“I’m trying not to say anything. I mean, what the fuck are you going to say after today? There’s absolutely nothing to say.”
To merely recall the facts, the play by play of the day, seems like we’re selling our memories short. People say that time heals all wounds; well, that’s because time numbs our emotions. But when we want to remember, we need to find ways to reopen those wounds- to relive, not just the facts, but also the feelings that we felt.
It’s been one full year since Gilad passed away. A full year without our beloved brother, son, uncle, friend. A full year without that stunning smile that could light up a room, without that quick wit, without that unbending yearning to read and learn and understand both life and death.
On my way to work, I stopped by the place where I got the phone call, learning that Gilad had taken his last breath. I stopped by that bus stop in Waltham, and sat in my car for a few minutes, just remembering. Not remembering the horrible content of the call, or how our lives changed so much in its wake. Remembering those last moments when Gilad was still alive. Because that’s how I always want to remember him – smiling, alive, happy, and healthy.
Throughout this year, so much has happened and so much has changed. Right afterward Gilad died, I wrote about how I would think of something that I wanted to tell Gilad, immediately realizing that I could no longer do so, and the crushing feeling that comes with that. But as the weeks turned into months, that happened less, and the pain and sorrow became less constant; the never-ending throbbing in my heart turned into a lump in the back of my throat, and then to an ache that was only present here and there, as if brought on by changes in the weather.
This is the process of grief. We think. We remember. We laugh. We cry.
This past Sunday, we had the unveiling of Gilad’s gravestone. And like the weather, we couldn’t make up our minds as to the tone of the ceremony. As the sun turned to thunderstorms and back around again, our stories went from sad to happy, and both tears and laughter filled our faces.
We thought. We remembered. We laughed. We cried.
So it’s been a year. The crushing pain is far removed. Those once lucid memories are now somewhat foggy and muddled. But we still keep Gilad in our hearts and minds. We still think of Gilad flashing that charming smile. We remember him crawling through sewer pipes, copying his older brother’s outfits, playing guitar in the hallways at school, or just chilling. We remember him as he was – amazing, smart, charming, clever, and great.
Gilad, we miss you more than ever, but we’re doing our best to still be ok, and to continue living, even though sometimes it hurts so much to go on without you. We miss you, and we will always love you.
It never should have happened. He was a mere eight days away from death. His body weak, mind beginning to fade, and life starting to slip from his fingers. But as he sat in the family room as evening turned to night on August 18th, 2010, I brought Gilad’s guitar in and began to play for him.
He hadn’t listened to music in so long, not since early June – his connection to music had been so deep that when the beauty of life was ripped from his heart, he was unable to stand hearing the beautiful songs that once gave him hope. But still I wanted to play for him one last time; to play the songs we used to jam on.
In the beginning, I was the teacher, he the student, and jam session’s our bread and butter. Since I taught myself to play, I refused to teach Gilad and forced him to learn by himself – by printing chords out off the internet, decoding tablature, and jamming with me. What started as an annoying, out-of-tune, second instrument, soon turned into a harmonious accompaniment to my mediocre chops. I remember coming back one winter break to discover that he had blown past me, talent-wise, as he soloed endlessly during a jam session, his fingers moving faster and more fluidly than mine ever had or would. We spent hours awake around campfires, entertaining my campers and his friends, during our years in camp together, and we played every time I would come home from school on a break. He was the ultimate guitar partner, one whom I could intuit and know what he would do before he did it. His playing complemented mine, and I’d like to think mine did the same for his.
And so, I sat down, one last time, to play music for Gilad. But instead of just listening, Gilad demanded a guitar. He was sleeping more than not by this point, and just moving between rooms had become difficult. But no, he demanded a guitar. We gave him Aba’s old lightweight acoustic, that each of us had used when we learned the instrument, and I began to play our song – Dispatch’s Hey Hey. A cheesy song about teenage love that somehow meant more than anything to the two of us. The harmonies and interwoven guitar parts were perfect for our voices and styles, and we had made the song our own over the years.
I began to play, as Gilad’s hand desperately searched the fretboard to the proper fingering. His muscle memory was weak, and his fingers weaker, but he tried hard to remember the chords and how to play them. As tears streamed down all of our faces, we sang and he along with us. It was just a few minutes – a few short verses and choruses – but it felt like an eternity. Because we knew then, that this would be it. We knew that he didn’t have much longer and that there was little chance he would ever play guitar again. We knew that despite this grab at something beautiful, this stab in a musical direction – an area fraught with life, happiness, and joy – that this would be his last waltz, his final hurrah. As the final notes were played, the guitar taken from his hand, and he leaned back on the couch, we all sat in the afterglow of something incredible, of something true, pure, and beautiful.
The tears continued to stream, but we did not wipe them away. Our lives were about to fall apart, but for that one moment, we were able to remember, and we wanted that memory to be seared into our minds. We wanted to remember that moment forever, because we knew.
It’s strange, this year, to walk into the holiday of Tisha B’av, the day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the ancient temples in Jerusalem. In the past, to put myself in the mindset of the day, great strides needed to be taken both mentally and emotionally; to try to mourn and feel sadness for an ancient event is quite the task.
But this year, it feels all-too familiar. Sitting on the floor. Not wearing shoes. These customs of mourning are no longer ancient relics, that remind us of the sadness of a bygone era. These are customs that we lived for seven full days, as we mourned losing our Gilad.
It was almost one year ago that we arrived home from the cemetery, and began the week-long process of mourning. The dirt was washed from our hands, we were seated down in low chairs, and we were given food to eat, as comforters and consolers streamed in. And we began the process of slowly working our way through our grief. We began the tedious task of dealing with the realization that he is no longer with us. We began to mourn.
I always used to wish that I could connect more to the mourning of Tisha B’av. I pined to connect to the sadness. To be able to truly feel what I was intended to feel on that day. Oh, how foolish I was. The childish notion that there is somehow romanticism in pain, and catharsis in suffering. Oh, how I pine for those days of innocence, the days before I knew what loss truly is.
And so, on this Tisha B’av, I’m not mourning the loss of an ancient temple in Jerusalem. I’m not mourning the loss of a Jewish people in a Jewish land, nor the loss of thousands of Jewish lives over the years. No, this year I mourn that I know what mourning is. I mourn that I have reason to know how to mourn. I mourn, not the communal mourning of the Jewish people, but my own personal suffering.
This Tisha B’av, I mourn the loss of my brother Gilad. For this, I weep.
This morning, while riding the shuttle on the way to work, I stupidly began reading a personal history piece in the New Yorker about parents discovering that their infant daughter had a brain tumor. The beautifully written albeit tragic prose, combined with the gorgeous and haunting Antlers’ new album was just too much for me, and brought me to the brink, as has been happening more recently as of late. Continue reading →
Today, we celebrate out mothers. We celebrate those that gave us life, and taught us how to live. Yet while for most today is a day focused on happiness, for others, like my family, it’s tinged with sadness, and the realization that there’s one less person in the world who will call my mother “Ima.”
At Gilad’s funeral, my mother opened her eulogy by saying: “All I ever wanted, was to be a mother.”
Well, Ma, you still are. You are still the mother, and always will be, to four children, to two children-in-law, and to every single one of Gilad’s friends.
So yes, Gilad isn’t with us to celebrate your life and motherhood. But you are still his mother. And you are still our mother. And you always and forever will be.
Happy Mother’s Day, Ima.
Paul Simon – Mother And Child Reunion
The Tallest Man On Earth – Mother And Child Reunion (Paul Simon cover)
I came across a posthumous blog post today, in the most literal of senses. The post, written by Derek K. Miller begins, hauntingly: Here it is. I’m Dead. The post was written by Mr. Miller to be published after he died, which occured two days ago, on May 3, 2011.
One of the things Miller laments is his inability to know what’s in the future. That he’ll never see his daughters grow up, won’t grow old with his wife, will never become part of the future.