Saturday, August 22, 2009

From Grief to Gratitude?

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.

19 comments:

Hope's Mama said...

I feel so deeply lucky to have found you and to be walking this road with you. I'm so honoured to call you a friend.
xo

Rach said...

I have been thinking of you a lot over the last few days as I know that these days are approaching. These days that you never should have had to endure.

Just sending love and our thoughts...

xxx

Mirne said...

Thinking of you.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

Beautiful... I feel so much the same right now, past this year mark. There is some letting go, some moving forward, even if they will always remain close, always be missing. I'm not sure what I feel about the High Holy Days this year...

Fireflyforever said...

I found this such a profound and precious post. My faith tradition is Christian but I have documented more than once my difficulties with my faith and my search for a spirtual centre in all of this. Thank you for sharing a part of your journey.

Thinking of you both, and Ezra, in these special and significant days.

love
Jill

Lindsay said...

I am glad you will have your friends and family around to unveil Ezra'a headstone.
I'm so happy you seem to be at an ok place.
I'm thinking of you and your sunflower...

Dani819 said...

Crying with you. Hoping with you. And so, so grateful for your friendship.

Michele said...

so beautiful... thinking of you guys...

Sara said...

I've learned so much about gratitude through challenge and loss. I've found I can be truly grateful for the tiniest good despite the enormity of the bad.

You have had quite a year. Strength and peace.

Carly Marie said...

I am so grateful to have you as a friend Sarah.

I so wish I could be there this week with Angie and Dani.

Thank you so much for sharing the book - will see if i can get m hands on a copy down here.

xxxx

Paige said...

Sarah, I'm so thankful to have found you on this journey, and don't know what I'd do without you.

I wish I could be there, to place my stone personally, but my heart will be there and I hope you'll feel the love.

Akul's mama said...

You are a remarkable person. Ezra and sunflower are so very lucky to have you as their mom. Remember my response to one of your posts where I said I hope I do not become bitter....I want to evolve and become a better person. I want to be kind and gentle and loving and selfless. I want to be able to bring happiness to those around me and I want to be thankful..just like you. I do not want Akul's birth to be in vain. I want to embody his impact upon this world and I want that impact to be positive. What better tribute could we pay to our angel babies?

Funsize said...

I know the coming week will be hard. I'm thinking of you, your Sunflower, and your husband.

CLC said...

I am glad you can do something for Ezra next week. It will feel good, even though it's hardly what you ever imagined you would be doing. Thinking of you both.

erica said...

Thinking of you as you face this week, these days. I am so grateful to have found your voice here, Sarah. Sending love.

Lani said...

wow, this is intense sarah. silas was born and died a week before the jewish holidays. it was too hard to do anything but have a big family dinner and just be sad and think of our baby. i felt the same way, like the universe owed me big time.

this post is so beautiful and thoughtful and makes me want to be in that same thought pattern as you. i need to pick up that book- its been recommended to me over again and i've been holding back. but now i will get it immediately.

lots of love to you and david this week, i know it will be a tough one. xo

Monique said...

Love you lots, Sarah and I'm thinking of you & Ezra this week and always. Sending strength and love to get through. xo

afteriris said...

Thinking of your beautiful Ezra today x

aliza said...

sorry i'm just catching up now...
this is a beautiful post sarah. thinking of you and sending you love
xox