Oh, my God.
Heading into the full year gone is so damn difficult. I’ve noticed that my weekly posts have been getting later and later – as long as I posted them before dawn on Friday, in my mind I was still posting them on the weekly Thursday. But this week I had a last-minute work assignment to finish, and that took me into the wee hours; I could not then shift into my Eitan reflective mode at 3am. Thought I’d get to it Friday, Saturday, Sunday… but somehow missing that self-imposed deadline has made it harder to finish. That, and Eitan’s yahrzeit that starts tonight into tomorrow, and the heart freezing reality of it being a full year since Eitan was here with us on Earth.
Why is it that going into this one year marker feels so
offensive was actually the first word that came to mind. Terrifying, because the Year of Firsts is coming to an end. And while each First was painfully difficult – birthday, Passover, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving… – they were firsts. The first such day without Eitan. Going into the second year underscores the foreverness of him being gone. He’s really, really, really gone. And that’s unacceptable, and wrong. The Year of Seconds, which I fear will blur with thirds, fourths… and then one year I’ll think, this is the tenth – wait, no eleventh Mother’s Day without Eitan. I don’t want any memories of him to blur, I want them all to be sharply defined high def clear as the moment they hap –
and I’m supposed to be able to work every day, to concentrate on putting together magazines, assigning or writing articles, editing recipes. And it’s not that the work seems mundane or irrelevant, because I honestly love my job. But the focusing , the concen –
– pened. I keep an ongoing list of notes of memories, a handful of words that coax the moments from my mind, but one day will those hints no longer work, or will the written down memory read like a piece of fiction, disconnected from actual experience, becoming merely a story?
Eitan’s passing, [say it] death is absolutely wrong, this was not how it was supposed to be. I gave birth to this bubbling boy, filled with love and mischief, raised him to grow out into the world and soar.
– trating, accepting that part of the challenge is reality, that, in fact, Life. Goes. On. We have to continue through our days, I have to continue through my days, working, moving on, as They say, but I do care, I care in theory, and deep down, and I want to continue to shine and excel and produce, because, you know, if I don’t, “everyone is replaceable,” so They say.
What do They know?
The second year feels as if it will be a further twist of the knife, pounding of the nails in the coffin. As. It. Were.
Been soul searching this week. Pondering the concept of soul. Where does the soul go, is it snuffed out with life? Is it born into another realm? I spoke with my friend Lisa last night. She’s a nurse, who has seen many deaths and births too, and she says there’s a difference between a comatose body and a body with life gone, and she knows, just knows there’s a soul, and it goes somewhere. “We would open the window,” she said of herself and fellow nurses following a death, “for the soul to leave.” Superstition? Is the soul bound by brick and mortar, glass? Yet it’s a response, an acknowledgement of the spirit beyond corporeal form.
In my mother’s Mahi Kari belief, a Japanese practice she follows, they say the soul has 49 days on earth to linger and roam right after death before going on to the next level.
I wonder about these levels in an afterlife. There are levels in the Jewish tradition as well; I am just learning about those. Before Eitan, I hadn’t thought much about What’s Next, other than in the most general terms. I had the thought that, when we die, we learn the Answers to Everything, to All of Life’s Questions. But I also thought, when we’re gone, that’s it, we’re gone, dust to dust.
The source of “dust to dust,” to me actually gives hope to the idea of there being more to life than the body. It’s from Genesis, after Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and God says, “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” To me, that’s talking about the body only. Because God breathed life into that earth-based body; the breath of God is our soul.
And what about knowledge of good and evil? We all have awareness of what is good, how we treat each other. Do the souls of evil people live on? Is there comeuppance for the evil? My dad believes we, our souls, are judged for how we lived our lives. And if we led lives of goodness, we move on to some other level we don’t yet know of here on Earth. And if we are not perfect, our souls are given a chance to reflect, we can repent and improve, and move up to the place where good souls reside. But there are those whose souls are purely evil, the Hitlers, the murderers, the abusers, and their souls are snuffed out permanently, my dad believes.
I met with Rabbi Bill Hamilton last week, and he told a story of a man who lived a life of debauchery and poor behavior – and ended up in heaven. But heaven for the good is hell for the bad, an eternity of studying, worshiping, living the sacred life. I prefer to think of an evil one as never having a chance again, that awful soul gone from the continuum forever.
News last week makes me think of evil and souls. They are seeking the death penalty for Jahar, as he was known at the high school, the Marathon bomber. Thinking, this boy, a year older than Eitan, was the captain of the wrestling team when Eitan wrestled in high school. Eitan knew him. And while Eitan’s soul may have been enjoying lingering around Earth those 49 days after his body died on February 14, this fellow CRLS graduate was mixing up explosives in a pressure cooker, using the pot designed for convenience and modern day cooking to kill and maim, rather than to sustain.
So, Jahar may be a neighbor, a classmate, a weed buddy. Even sociopaths can have friends. Eitan had no choice with his epilepsy, and was given an untimely death sentence although he was living a good, kind, joyous life. Jahar had choices, and chose the path of evil. I think of the backpack he placed so casually next to children, to so many people there running to support causes, bring awareness and raise money for cancer, autism, and yes, epilepsy. I wonder at the sick glee of power he knew he was wielding, a monster with a baby rockstar face.
Should he be killed? Why would God let a monster like that live to carry out evil, but take Eitan away from us all?
I know I am not the first to ask this question, hell, the good dying young is a concept observed since the ancient Greeks, Billy Joel notwithstanidng.
What is Good? There’s good, and then there’s Righteous, those who are beyond good. Most of us try to be kind, try to be compassionate, and it amazes me sometimes how well society works, that even if we also are selfish and perhaps sneaky, and imperfect, most people are good and do trust, and are kind, and loving, and generous.
Do souls see? Do they hear, smell, taste, experience any corporeal sensations? Corporeal gets maligned as somehow lower than the spiritual, but I wonder why God would give us so many corporeal senses if they were not wondrous. There are basics we need to live, food, water, but why give us all such a refined sense of taste if it were not a wondrous thing as well, the ability to savor salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy, to put heart into cooking for those we love, to experience the sensation of being nurtured when someone cooks a meal for us. Eitan’s determination to relish spicy food without flinching.
There’s the subtlety of smell, an ephemeral sense, even the pungent. Not necessary to survival, except perhaps in extreme examples (gas leak, smoke), but beauty in that as well, bread baking, the indefinable scent of the one we love, the odor of dirty laundry wafting from my son’s teenage room, lingering on the clothing left behind that I don’t want to wash.
Of sight? Beautiful moves us so, colors in a painting; a self-contained spherical drop of water resting on a nasturtium leaf, reflecting in miniature the world around it; the set of eyes in one we love; the wide-mouthed grins of Eitan year after year in photos; snowflakes whirling against a streetlight; graceful calligraphic letters; Hebrew on the parchment of a Torah scroll.
Or sound, music, so many kinds of music for so many tastes, my God, not essential to survival, but how sounds enhance our lives, the tones, the ability to distinguish thousands of voices, knowing I will never hear the sound of Eitan saying “Mom” with a 20-year-old’s voice, birds and crickets and a cat’s purr, rain and surf and straining pipes, and silence, and a still, small voice.
And touch, touch is such a potentially sacred sensation, comfort, passion, friendship, healing. The weight of a baby in our arms, the fuzzy feel of Eitan’s just cut hair.
There can be a flip side to the possibility of beauty for each of the senses: awful touches, horrid sounds, poisonous tastes. But the goodness within each sense makes loving life possible.
Does the soul still experience any of these physical feelings? The core of the Eitan that exists now as his soul, does he no longer need these sensations, in order to no longer feel pain, the incapacitation of seizures, the drowning, lack of air, but does he miss the good? I look at his picture here on my desk, his smile that’s holding back a laugh, and I wonder, do you see me, my son?
Rabbi Hamilton says the beauty of the soul is that it isn’t contained. That when we think of one we love, they are with us, here – but four other people can be thinking of him too, and he’s with them as well.
This seems simultaneously simple and utterly complex. Like, of course he can respond to multiple people thinking of him, but then – how can he, how can he respond to all those? How can he be in so many places equally?
Larry used to say God had better things to do than worry about him, but I like to think we all matter, God can listen to all of us, simultaneously.
I have not read much or yet learned much about Jewish views of the afterlife, the world-to-come – or those in any religion, and that’s a quest for this coming year. It’s not something that comes up in regular observance, or in services. There is a prayer, said daily, in which we credit God with bringing the dead to life; I won’t say that prayer right now. There is that belief that when the Messiah comes, we’ll all be resurrected. That doesn’t quite work for me; I’m still on a quest to figure out what does, but I learn something from everyone I speak with on this.
I’ve spoken with some people who’ve lost one deeply loved, and they’ve had dreams in which the loved one comes back, turns out they’re not dead, and they get confused, saying, wait a minute, we had a funeral, what’s the deal?
I have not had such a dream of Eitan. I’ve had too few dreams of him.
The other night I tried to imagine him now, having a conversation with him, and felt afraid, felt I couldn’t. I saw before me a green field, like one I had seen in a dream in which I saw the late husband of a friend of mine some years ago. But the field was empty, and I tried to imagine Eitan there, perhaps in the distance, at the very edge, but held back. Not sure why I held back, but it is another personal quest, to make myself imagine Eitan now, to have conversations with him.
What would he look like today, at 19 years and 10 months? A little heavier from college food? Hair longer, change of style? Or still his trademark buzz cut? Would he have gotten any taller? My dad kept growing until he was 21; would Eitan have hit six feet, or more?
According to the Hebrew calendar, Eitan passed away on Adar 4 last year. Tonight and tomorrow, I will go to synagogue to observe Eitan’s yahrzeit.
“Yahrzeit” is Yiddish for a year’s time; it marks the anniversary of a death. This year Adar 4 starts after sunset tonight, February 3, and continues until dark on Tuesday, February 4. Rabbi Maurice Lamm, author of The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, writes, “Beginning the day with the night is, in a sense, a metaphor of life itself. Life begins in the darkness of the womb, then bursts into the brightness of the light and eventually settles into the darkness of the grave, which, in turn, is followed by a new dawn in the world-to-come.”
I will light a yahrzeit candle for Eitan, a special candle that burns for 24+ hours, symbolic of the light of the soul of this dear person, whose memory always illuminates our hearts. In Hebrew, this candle is called ner neshama, soul candle.
I will say the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer that doesn’t mention death, but is filled with praises of God. It doesn’t mention the word God either – no Adonai, no Elohim, no El; God is referred to as “name,” and “he.” I will say the prayer to Eitan, picturing him sitting across the kitchen table from me, caressing him with these phrases, godly praises transformed into words of love for my son.
Eitan wanted a dog; I am not a dog person; I wish I could have given him that experience. In 2006, we visited my Aunt Janet in California, and she had a dog, Guinness, who Eitan loved.
In high school Eitan and a group of friends found a temporarily abandoned dog; they took care of him for a few days until the owner was found. His friend Violet took these pictures. She told me, “The dog is one that Max and Luke found while looking for a basketball in the house where our friend Jay Shin was living with other Korean students visiting the US. The dog was alone in the dark, malnourished, and afraid so they took it and we all took care of it for a few days before getting it to someone who knew the owner (who ended up being out of the country and had trusted her pet with someone untrustworthy). We called him Bradley. Eitan was so sweet with him.”