If it’s the pain that forces the pen to the page, does my absence here indicate a semblance of normalcy in our lives? Maybe. I admit that it does speak to a healthy level of functioning in the face of 5-year-old grief, but August is also the time of the year when I want to shout from the rooftops and announce to every single soul in the world that my son dies every year in August, every single August 26.
Yes, we are incredibly busy, but I know full well that raw pain permeates even the most active of lives. Over time we have carved a routine for ourselves in the absence of Gilad: meticulously scheduled days that have me running from work to errands to exercise to exhaustion, caring for our mothers, running to the grandchildren, socializing with friends with pot-luck meals when the thought of making even a cup of tea for someone else leaves me confounded. We are hurried and harried, a form of distraction which in turn begets sanity and functioning. And what slowly happens is that while the grief sits alongside one’s heart, the fluff of life begins to surround it, and the joys soften the pain. Thankfully that happened to us this summer, and honestly, it was a welcome relief.
As the weather warmed, and spring and then summer appeared, we were blessed to celebrate a few special occasions, moments in time that encapsulate what life is truly about. In the middle of June our daughter welcomed a son into this earthly world, the first boy born to our family in decades. I still harbor a hope that in some magical way the baby’s soul convened pre-birth with Gilad. Eight days later our grandson joined the tribe as Gilad Akiva; in the words of our son-in-law, writing a new chapter for our family, carrying on Gilad’s great qualities, and calling forth the sage Rabbi Akiva’s independence, creativity and passion that the elder rabbi brought forth in his second wind of life. What brilliant children I have: a second chance at life.
A few short weeks later, my niece, a promising, intelligent, loving human being, a young woman whose beauty goes beyond her features to a soul that one feels lucky to have encountered, transformed from bride to wife on a glorious Sunday afternoon. My tears were bittersweet as she, bedecked in wedding white, eyes sparkling at her soon-to-be-husband, found the time in her heart to whisper to me that she misses her cousin. Four months older than she, Gilad is still only 19 to her 24. His life stopped 5 years ago, and watching her approach her moment under the chuppah was joy tinged with sadness, as she rightfully celebrated her life yet to come in the shadows of mine whose life will never be again.
Our family has chosen to take the high road, to take notice of our blessings, and embrace them with all the love and fortitude we can muster. This is what we consciously choose to focus on, instead of the pain and grief. But don’t be mistaken: the grief is still there in every breath and movement. We simply allow life’s beauty to enter, to blend and temper the joys with the challenges.
This summer we danced and cried at weddings, and celebrated a birth with tears and laughter. We helped my mother move from her home of 54 years, and we initiated a heavenly, splendid family weekend in the Berkshires, the first since our Make-A-Wish trip. During our family barbeque on Sunday, before we all went our separate ways towards home, I stood on the deck and observed our family: Yocheved was nursing the baby; Shua playing guitar; Eddie, Ariel, and Ezra started the fire with paper and twigs; the girls were running across the lawn following Elana on a flower and crab-apple hunt. I felt the glaring, missing presence of Gilad and it hurts still to recall the moment.
Gilad will always be present in our lives, but it is in the form of memories and fleeting emotions and lessons he left us with. I long for something tangible, to really feel him and see him and hold him and love him as I once was able to. While August used to be the bittersweet close of the summer months, now it is filled with dread and sadness and a wistfulness of a life not fully lived. As everyone is putting the last touches on summer, embracing the free spirit of the season, splashing, laughing and enjoying the last moments of a changed routine, I know that August is when my son died.
But then I force myself forward, riding the momentum, knowing that soon we will herald fall, the holidays, and October, when we celebrate Gilad’s entrance into this world. And in a sleight of hand that only he could have managed, Gilad bequeathed his special day to his niece and his name to his nephew, so that we would smile in spite of it all. He might have been daring us to keep our promise to live, and live well, guiding us to blend and balance our family’s past, present and future.