One small shred of truth

Monday, December 22, 2014

A woman in one of my grief groups tells us the story of a man, with whom she had been quite good friends for a long time before her daughter died.  After her daughter's death, every time she saw this friend or heard from him, he kept pushing the same message: "Get over it".  As is common in these situations, the two grew apart.  She found she had no room left for him in this new life she was living - the life without her daughter, and he grew bored of hearing that she was "still" in pain.  There could never be common ground......UNTIL.....his son died - and he fell into the abyss.  After that, she heard from him daily - usually multiple times per day.  He relied (and still relies) on her, the way that so many of us tend to rely on the people who started on this road before us.  And while she knew how important her support was to him, and how much he needed (really NEEDED) her, she couldn't help but feel a little bitter.  His words had so often hurt her before he lost his own child.  He had spoke of her daughter with such little care, as though her life hadn't mattered at all, which cut this bereaved mother to her core.  In his new place of grief, it was all about him.  HE was the one in pain, HE was the one who had just lost a child, HE continued not to mention her child - probably because he was in too much pain to think about her.  Of COURSE she would be there for him - because he was not the same man he was - he too was now changed forever and he FINALLY understood that there was no getting over it - only through.  What a terrible way for him to have learned.  Really - the absolute worst.

I have not had this exact experience - though it resonates with me so much.  I remember that years ago (when I was a teenager) an older mentor of mine lost his sister to cancer and I didn't say a thing.  I hadn't said a thing and I was VERY aware of the fact that I hadn't.  "I didn't know what to say" - so I kept quiet.  I think I even avoided him for a period, which still makes me feel sick to think about.  A few years later, my grandfather died - and I knew.  I didn't know what it was like to lose a sibling exactly, because that is unique and frankly, a much more shocking and awful kind of loss in the fact that she was a young woman, with her whole life ahead of her - but I knew what it meant to know that I would never see this person who I loved so much ever again in my life - and it was more pain than I'd ever felt.  I wasn't sure if it was too late to do so, but I did approach this friend/mentor and I apologized for my selfishness.  TWO YEARS AFTER THE FACT.  I told him that I only now understood a tiny fraction of the pain he must have felt.  I am willing to bet my life that I was not the only one who hadn't said anything.  I knew that I had acted selfishly and I was so so sorry that his adored sister had died too young.  It is somewhat ironic that I now understand the isolation of having lost someone too young (and therefore, too scary) to mention.  I have always wished that I had behaved differently.  The shame is just so much more illuminated now.

After losing Max, I drifted from many, many friends.  They didn't know how to sit with me, they wouldn't comfort me, they didn't say anything, they stopped talking to me, they told me in many various ways to "get over it", or they wondered why I hadn't reached out to them (and were insulted?) and so they just let the drifting happen - instead of reaching out to me in my time of need.  Three plus years later - this fact of drifting from so many does not make me sad or hurt much at all.  In a weird way, I even get it and feel like we are all probably better off.  I was and am scary and people don't know what to say.  That is true. But, that doesn't mean that I have to put myself out for those people who I scare.  It also doesn't mean that it is too late for someone to say, "I am sorry I wasn't there for you....."  Today, I choose to surround myself with the people who were and are there for me.  They are the people with whom I am most comfortable ...and frankly, I am tired of worrying about whether everyone else is comfortable with the awful fact that my beautiful son died.  I would rather concentrate on how my relationships make me feel. I want to try and be in mutually supportive and loving relationships moving forward and so I don't waste my time with the other kinds.  And, if I really think back on most of those old relationships, they were challenging before Max died, the fractures were just highlighted by his death.  In the meantime, there are some amongst the group that drifted away that have faced their own personal crises in these past years and have either reached out to me personally or more generally to our shared community for support....and in some ways, I feel a little bitter, like the woman in my grief group.  Only none of these individuals has lost a child.  They have faced other disappointments and perhaps griefs of their own - nothing catastrophic but griefs none the less. And, I really don't know how to respond - Is it my obligation to reach out to or answer the call from everyone in pain, regardless of how they treated me in my most desperate and vulnerable moments?  Really, am I responsible for being the leaning post to those who have hurt me?  Since I've been through hell, should I be the bigger person and reach out to all who are struggling because I know what it means to struggle?  I just don't think I am there yet and it causes me some guilt and angst.

A woman in another grief group recently asked the question, "With the holidays approaching, should I let my family and friends know that I want them to mention my son? To visit his grave? To tell me that they are thinking of him in their cards? Or, should I just let them slowly drift away?"  I think that is what it all boils down to when it comes to relationships.  The truth is, we know that those who ignore the elephant in the room, which is our personal struggle, can never be someone we will feel close to.  From my experience, the ones who would respond to our cry for help are usually the ones who would think to do this on their own, without our having to tell them to do it for us.  I've been told (many many times in various ways), that it was my fault that so many drifted, said nothing, did nothing, told me to move on - because I was too scary.  I'm ok with that.  I will take full responsibility.  But, I wonder - should we blame ourselves or everyone else when we don't say out-loud exactly what we need (which I actually thought, perhaps erroneously, is what I had done - by writing this blog)?  I really think that there is nobody to blame.  In times of crisis, your true friends will step forward on their own - without your having to tell them to do so - despite how scary you are, or uncomfortable your story makes them.  They will step forward because they love you and want you to feel loved and supported.  They will step forward because they WANT to, because to not step forward would hurt them as much as it hurts you.  It won't be a question for those friends.  You won't have to ask them.  They will just be there.  They won't take it personally that you haven't called them or returned their calls.  They will just keep trying because they know you cannot be held responsible at a time when you can barely get through the slow moving unbearable moments of this new life of yours.  At first it will hurt that not everyone you thought you were close to is making an effort.  You will feel betrayed or abandoned or crazy even, that you thought you were close to people who you most obviously were not.  In time, however, you will know where your truest relationships lie - and that will actually feel good.  I've never known depths of friendship and love like I know today.  A small shred of the truth and security that inevitably comes out of the most devastating and horrifying of life's possible experiences.

My bursting heart

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I didn't think I could love him anymore - and then last night:

I was feeding him a sandwich for dinner. I gave him a bite and he accidentally bit my thumb, hard.  I pulled it away quickly but I didn't yelp or say "ouch" - I didn't really make a peep.  But, he knew he bit me and he looked so upset.  He'd been so enjoying turkey and avocado sandwich but now he looked guilty - as if he wasn't sure whether he should chew the bite and swallow it or if he should just spit it out.  His little eyes filled with tears and his lower lip began to quiver.  I tried to reassure him that he hadn't hurt me.  "Mommy is ok!  You didn't hurt me!  It's ok, baby.  You can eat your dinner.", but he was so upset.  He slowly chewed the little bite and as soon as he had enough down, he asked for my hand.  I gave it to him and he kissed my thumb - twice.  I gave him a giant hug and kiss and told him how much I loved him.

Where this boy found such love and empathy, I don't know, but my heart just melted....and at the same time, I felt awful and sad.  I didn't think I could love him anymore and somehow, this love goes deeper and deeper every day.  He's my special boy....the one who saved my life.  I'm eternally grateful.


This is Halloween

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I am not sure how this perfect storm came to be - this perfect storm that left Mosie SO in love with Halloween.  Oddly enough, I think it started in speech therapy - the therapist has some pirate toys that Mo likes playing with and she always sings the "Yo ho" song from Pirates of the Caribbean while they play with them.  So, the first obsession was with the song.  I searched youtube for videos that featured the song and the one that Mo kept asking for again and again and again was this one:


100 times a day, Mo asked me for "Punkins!  Peas, Mommy! Yo Hos, Peas!" (Peas = please)

After Maxie's Benefit, I had about 20 leftover Halloween sticker books (many featuring pumpkins) that Mo still gets into every single day.  I taught him what all of the other characters were too - pumpkins, bats, skeletons, owls, ghosts, spiders, witches.  He was only mildly interested in the non-pumpkins until I took him to Boney Island!  Boney Island is a neighborhood Halloween super tricked out house that my cousins volunteer at every year (because they are neighbors).  It lasts for something like 2 weeks.  It is super packed and kid friendly (not scary) and features many, MANY skeletons, spiders, pumpkins, bats, owls, ghosts and witches.  There is also a 3 story tree house, which my cousin Laurie took him up in (I couldn't go up since I was 5 months pregnant and carrying Myla the whole time we were there). His eyes were basically popping out of his head the whole evening, which was the night before Halloween.

Ironically, we did nothing for actual Halloween.  We stayed at my mothers house, which is up in the hills and doesn't get any trick or treaters.  Ted was out of town and I didn't have the strength to go out a second night with both kids alone, so we stayed home and watched about 1,000 singing pumpkin videos.  Now, you should know, the pumpkins sing all sorts of songs - Ghostbusters, Thriller, The Monster Mash.  Whenever Mo hears one of these songs, his eyes open wide and he declares "Punkins!".  But the one song that finally stuck is "This is Halloween":


It plays in the soundtrack of my mind all day long.  It lulls me to sleep at night and also keeps me awake if I get up to soothe Myla or use the bathroom.  We tried to excite him about Thanksgiving - but it just didn't happen.  Now it's the middle of December, we don't celebrate Christmas, and I just don't think we are going to find any Hanukkah related material that is going to be as cool or stick quite as intensely as Halloween has.  When Mo wakes up in the morning or from naps, the first words out of his mouth are still usually either "Punkins!", "Halloween stickers!" or "This is Halloween Mommy, PEAS!".  Mo's birthday is in July - wondering already if it's gonna be a Halloween themed party. After losing Max, I was ready to kiss this holiday goodbye forever.  I guess things really do evolve - this kid REALLY brought back Halloween for us....

Mo in his homemade Punkin Pirate hat

Myla's Adoption

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Yesterday we took Myla down to the Children's courthouse in Monterey Park and legally adopted her as our daughter - to love and raise as if she were our own birth child - forever.  It was such a special experience.  I cannot begin to describe how moved we were by this quick appearance before a judge, where all we really did was sign a few papers, raise our hands, take an oath and pose for a few photos.  As soon as we sat down, I got teary eyed.  At times it felt like this day would never come and the amount of joy that this little girl has brought into our lives over five short months is impossible for me to express.  She is perfect in every way - a ray of sunshine.  I can't imagine loving her any more than I do - even though my love for her grows in every way, every single day.  When the judge recounted what this responsibility means, Ted and I looked at each other and we each knew what the other one was thinking - what a weird and tangled road we've traveled - full of the lowest lows and the highest highs.  Yesterday was one of those highs - a blessing of the highest form.



* Photos courtesy of one very proud and excited grandma.

Myla Seven Months Old

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Excuses, excuses - we have been pretty sick over here.  Mo was the worst but Teddy, Myla and I have got the stuffy nose, sore throats, and nasty coughs too.  I think the worst is now over.  But, that is one of the reasons why I am 4 days late with Myla's seven month post.

She is officially more of a baby than an infant these days.  She is affectionately called "Myna" in these parts because that is what her big brother calls her.  She is still pretty easy by day but has yet to sleep through the night.  She likes being passed around at parties (which is awesome for her pregnant mommy).  She loves being played with and especially being pulled up to stand for minutes at a time.  She is sitting up with very few topples.  She is a big girl and wears a size 4 diaper and size 9-12 months clothing (12 month pants are the only things that can contain those awesome thighs).  We adore her!  And, most importantly, she is legally OURS on December 10th (our court date!).  We can't wait!

Here she is!  MYNA!  I mean, MYLA!


Coping in Secret

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All of the time people are telling me about someone else they know who has lost a child and is coping really well with the loss.  Sometimes the context of these conversations feels a little accusatory, like, "why aren't YOU coping as well as our friend so and so?" - sometimes they are just told as a way to make a connection, like, "My friend so and so also lost her child and she has also figured out a way to move on and be happy" - sometimes the awful grief competition is introduced with the statement, like, "So and so lost her husband, then her mother, then she had multiple surgeries, and then she lost her son - and she is soldiering on - doing great!  She is such an inspiration to us - it's amazing she hasn't fallen apart" (unspoken subtext: "Like you did.  She has lost SO MUCH more than you but she is keeping it together").

I usually nod, ask a few questions and leave it at that.  Even without knowing "so and so", I feel pretty confident that he/she isn't coping as well as whoever I am talking to thinks he/she is.

I want to propose something - perhaps these people aren't coping as well as you think they are.  Perhaps their lives are incredibly complex and the only place that they can really grieve is with a grief group/therapist/significant other/alone.  I mean, it just may be something worth considering.  I know you are the one that knows them really well and of course, I don't know them at all - but I'd just like to put it out there.  Consider it food for thought.

A lot of grieving parents are not showing YOU the full picture - for a variety of reasons.  A lot of grieving parents sense that people don't want to hear about how awful losing their child really is, they aren't comfortable expressing emotion, they don't want to "burden" you with their loss, they are of a generation/gender that was taught to keep a stiff upper lip or sweep it under the rug, or they may feel like it's important to "fake it till you make it".  I am not saying that there aren't parents out there that are coping well - I am simply saying that you may not be privy to the complexity of the loss or the toll it's taken on your friend.

I tend to take these stories with a grain of salt.  My experience tells me that these people are not as well adjusted as you are giving them credit for....losing a child is catastrophic...it's as simple as that.  If they are actually coping well today, the chances are that they have been to hell and back to get to this point.

The fact is that I don't let everyone in myself - fewer and fewer, in fact, as time goes on.  AND - the ones that I do let in - don't get let in for very long.  There actually isn't one person on the earth who gets let in on it all - not even Ted.  It is just way too heavy to actually share in its entirety.  There are plenty of people in my life - people who don't read my blog, or who I keep things light and superficial with - who probably think I am one of those people who are coping so well.  In many ways, I AM one of those people.  Truly.  My grief has finally made space for other things.  I am super functional, very happy most of the time, especially when I am surrounded by friends and family.  But, I would NEVER want someone using me as an example of "coping well" to another bereaved parent.  It is too simplistic and untrue.  It took me a LONG time to get here and I still have a LONG way to go.  My grief defines who I am in many ways - even if there are also many other pieces of my life that define me as well.

I remember one of the "happiness pushers" early on our loss kept telling me that she wanted me to talk to her friend who had lost a child.  "She lost her son when he choked on a grape right in front of her and she is fine now".  This person sounded like the last person on the earth I wanted to talk to after losing Max.  I couldn't wrap my brain around someone being fine with losing their child and I didn't ever want to be that person myself.  The happiness pusher thought that I was making too much of Max dying and that perhaps if I could just talk to someone who had lost a child and was well-adjusted, I'd be fine too.  I thought about this mother many times over the first two years of my loss - how had she done it?  Finally, and I am not sure why exactly, I did reach out to this mother, we made an appointment to talk on the phone and we spoke for several hours.  As you can imagine, the mother is not "fine".  She has incorporated the loss into her life.  She has much joy from her two surviving children.  She is busy and surrounded by people and her life does not any longer revolve around grief - which it did - for a long, long time.  Her early experiences reflect much of the same stuff I've been going through - anger, denial, spiritual searching, despondency, defensiveness.  But, there was still a gaping hole in her heart.  She still went through periods of hell.  She was frankly more than a bit insulted and pissed off that anyone had assumed she was "just fine" with the death of her son.  She was actually happy to be talking to me because it had been so long since she felt like she could have an honest conversation about the havoc her sons death had wreaked on her life.  Everyone expected more from her now - now that it has been such a long time since he died.  Her son. (Honestly, how does anyone expect anyone to get over that?  It's just unrealistic and unfair).

I guess all I am saying is that people are fighting battles that they are not necessarily sharing with you.  I made a decision to more open than most because that is who I am.  I have always been vocal (voted most talkative in more than one of my growing up scenarios), I have always been outspoken.  I have never been one to shy away from telling it like I see it.  This hasn't always made me popular or well-liked but it has always been who I am.  This is why you are hearing how I really feel about grief....and you are part of a small group of people in my life who do.  The only ones who ARE really hearing it are the ones who are seeking it out - by asking me how I am doing, checking in on my Facebook page, or by reading my blog.  Most everyone else likely thinks I am coping well and I don't go out of my way to tell them otherwise.  Contrary to what you might think - I also think I am coping well.....as well as can be expected. 

I saw this post on Facebook yesterday and it made me think - how can we ever know the demons someone else is fighting unless we ask?  Unless we are told?  Maybe we should stop making assumptions about how someone else feels or copes - because the fact is that we can almost never really know.  Anyway, just a thought.....


Safe sleep

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I've debated writing this post for a long time. I often feel like the annoying rule -follower standing on my soap box, preaching about safe sleep - barking messages nobody wants to hear.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under 1 sleep in their own cribs, with no blankets, bumpers, pillows, or anything else. They should have a tight fitting sheet on their mattress, be put down on their back, and wear a sleep sack and appropriately warm pajamas. They should not be over-bundled and should ideally have a fan on or air circulation in the room.

SIDS is not suffocation. When babies who stop breathing die of suffocation, the cause of death is "suffocation". SIDS is the sudden infant death of a child that has no explanation. I guess my point is that even though you might feel very comfortable and sure that your child isn't in danger of suffocating, you cannot be confident and sure that your child isn't in danger of dying of SIDS - so why wouldn't you take all of the precautions? Even if you are tired - I just don't see how a full nights sleep is worth the risk. 

The research has showed for some time that there is a connection between safe sleep recommendations and SIDS. Many of the experts in the field feel that the research coming from Dr. Hannah Kinney in Boston is the most convincing. Her team have found a brain stem irregularity in children who have died from SIDS. The abnormality impairs the brain's ability to use and recycle seratonin. Seratonin is known for the role it plays in regulating moods - but it also helps to regulate essential functions like breathing, heartbeat, temperature blood pressure and arousal. The irregularity might be the reason that the brain is triggered to believe that the airflow is not readily available in certain sleep environments. The theory is that the soft bed covers found in adult beds, the pillows and boppys that are placed in cribs with babies, and just being on the tummy triggers the deadly response in baby's brain stem. Sadly, there is no way to test for this irregularity until after death. So, there is no way to know if your child has it. This is something that Dr. Kinney and her team are working on. First Candle and other organizations support her research (and other reputable research in the field as well). We hope that someday soon there will be a test to detect this irregularity in newborns.

You know that babies die of SIDS. You know it because this is how we lost Maxie. Maybe you think your baby is safer because you love them so much. If love could have protected a child's life, I promise you - Max would still be here. Our love for him runs deep into the core of the earth and completely took over our lives from the moment he was born. He was loved and cared for and adored - and he still died. I KNOW that whatever decisions you make regarding your child are made with love. I don't want to be the bad guy, I just want to make sure you have all of the facts.
http://sidsamerica.org/hormone-deficiency-could-cause-sudden-infant-death-syndrome-sids
http://www.firstcandle.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Kinney-2006.pdf

Birthdays

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Happy Birthday!  I hope it's the best day ever!"

"Happy Birthday to you!  Happy Birthday to you!  Happy Birthday Dear Abby!  Happy Birthday to you!"

"I hope you are celebrating today!"

Birthdays are complex (are you surprised to see that I've written that?  What isn't complex these days?).  I loved getting so many wonderful FB messages, emails, voicemails, calls, and texts on Friday.  Really.  It's hard to feel unloved in the Facebook age when everyone is reminded that it's your birthday and makes an effort to acknowledge it.  My birthday is just one of those days now that leaves me feeling pretty empty, heartbroken and guilty.  For me, birthdays stopped being full of childlike wonder when I stopped being a child.  I think birthdays started feeling a little self indulgent around my 25th one.  Not to say I haven't had some good celebrations since then.  I have.  Including my 40th last year - celebrated in Costa Rica with a group of my very best friends.  It wasn't really about my birthday though - more of an excuse to remind myself and be reminded that life is still full of love and possibility.

Having a birthday and the expectation of joy around it actually feels kind of shitty. I just can't believe I keep having these things when Max never even had ONE.  There is just nothing that is more wonderful than seeing a child celebrating their special day.  It makes me feel sick inside that he never got that and that all of his birthdays are commemorated without him.

"Hi Abby, just want to send you a few big hugs and lots of love for your birthday xxxx" - wrote another bereaved mother to me on Facebook

"Thank you, that's so sweet of you", I wrote back.  

I've never met this mom in person.  She lives in the UK.  She is part of a private grief group I belong to on FB.  Inside the virtual walls of that group is one of the only places that I really can say how I feel (you think I am telling you how I really feel here?  Nope).  Even though I've literally never met even one of these people in person, I feel closer to them and trust them more than most people I have known my whole life and see regularly.

"Birthdays are hard now, aren't they?", she answered

I breathed out a deep sigh of relief to finally have someone acknowledge the reality of the day.  "Thank god someone gets it", was all I could think.  Of course the only ones who really get it are those who have lost like I have. 

I cried myself to sleep Thursday night.  I also spent too much of Friday locked in my bathroom at home so my nanny wouldn't see me crying.  And it isn't because I am sad to have turned 41.  I don't feel like an old woman (because I'm not one) and if anything, getting older is the one thing that I can actually appreciate about my birthday.

I know it's hard to understand how someone with so much good in her life can still have so much sadness.  I hope that you never ever have to understand how complex (yep, there it is again) it all is.  I have a wonderful husband, two delicious living children and another one on the way (god willing).  I have a good job and a nice home and two loyal dogs.  I've got good friends, a nice family, my parents are still living, and I am not lacking in anything that I really need.  But there is this one missing piece that never goes away.  I don't have Max.  And, what's so much worse is all that he doesn't have.  

I am finally coming out of the birthday fog (both his and mine) and genuinely feeling like there is some sunshine up ahead.  

"No light that was ever born in love, can ever be extinguised." - Darcie Sims



Myla Six Months

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Aw man.  I am a few days late.  I have excuses - we were at my mom's house all last week in an attempt to keep our house clean.  We put our house on the market and hoped to have a bunch of showings before we returned home (more on that later....) I cannot find the blanket that I was taking Myla's photos on but am still hopeful it will show up. Ted was out of town all weekend, which made organizing my time kind of hard.  But, alas, there is no excuse.  Myla turned 6 months on Saturday and we should have done the photo shoot then.  It in no way reflects how HAPPY we are that she is getting older!  She is a doll!  She is sleeping better (with lots of patience and commitment to her sleep training), she is eating a few bites here and there of "solid" food (otherwise known as mushy sweet potatoes), and she smiles and laughs all of the time.  Mostly, I can't get over how CUTE she is.  I'm obsessed.  She gets lots of squeezes and kisses all day long.

So - here is the recap, starting with 2 months, when we got her!




A music class moment

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Are you expecting?", asked the woman sitting next to me in Mo's music class.
"I am", I said, smiling.
"Do you have other children?", she asked - motioning to Mo.
I paused.
"I do.  I have a six month old daughter at home".
At home is what I say to avoid having to get "into it".  I am just not mentioning my other son right now - who isn't "at home".  It doesn't really work, but it's what I do.
"Ooooo, a girl!", she said enthusiastically.  She looked down at her own belly (which wasn't bulging nearly as much as mine is) and said, disappointingly, "We are having another boy."
She is due two weeks after me.  She has 2 boys already - a four year old and a two year old.
"Boys are wonderful!", I said - feeling envious of her three boys.
"I was hoping for a girl", she said, still disappointed.
"Girls are wonderful too", I said.  And they are - I ADORE my baby girl.
The teacher asked us to stand up to sing the next song.  "All of this standing up and sitting down is getting pretty old - dontcha think?", I said, grasping my sides while awkwardly pulling myself up.
She laughed, "Tell me about it."

I really like this mom.  She is always smiling and she has the cutest boys and they are all so loving with each other.  I was excited to learn she was pregnant (she really doesn't look pregnant but anyway.....) and thought that maybe we would chat about our pregnancies in the coming months and be able to commiserate about where we are at.  Still, the conversation made me feel emotional - as so many seemingly benign conversations with other mommies do.  I moved on from it pretty quick though and just put my focus back on Mo and the class. ..................................and then.........................really out of nowhere - I found myself on the outside of a beautiful, chaotic, playtime music scene and my eyes began to fill with tears and it took everything in me to keep the tears in my eyes.  It was everything - sadness that Max wasn't there, shame that I hadn't mentioned him, heartbroken that I don't have what she is disappointed to have, gratitude for being given a second chance at motherhood with Mo and Myla and this new little guy who is coming.  It just felt like TOO much to contain.  I grabbed my phone to record the moment, thinking there was something big here.  But, then I got home and saw that it was just this:


An ordinary day, doing ordinary stuff with my kid.  Wish it wasn't laden with so much more......

Punching Bag

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Maybe I'm an easy target. I'm certainly imperfect and flawed - perhaps more than I've ever been. I don't always say the right things- I've got a bad combination of grief brain, mommy brain, and pregnancy brain. I'm emotional - still very much climbing my way out of the deepest, darkest hole you can imagine. I know you find my emotions and grief frustrating. I am learning not to come to you when I'm feeling anxious, sad, or bereft. I am doing my best to put on my cool, calm and collected face for you - even though I'm none of those things. And still, somehow, I continue to feel like your punching bag. I am asking you to stop - and consider that I might be more sensitive than most - and, embarrassingly, more defensive than most as well. Try to muster up your most empathetic self - please - I'm fragile - and if you love me, you'll treat me kindly, you'll give me a pass, you'll let me make mistakes while I navigate this new life I have. Stop treating me like your punching bag. Please. One more punch might break me.

Maxie's Fourth Birthday Benefit

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I don't yet have the photos back from Maxie's Birthday Benefit on Sunday...so you'll just have to trust me when I say that it was packed and everyone seemed to be having a great time.  We had about 200 people - SO many friends, friends kids, family, and many unfamiliar faces as well.  We raised a lot of money for First Candle - over $31,000.  Everything went mostly pretty smoothly.  All in all - a great success and something that we feel really good about.

I got an email from a friend asking me if I was satisfied with how the event turned out.  The truth is that it isn't a really "satisfying" venture.  In many ways, it feels very very empty for me - and I can only speak for myself.  It is one of the things I do to try and work through this gigantic loss.  I do it because I'm scared that to do nothing might feel even worse.  But, there is something super icky feeling about asking people to support you.  It can feel selfish and desperate. 

On the other hand, it is amazing when people actually do answer the call and step forward to lend their support.  Some of the people who lent a hand aren't even people I've personally reached out to or people I know very well - like so many of our sponsors.  What gigantic hearts they have to support us without even really knowing us - just knowing the very basics of our story.  There are also a handful of individuals every year who help me take ownership of the event and really work with me from start to finish to make sure every detail is covered.  I wouldn't be able to pull off this event without them.  They go above and beyond and I am grateful to them.

I came home on Sunday night feeling incredibly sad.  I should have felt ecstatic: the event was over, I'd seen so many wonderful friends, everyone had a ball, we had been so supported throughout, we'd raised a ton of money.... but I just felt sad.  There is something so incongruous about drinking beer and eating delicious food, and face painting and arts and crafts and big smiles and warm "hellos" and bidding wars over gift certificates - and how I really feel about the birthday party of my boy who I love more than life itself who isn't here to celebrate.  Behind my smile, you may not see how empty my world often is without him. I keep saying it, but I know there is no way for you to know.

I am so grateful that when I build it - you all come.  I know that kids missed naps, that dads (and moms) missed Sunday football (hopefully you DVR'd?), that perhaps you were nervous about seeing me and not knowing what to say, or that you only knew me and I was too busy putting out fires to spend time with you.  I am grateful that despite those challenges - you came, you bought into our vision, your kids had fun, you guzzled some cold ones, you bid on some auction items you probably didn't need (but are so happy to have won), and you helped to celebrate the life of our special little boy.  He wasn't here long but his impact is still felt.  Thank you for that......

We make boys

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I guess it's true - Ted and I make boys. So, don't be too surprised when I tell you that we've got another one coming.

Baby Boy "M. Leviss #3" due to arrive on or around March 1, 2015. We are very, very excited!


Isn't he cute?

Maxie's Fourth Birthday

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I cannot stop crying.  I literally CANNOT stop crying.  The waves of grief hit me every single day - but today, they are pummeling me, pounding me, breaking me.  "I don't know how I am still doing this", is what I keep thinking, realizing that I have to do this forever.  Life is unfair and it can be terribly hard.  We all lose people we love throughout our time on this planet and its awful and painful and heartbreaking.....but NOBODY should ever have to lose a child.  NOBODY.  There is just nothing that I would have imagined happening in this life of mine that could have come close to this pain.  Nothing.

Today, he would have been 4.  We would have woken him up singing.  We'd be excitedly talking about his upcoming party this weekend. We'd be planning a special day, with all of his most favorite food (which likely wouldn't be greek yogurt and bananas anymore), and so many of his favorite people.  Or, at least, I think that is what we'd be doing.  I'll never ever know....because we never even got to celebrate one birthday with him.

I am angry and so so sad.  And when I read over what I've written it's all just words and there is no way to just SHOW you my heart and how BROKEN it is and how NOTHING fills the void.  He deserved more than this.  We all did.




Atonement

Friday, October 3, 2014

Mo and I went to Temple on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). I dropped Mo off at the kids service/childcare and I sat with friends. I wouldn't say my whole heart was really in it (not sure that it ever really is) but I felt like I wanted to go for whatever reason. [Frankly, one of the main reasons was so that I could drop Mo in the childcare - he isn't starting pre-school until January and he is getting ansy and wants to be around other kids. I knew this would be a fun day for him.] 

I sat in the sanctuary, watching the people come and go, whispering back and forth with my friend Limor, getting scolded by the old man sitting behind us ("Ladies, there is a service going on" - HA! Some things never change). I didn't spend time reflecting on the year and all that it has brought - perhaps because it has been such an overwhelming and complex year - with so much joy, sorrow, pain, delight, renewal. It's almost too much to think about. I just sat there singing along absent-mindedly - disconnected - unattached - disinterested in the spiritual aspect of the day. That's how religious services go for me. In a strange way, it is a meditative time. I may not be thinking about the prayers themselves, but I do sort of disconnect from regular life.  I don't think about the nonsense that occupies my brain 90% of the time - work, finances, scheduling, whatever. I do just flip through pages - figure out where we are, how much left we have to go, why the cantor isn't singing the tune that I know.

I wasn't thinking about much, that is, until we got to the Amidah - a pivotal prayer said in all religious Jewish services - one that I've read the Hebrew and English version of at least 100,000 times over the course of my lifetime. 

"Praised be the Lord our G-d, who grants eternal life to the deceased". 

My eyes are filling with tears just writing this now. ETERNAL LIFE. A Jewish concept? I've asked every Jew I know - rabbis, orthodox, chabad, and kabbalistic friends - "Does Judaism support a concept of life after death?" In the wake of my child's death, I have not been able to come up with a more relevant or important question for plugging forward with my own life. It's basically all I ever think about - night and day. I've asked so many observant Jews this question, I am surprised they don't go running when they see me approaching. The answer I usually get is "I think so" or "Judaism focuses on the life we live now. We do good because it is the right way to live, not because of the reward we may receive in the afterlife". But, I am not worried about the reward - I don't care about Heaven or Hell or Satan or Angels or harps or cupids or anything. I care about Max. I care that he isn't just buried on the side of a hill near my house - his brief life having only experienced baths and tickles and kisses and naps. I care that I will be with him again - which is my version of Heaven (and so maybe I do care about the reward and punishment thing).

The idea that Judaism supports this concept felt so profound to me in that moment that I actually had to hold back my tears in the service. I think going from whispered giggling gossip to bursting out into tears seemingly out of nowhere might have been a little much for my seating companions - not that my quickly changing emotional range is anything new.  Somehow, I did manage to hold it together.

Earlier this week, a girlfriend of mine wished me "G'mar Chatima Tova" (Basically - "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life this year").  I read through more of the English translation on Rosh Hashana and found the familiar words reminding me that G-d is going to take the next 10 days (which are up tomorrow) to decide who lives and who dies, who suffers and who prospers, who will have abundance and who will find poverty.  "It doesn't add up", I told her.  "Why would G-d NOT have inscribed Max into the Book of Life? He was just a baby.  He didn't deserve to die."  Is it possible that he was being punished for some baby sized sin?  (NO, by the way, IMPOSSIBLE).  Was his life taken because G-d decided during those 10 days in 2010 that Ted and I would be written onto to list of people who would suffer?  And, if so, (and I am not going to argue with G-d that somehow I didn't deserve this punishment - because I can be arrogant, and egomaniacal, and superficial, and prone to holding grudges - maybe I DID deserve the ultimate form of punishment...but then) why did Max end up the one whose life was taken?  Why not me then? WHY?  Why? Why? Why?  

I can't wrap my brain around any of it. And, I refuse to accept it all as is. There has to be more to the story.  THERE HAS TO BE. Ted reminds me often that this line of thinking that I am stuck in constantly is an exercise in futility. I will never know....and of course, he is right.

Tomorrow - we will be in Synagogue again - for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) - the day that the Book is sealed for the year.  I wonder what we can expect in this next year.  Have Ted and I paid enough?  Will we be rewarded for having endured the suffering?  Will the mistakes we made cause the life of some innocent to be destroyed?  Have we spent enough time apologizing to everyone we may have hurt over the last year (I can only speak for myself - NOPE)? Will we find the strength to keep rebuilding our lives (because there are many ways that it feels like we've had to start from scratch since losing Max)?  I don't know.  What I will focus on tomorrow is this: "Praised be the Lord our G-d, who grants eternal life to the deceased". It is really the only thing that matters to me right now. What's done is done - I only have the future to look forward to now.


Myla Five Months

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Our little girl is five months old today!  She is a sweet and easy baby.  She is chubby, chubby, chubby and super happy.  She loves getting kisses and hugs and being held.  She also loves getting attention from her big brother, which happens sporadically but also intensely.  We love her more each day!


For some reason, I have trouble catching her smiles in photos but she actually smiles a lot.....and, boy, is it cute!




Social

Friday, September 26, 2014

I know it's confusing for people who know me and even those who are new in my life to understand that I suffer from social anxiety.  This anxiety is fairly new (since losing Max), it isn't crippling (thank god), it isn't always visible, and I am pretty good at faking comfort and confidence in social situations even if my heart is racing and I am feeling either completely removed (preferable) or freaked out (not preferable). This confusion has led to some really awful interactions and hurt feelings for me and others and at times has only served to cause me increased anxiety. I find that even when I warn people ahead of time, their expectations of me are just not realistic.

In the first year or two after losing Max, I hated to leave my house - my only comfort zone. If I left, I ideally wanted to know exactly who would be wherever I was going so I could prepare myself.  Being around people I didn't know was really really hard.  I was sad all of the time and couldn't fake my way through pretending to be anyone other than a grieving mother....I had no other identity in my early grief.  I couldn't concentrate on what anyone was saying.  I couldn't (not wouldn't - but COULDN'T) make small talk.  Being introduced to people or reintroduced to people I didn't know very well or at all scared me.  I felt too exposed and my brain was just not firing off the connections that would enable me to shmooze.  I knew that I was probably seen as unfriendly and uninterested - and the truth is that I was.  I had no interest in anything except talking about, brooding over, and missing Max. 

After a year and a half or two years, I grew a thicker skin.  The best way I can describe it is to think about how you feel when you are watching a particularly horrific story on the news - about a beheading, or something terrible happening to children, or people living in unlivable circumstances - your thick skin is what gives you the ability to change the channels, forget about what you just saw and just keep eating dinner.  Imagine that you couldn't change the channel.  You couldn't erase the images you'd just seen.  That is how I lived for a long time.

Today I leave my home.  All of the time.  I go to parties, and play groups, and I have even traveled for work several times this year.  I freak out for days (sometimes weeks) before entering nearly every single new environment.  Traveling to Israel twice this year caused me so much more anxiety than I can possibly describe.  Knowing that I would have very little (if any) down time, being with mostly new people who don't know me or my story, the fear of being asked about how many children I have..... it was so overwhelming. These trips had the added bonus of also taking me away from my kids for days on end, which also brought up a lot of the emotions (guilt, fear, dread, distrust) I have surrounding losing Maxie while he was at daycare.  At times I was removed and sullen - I felt misunderstood and isolated.  Keenly aware that I needed to figure out how to be a more upbeat and positive personality - like the one you are supposed to have while staffing a group of people in a foreign country. It was a challenge.

Of course I find that, most of the time, putting myself in new and unfamiliar situations is worth the anxiousness that is provoked.  I wouldn't keep putting myself out there if I didn't think it was worth it.  It is still hard though.  Much harder than it ever was for me in the past.  Sometimes the anxiety that the potential situation provokes is too much for me and I either decline the invitation or end up participating and feeling very aware of the fact that I am in no place to be around new people.

If you invite me someplace new - I am grateful for the invitation.  If you are with me someplace and I seem to go from friendly and engaged to sort of removed.  If you wonder why I am not as excited about the upcoming event as I once was - this is why.  I appreciate that you think I've pulled my act together.  I want you to know that I haven't.  I am still working hard on it though and taking more chances than I ever thought I would.  Give me some time.  Give me some space.  And, please, please, please - try not to take it personally.

Familiar

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ladies: Does this sound familiar?

Your husband comes home from work a little early and he's in a great mood.  He hugs and kisses you and is smiling ear to ear.  He's a little more cozy, lovey/dovey than usual...and you are thinking: "Wow! What a nice treat!". Not that he's usually an a-hole or anything - there's just a usual hustle and bustle to the evenings that seems lifted on this particular night. 

And then it hits you - his football team is playing tonight. As soon as that tv goes on, you will cease to exist for the evening in his mind. It isn't a special treat! It's Monday night football!!!  Grrrr.

As the game starts, you think, "This isn't so bad. As soon as I get the kids to sleep, I'll have the whole night to myself! I'll read...no, I'll watch tv in the other room, no the baby is sleeping in there...so, I'll read... or work on a long overdue project. The possibilities are endless really, and it's great to see him so happy.      

And then the other team scores and you remember that if his team loses, he won't be SO happy anymore. And, it looks like his team is gonna lose. And suddenly your night seems kind of bleak, and you're not sure why- because you don't even really LIKE football. Most likely you will go to sleep long before he makes it to bed, because he will probably fall asleep on the couch watching highlights. 

Anyway, just wondering if this sounds at all familiar?

One hot weekend!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Our air conditioning broke this weekend, and if you live in the LA area, you know that it was the worst weekend for a broken air conditioning. To be specific, the motor died - from a long year (I'd argue three years) of heat. It's just been running constantly for as long as I can remember. This past weekend, the temperature was well over 100 degrees both days. Somewhat miserable - but also a good excuse to wade in a plastic child's pool, hose each other down and finally escape to grandma'a house. Seriously - it was rough.




Saturday was also our five year wedding anniversary. I think we've lived five lifetimes in these past five years. It was worth celebrating. We got a babysitter and Ted surprised me by taking me to "Inn of the Seventh Ray" in Topanga Canyon. It is actually where we went after our "legal" marriage five years ago. (We had to sign the marriage certificate in the rabbis office here in the States about a month before our religious wedding, which we consider the "real" wedding in Costa Rica on 9-6-9.) As we pulled up to the restaurant we noticed people looking pretty dressed up and I worried. Ted and I looked nice (if you consider a casual dress for me, and khakis with a collared shirt for him, and flip flops nice) but these people were in cocktail attire. Then we saw a guy dressed like my dad (nice jeans and a pressed Hawaiian shirt and boat shoes) and figured we'd be ok. When we got closer, we noticed that we knew one of the nicely dressed couples.  It was my friend Matt's brother, Greg, and his wife, Lauren. They excitedly told us that Matt and Ann were there too - for a cousins wedding! So, Ted and I did what I most like to do next - crashed a wedding. Well, we went down at least, found Matt and Ann, had a drink with them and met the groom, before going to the part of the restaurant not being used for the wedding and had a lovely dinner. It was a funny coincidence. Had we had a little more champagne, I would have insisted on going back after dinner for some late night boogies. But we were both tired and stuffed. 

Happy Anniversary Teddy, my love. Thank you for being my best friend and support. And, thank you most today for sending the HVAC guy over here to replace the AC motor!!!  I love you!

Still

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I've been working really hard to get everything organized for Maxie's Birthday Benefit - on October 12th. I find that the event brings up so much sadness for me, in so many different ways. I just don't know if it is something I should do again after this year.

A couple of days ago, I posted to an online mommy group to see if I could find any potential sponsors or silent auction donors. I am having such a hard time getting donations this year - I am hoping it will pick up. Anyway, last year I posted to the same mommy group and I got a donation for a pass to the Magic Castle, so I figured I'd try again. This year, so far, I've gotten 3 emails telling me how sad my post made them - which was nice. I also got an email that I can't shake.  A woman wrote to say that her son was a year younger than Max would be.  When he was only 5 months old, he went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing.  She immediately gave him CPR and then he was rushed to the hospital where he was put on life support. They spent two days in the hospital, and the boy was given a 15% chance of survival.  Somehow he pulled through and is alive today. She still suffers from PTSD (I'm not surprised) and is afraid every day that it will happen again (of course she is).

I know I should only feel happiness for this family and this little boy at hearing this story. I do feel those things. For sure I do. But I also feel jealousy and guilt and anger. If we had kept Max on life support for a few days more, would he have lived? Why did her boy live and mine died? What more could I have done? Why didn't I keep him home that day (or every day)? If he had been with me, would he still be alive?

I've been missing my baby like crazy these days. After Ted left for work this morning, I had a dream - that it was all a nightmare. Maxie was alive. I was watching him, awake in his crib, on the monitor. It was his face, his big blue eyes, his little tummy and pale skin. This whole thing was over - as if it had never happened. Understand that I pray for dreams like this every single day, but having one really throws me. Why isn't he here? Why did his story not turn out like hers? I can't tell you how much I wish it were me, reading her post, emailing her my story of my living child, and then telling her that I hug my child a little tighter.  I'm having a really rough time - Still.


It's so unfair.  It's so unfair.  It's so unfair.  It's so unfair.  It's so unfair.  

Making space

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When people spend time with me today, I believe that they are pleased to see that I have "recovered".  They believe that I have put the whole terrible episode of losing my son behind me and am now living a near perfect life - with an adoring husband and two beautiful children.  They often tell me how "great" I am doing.  I don't think that they have any idea that I am thinking about Max all of the time.  I am never not thinking about him.  Never.  I still have intense episodes of PTSD, I still have nightmares, I still wonder daily what I could have done differently, I still see other children who are four years old and watch with complete amazement that my child would be this age now.  It hurts all of the time, whether you see it or not.

When people interact with me these days, what I don't think they realize is that I don't have the capacity or patience for the little dramas that used to be at the forefront of my life: this one is mad at me because I forgot to return their last phone call, that one thinks I am mean, the other one is creating some big drama about a misunderstanding at work.  I get caught up in it for an hour or two - and then I realize - it's all nonsense.  What Ted and I have been through pales all of the little made-up dramatics that life and people present.  Those dramas are a luxury.  They don't make even a small difference in the big picture of life.

I am not a perfect person.  I am not sweet as honey - never have been.  I can be acerbic and sarcastic.  That's always been my personality.  Some people get me and like me and some people don't.  I tend to be drawn to people who are like me in this way: a little salty: people who like to tease and be teased.  Of course, not everyone in my life is like that.  That's ok too.  I will do my best to hear and appreciate you but sometimes my head and my heart are someplace else.  There are big traumas in life and there are smaller ones.  I tend to focus on the bigger ones.  If you care about me, I hope you will try to understand that.  If you don't understand that - that's ok too.  I've only got so much room in my heart and time on my hands these days, as I am sure you do too. 

She's doing great!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Myla is doing awesome!  She is CHUBBY.  She's gained about 6 pounds since coming to live with us almost two months ago.  She smiles a lot, sleeps a lot and drinks a ton of formula.  She is an easy baby.  I know I've said that about all of my babies but I think she might even be easier than the boys.  She likes swinging, sitting in her rainforest bouncer, being pulled up to stand and she is a tummy time champ.  We all love her so much!



Unfriendly

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A few weeks ago, I was in my local grocery store.  The one that I avoided for more than a year after Maxie died.  I hated being in there because I'd been in there so many times with Max.  I worried about running into the people that ran his daycare (because I'd seen them shopping in there before he died).  I also dreaded running into my friend, the grocer, who had a little girl about a month after Maxie was born.

I wrote about finally biting the bullet and going there.  It is really the best and most well organized market in our area.  It is also the closest - like walking distance.  So, for the past few months, I've been going there instead of the all of the other options.  I ALWAYS see my grocer friend and I avoid him like the plague.  The first few times, I politely said hi but then immediately darted off before he could make conversation with me.  But, then I just started to see him and go down whatever aisle he wasn't in.  Since he is almost always in the produce section, I had to make my away around without being wherever he was - which was awkward.  Finally he got the hint and started avoiding me too - and then he moved on to giving me dirty looks and shaking his head whenever he saw me come in.

Of course I understand why he thinks I am the A-hole.  We used to always catch up on our families together and then one day I disappeared, and when I reappeared, I wasn't the same friendly person.  The truth is that he is not the only one who is a victim of my unfriendliness.  I went from being a very outgoing and sociable person to MUCH more of a cold introvert.  I can't take chit chat anymore.  I'm looking out for my own well-being.  I'm just not that nice anymore.  And, honestly, that's ok with me.

But, I hated the dirty looks, eye rolls and head shakes he was always throwing my way - and, I am not sure why but I finally decided to explain to him why I ignore him.  About a month ago, I walked right up to him and said, "You may remember that my son was born about a month before your daughter.  You and I always used to talk and catch up about the babies.  I am sure you have noticed that I am not as friendly as I used to be (author's note: UNDERSTATEMENT).  My son stopped breathing and died when he was nine and a half months old while he was at daycare.  Catching up with people who had babies when I did makes me too sad, so I avoid them.  I am sorry."

He looked me right in the eye and said with a big smile, "I was wondering what was going on.  Ok.  That makes more sense.  Glad to know it."  Hmmmmm.  Not "I'm sorry".  Not "How effing horrible".  Not "Oh my god!  You and your poor husband"......Not ANY kind of acknowledgement at all that I'd just told him of the greatest possible tragedy that I could ever imagine suffering. Just a look of relief that he finally understood what had happened.  And, I know I caught him off guard.  And, I know that he meant well (did he? I'm saying I "know" it because that is what I've been told).  But, I don't know - sometimes I wish I'd just stuck with being unfriendly.

Peace

Monday, August 18, 2014

I couldn't come all the way to Israel without visiting Maxie's Forest. I made the trip there Friday with my friend Tali, her Fiancé Asaf, and my cousin Leslie. It took us a while to find because the entrance is not obvious. We drove in and out of several roads in the Ofer Forest area of the Carmel before finally arriving in the familiar parking lot.


It's odd to me, in a way, that a place where Max never was and never will be can feel so full of Max. When people ask me if I feel his spirit there, I hesitate, because that isn't what I feel. I think what I feel instead is the love of everyone who supported us in creating this monument to him. I also deeply feel an immediate reaction to the wording we used on his pilar - which is the same as on his gravestone (and tattooed on Ted's arm). It gives me an immediate sense of HIS knowing that I am there and missing him. 


I don't LOVE Maxie's Forest. I hate it. I hate having a memorial to my son. It just is what it is though and considering the fact that I can't change what is - it is tremendously meaningful to have this destination point in his honor.  It gives me the opportunity to stand back and reflect on him and my life without him. It's not unlike visiting the cemetery - except for that instead of being surrounded by death, it feels surrounded by hope. The pillar marking Maxie's name is surrounded by pillars marking other names - people and organizations and communities who contributed to replant the Carmel Forest after a raging and tragic fire that happened only a couple of months after Maxie's birth. Tree by tree, people contributed to replant a mighty forest that was actually once my backyard. It speaks to me in so many ways - like how each breath, each act of kindness, each cuddle with Mo, Myla and Ted, each day that has passed since losing my beautiful boy, has slowly begun to rebuild a new spirit inside of me.

We've been here during a very hard time this summer. The images, stories, and remnants of war are everywhere. We've travelled up and down the country clinging (as all Israelis and Palestinians have been) to a very fragile ceasefire. We haven't heard one siren. I haven't had to visit the bomb shelter once. But I got here after such a tense time. The nerves of everyone around us are frayed and their hearts are all broken. Their dreams of peace seem to be crushed. Maybe there is no way out of this - they are finally saying. A much different tune than was being sung than during the first period that I lived here in 1994 after Oslo had infused the nation with hope.  

I remember in those days, we'd walk from my Kibbutz, Beit Haemek, to the nearby Arab town of Kfar Yassif all of the time. It was cheaper than taking a cab into the nearest city (only 5 minutes away) of Nahariya. The surrounding Arab villages soccer teams would regularly practice on our kibbutz field and there were tournaments in the area between the Arab and Jewish teams. I'm told the kibbutz members don't really visit the village anymore. How it was is the way it should be.

On our way out of Maxie's Forest, I saw a big truck and took a video for Mo. I realized that it was a KKL - JNF truck (the organization I work for) and got excited. It looked brand spanking new, which likely means it was donated after the 2010 fires.  The truck pulled over and the ranger came out to meet us.  "I work for JNF-USA", I told him in Hebrew. "I know", he said - his accent very Arabic "I could feel it", he said with his eyes smiling at me. We spoke to him for a while. His name is Jamal and he is a Muslim Arab from a nearby village - a place where massive rioting had been taking place only days earlier.  Jamal explained that he is a ranger who takes care of this part of the Forest - Maxie's part. He knows every inch - every tree - every bump in the road.

Thanks to my friend Tali, Leslie and I got an impromptu tour in Jamal's truck up through the reforestation area. He spoke to us of his family, the fires, and his work in the forest. Its comforting somehow to know who is looking after Maxie's trees. 


The expectation that I will find internal peace among those trees is unrealistic at this stage. I've been too hurt, I am too heartbroken, I am too sad to feel deep peace today.  It will be a long time before I can visit that place without completely breaking down. But each year that passes, each visit here, each breath I take, brings me a little closer.  I still feel very hopeful about that.

I also believe that it is unrealistic to think that Israelis and Palestinians will find peace anytime soon.  What I do know is that there are people who are willing to look beyond the religion of their neighbor on both sides of the fence.  Meeting Jamal, listening to him to tell the story of the forest, having him take us through with so much enthusiasm reminded me of the Israel that can be and maybe will be once again.  In the meantime, there is a lot of healing to be done.  Peace takes time...


Israel calling...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's my sixth day in Israel! My seventh day away from my kids. I miss them so much. My arms are aching to hold them. I've been trying to distract myself because it's making me really sad.  It's the teeniest, tiniest amount of time away. It really begs the question - how have I lived this long without Max?

Being in Israel is really special for me. I love it here. Say whatever you want about the place - fact is, it's beautiful, it's diverse, it's complex, and it's endlessly interesting.  Nowhere on earth do I feel like I am fully myself in the way that I am here. And there is no cult of personality when it comes to views on politics, religion or anything else. There are Orthodox Jews and Secular Jews and everyone in between. There are Christians, Muslims, Ba'hai, Druze and many more. It is a nation of immigrants- Russians, Ethiopians, Asians, Africans, Europeans, Latinos, North Americans. There are those on the left, those on the right, and those in the center - and the closer you get to the borders, the more you meet Israelis who really hold on to the hope for future peace. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has a thriving openly gay community and annual pride events. Women are respected and well educated here.  Honor killings are illegal. I'm not saying there aren't issues - there ARE. I'm saying it's a place where anything is possible. It is a democracy in a place where democracies don't exist. You may not like the government (I certainly don't always like Israel's or my own government), but it is the government that has been elected by it's people. To be a Zionist Jew in the United States often feels like it means to support Israel - right or wrong. To be a Zionist in Israel means to believe in the dream of a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people in our ancestral land. I choose to be an Israeli Zionist - even though I'm only an Israeli in my heart. I can disapprove of whatever I want - but until I move here, my opinions are just opinions.

But what I really want to say is that every time I'm here, I'm moved in a different way. This time I was moved by a plane of over 300 new immigrants, including over 100 singles, who landed at Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday morning. We were there to greet them, along with hundreds of others.  The plane landed and bus loads of Olim (immigrants) pulled up one by one to joyful family members and friends, tearful embraces, whole families of t-shirts exclaiming "Welcome home so and so!", israeli folk music and dancing and flags waiving through the air. Unless you're a Jew or been in Israel yourself, you may not be able to grasp why this invokes so much emotion in me.  I'm tearing up thinking about and it feels so awesome to be crying for something I find incredibly moving instead of crying for something completely devastating.

My cousin Leslie and I at the ceremony for New Olim (immigrants)

I've thought about coming here many many times to live forever throughout my life. I wanted (still want at times) to be able to be a pioneer, like the early community builders. I thought about it a lot most recently after losing Max. To be a parent whose lost their child can feel so isolating. Sadly in Israel, I wouldn't have to look far to find a community of grieving parents.  I've found that for the most part, when I tell my story to Israelis- they don't try to talk me out of it. They don't think that losing my child is something I need to get over. They know exactly what it means to carry around a gigantic burden with you everywhere you go - and to me, that's refreshing. No pretending. No false nonsense. Real life. It barely gets more real than all this.


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