or in my car and the sentences form themselves  but are soon forgotten when I don’t write them down, and the next thing happens and my mind wanders. But I have made a choice and here I am.

We are in the middle of a hot, steamy Baltimore summer, and it’s Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, a day of historical tragedy and loss for the Jewish community. We are charged with a 25-hour fast, actions that mimic shiva practices, and unremitting stories and prayers and movies designed to inspire and elicit tears and sadness for what we no longer have, who we no longer are. But where is my personal connection? How do I make the leap from a bereaved mom to a mournful member of society? And for what purpose?

If I mourn for historical, global loss, will the community in turn mourn for my son? If I once felt Tisha B’Av as the serious, carefully orchestrated mournful day it was intended to be, will I ever tap into that again? If I have my own personal 9th of Av all through the year, how can I begin to commemorate a day that pales in comparison to what I have experienced?

The imposed weeks and days of not engaging in happy occasions, not going out to social or musical events, not buying new things, not taking care to wash and iron your clothes all come naturally to a bereaved parent. Who wants to do anything when one of our young, innocent, children has been snatched from our embrace? Eating ashes fades into insignificance when you have already watched your son stop breathing and have helped shovel dirt on top of him. Taking a lukewarm shower makes no difference; forgoing a new movie is inconsequential. Even reading about the Holocaust when scores of children suffered and entire families were extinguished cannot touch me the way losing our son has. Hearing of pogroms and atrocities through millennia, as well as acts of terror in Israel today, does not even begin to chip away at the barrier that has grown around my heart to protect me from feeling the way I could if I let my emotions get the best of me.

So then, what am I left with? What can Tisha B’Av possibly mean to a bereaved mom?

I muster all my inner strength, draw from my child-of-survivor upbringing and hold onto the framework of religion I’ve chosen not to abandon. This world is teeming with questions, and the answers are not ours to know. We struggle intellectually, carefully examine sources, challenge fundamental concepts, and some of us manage to keep the faith, and try to make sense of the world and our place in it.

To me, Tisha B’Av may not be what it is for others. I may feel disconnected from the overwhelming tragedies that befell our collective tribe. Or, maybe I have a greater understanding of loss and mourning because Gilad experienced what generations upon generations have lived through – the pain, the struggle, all the while not understanding why, and eventually succumbing to the inevitable. Although it was not about me, as Gilad used to remind me, as his mother, Gilad’s illness and passing irrevocably changed who I am and how I look at the world. I bore witness to Gilad’s struggle and passing, and that is my Tisha B’Av.

For everyone else, tomorrow will be the 10th of Av, and by midday the laundry and haircuts and shopping will begin again with abandon. The caterers and party-planners will start to prepare for weddings this Sunday,and the glorious, unrestricted part of the summer will start anew. But not for us, never for us. We have threads of Tisha B’Av woven into our life. I endured Gilad’s suffering, and for me, every day may not be Tisha B’Av, but we don’t have just one mournful day.


11 thoughts on “Just One Mournful Day?

  1. My heart, my mind and my body are consumed with your touching words. My pain is not the same as yours, as I have never worn your shoes! May God give you the strength to go on with your life and tend to all your needs. I will always be there for you. Your loving mom

  2. Michelle, its Zahava, Elijah’s mother. The article you wrote tears at my heart strings. Everything you said is etched in my heart. When The 9th of Av is over, it is never over for us. Its very hard. I find myself split in half. I thank you for this post. At least I feel like i am not alone.

    Kol Tov

    Elijah’s mother

  3. What an exceptional gift you have with words, Michelle. This is so searing, wrenching and beautiful. Of course, tragically, I can relate, especially considering that we will mourn intensely every year for Rachel on Tisha b’Av and on the following day, her actual yahrzeit. But, as you articulated so powerfully, the mourning persists every day; we just make it our business to distract ourselves. Yet nothing can take away the profound love we feel for these beautiful souls who died way before their time. I just lit a yahrzeit candle. Her flame will never be extinguished, nor will Gilad’s. Please keep writing.

  4. I want to hear “the ramblings of someone else’s mind” when those thoughts are your thoughts. I care about you and your family and Gilad and I always will. I don’t understand why suffering happens or why children are taken away. All I know is we can share our experiences and our pain with others and that helps us continue to live in a world that all too frequently does not make sense.

  5. Michelle,

    Thank you for this post. You’ve put into words many of the emotions I’ve been feeling as we come up on the third “anniversary” (I hate to use that word in this context) of our son David’s death. As I try to resume a more “normal” life — specifically, more socializing and more frequent visits with extended family and friends — many aspects seem out of kilter and in some cases, bizarre. It seems there’s no going back. There’s only going forward in this life where the rules have all changed and many things no longer make sense.

    Remembering Gilad,
    Lori Buck
    David’s mom and Betsy Schindler’s cousin

  6. Michelle, your sorrowful and painful words and thoughts are so very true. In actuality, only someone who has suffered such a loss, can relate to your pain. I am the grandmother of dear Gilad, and I suffer my own pain. This is not to say, that it is like yours. I am proud of you and all your wonderful family. And know that I love u all very much. mom

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