This week began the Hebrew month of Elul, the month which leads up to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. Traditionally this is a period of intense reflection and preparation for the spiritual work we must do during these days – drawing ourselves closer to God through self critique, asking forgiveness, and setting our intent toward change.
Last year Ezra died just weeks before the High Holy days. Shell-shocked in grief, David and I went to services, weeping throughout at the beautiful melodies and prayers. A young member of our congregation, a young man just 16 years old, gave a meaningful speech about the work he’s done organizing his fellow public school students for equitable school funding…and David and I just sobbed and sobbed, knowing without speaking that Ezra would have done something like this and now would never have the chance. In retrospect, I don’t even know how or why we made it to services – I was barely leaving the house at all at that point – but somehow we were drawn to, needing to be held by community, setting our intent on finding our spiritual center, even if at the time it felt completely elusive.
On Yom Kippur, I remember feeling utterly embittered, unable to muster any of the humility necessary to identify mistakes I’d made over the past year in the spirit of teshuvah or repentance. The Universe had just taken a giant crap on our heads – 8 months of excitement, hope, expectation, dreams…only to have it all wrenched away in a split second. Try as I might, I couldn’t conceive of the notion that I owed anyone anything – as far as I could tell the Universe owed ME – one son, healthy and alive, as it was supposed to be.
This week marked the anniversary of Ezra’s death, known as a yartzeit, on the Hebrew calendar. This year has been such an unbelievable journey. On Rosh Hashanah last year, I remember brashly saying ‘It can’t get any worse, it can only go up from here.’ And then a couple months later my dad needed quadruple bypass surgery. And a couple months after that David lost his job. About 5 months later David’s dad got sick, and a month after that he died. And slowly it has dawned on me that just because the worst has happened (and I definitely maintain that losing Ezra has and will always be the worst thing that could ever happen), the Universe doesn’t give us a pass, not in the least.
Early in this year’s journey of grief, two amazing mamas, Gal and Aliza, each recommended that I read Miriam Greenspan’s Healing Through the Dark Emotions. The book was a turning point for me, not because I was suddenly “healed,” but because it helped me see, at least vaguely, that there was a path through. That somehow I might one day emerge from the raw grief and despair a stronger person, a more spiritually connected person, a more compassionate person. I am most definitively still on that journey. It will take me a lifetime to grieve for Ezra, just as it will take me a lifetime to evolve into that better person. I am not there yet.
One of the most compelling chapters in Greenspan’s book is titled, From Grief to Gratitude. I remember reading it with great skepticism – what do I have to be grateful for? My precious son is dead. The only thing that would make me truly grateful is to have him alive in my arms. I have struggled immensely with the entire notion of gratitude throughout this year.
Today we went to synagogue to say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) for Ezra, as is traditional on the Shabbat (Sabbath) closest to the anniversary of a loved one’s death. In keeping with the themes of Elul, we were asked to reflect silently on for what we were grateful. For these things I am grateful: the deep love I share with David; the Sunflower growing in my belly; the community that has held us in love throughout this year; all the many lessons about life and love that our sweet son Ezra has taught us. I was surprised to notice that the gratitude is there.
There is some letting go that is surrounding the approach of Ezra’s death and birth days. Saying the Kaddish, which since the beginning, was so difficult for me, brought no tears. And yet at another point in the service, we were asked to say out loud for what we were praying in the coming year – I said I was praying for the baby I am carrying to arrive safe and healthy…and the tears came. There is an emotional shift that is happening….an acceptance that Ezra is gone, and yet such intense swirl of fear and hope surrounding our Sunflower.
This entire year has been about slowly letting go. I guess the process began from the moment I heard the words ‘your baby has passed away’, through birthing his adorable yet lifeless body, and all the many emotions – shock, grief, despair, rage, sorrow--that have followed. I still miss my son with my whole self, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Ezra. I guess I’m just learning to live with that pain.
Next weekend we have planned an unveiling ceremony for Ezra, where we will see his gravestone for the first time. We will be surrounded by family and friends, and in an odd way, I am looking forward to it. I am grateful that for once we can do something for our son.
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