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Lost & Found

Lost & Found

If I don't give up hope of finding something, it still belongs to me.


"How many children do you have?" is a horrible question for those who of us who have lost a child. Rosa, a bereaved mother tells me that her psychologist insisted that she has four children, when she said she had five. "But Shalom no longer lives with you," her psychologist said.

"Well, neither will your children when they get older."

Her therapist told her that she was refusing to face the reality of her loss. But the psychologist, I believe, is wrong.

It's true that Rosa and I have lost children. How benign the expression lost. As if we had merely gone shopping and the child had scurried off to the next aisle and we couldn't find them in the maze of twists and turns.

At first I was perplexed and a bit angry at that word. But now I realize that the word lost carries a meaning that I didn't at first understand. There is something very accurate and resonant about the term losing a child.

Jewish law teaches us something important about loss: each object has its place in the world, and when something is lost, and we find it, it is our obligation to return it. In Jerusalem, there was a place in the Temple for returning lost objects called the stone of losses. "Whoever found an object went there and whoever lost one did the same. The finder stood and proclaimed, and the other called out the identifying marks and received it back." (Baba Metzia 28b)

Our loved ones are not present physically but we are still connected to their souls.

But there is an intriguing stipulation to the laws of lost and found. Once the owner gives up hope of finding the object, there is no obligation to restore the object to the owner. And the converse is true as well.

In this way, ownership isn't just physical but also emotional. If I don't give up hope of finding something, it still belongs to me. Its place is still with me. The law tells us this: What we lose may not be returned -- but as long as we don't give up hope, it still belongs to us. It's not that I think Koby will return. Yet no parent ever separates from his child. It's also hard for a widow or widower to be asked if they're married: Our children and wives and husbands still belong to us. We don't give them up. That's why it's so hard for a bereaved parent to answer the question: How many children do you have?

We live with them and without them, at the same time. Our identity, our place in this world, is disturbed; we live in this world and in the world of memory and longing.

But we also live in the world of eternity, because the lost part of ourselves lives there now. That longing creates a reality. Our loved ones are not present physically but we are still connected to their souls.

It's true that the dead do not return. As King David said, "I shall go to him, but he will never come back to me (Samuel 2, 12:22-23)." But there is still a connection that is essential and potent. That is why there is no sense of closure. Because closure would mean that we had given up hope of being connected to them. I can't answer four children and I can't answer three. Both are true and neither are true. I live in a world that is beyond the arithmetic that is offered me in this world. I live in a world beyond counting.

This article originally appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times.

August 11, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Anonymous, September 9, 2007 4:51 PM

Too many questions

My children, a daughter 14 and a son 25 died; as life for me goes on, I feel that parts of both of them reside in me. People ask me how many children do I have? I say that I lost my two. They respond with, "Oh, I know, just like everyone else - they are grown up and gone." I try to explain, but they are confused and ask too many questions.

(13) Dvirah, August 16, 2007 10:40 AM

Practical Measure

In the past when children died frequently, it was common for a woman to state that she had "3 children living", whereas she may in fact have borne seven. This "accounting" does not help with feelings of grief and loss, but it should silence proponents of "reality" such as the psychologist mentioned at the start of this article.

(12) Susan Petre, August 15, 2007 1:09 PM

You still "have" your child

The spiritual world is not governed by the laws of the physical universe. Just because your child is not physically with you does not mean he is not yours and with you in a spiritual sense.

(11) Maritta Mountjoy, August 15, 2007 7:17 AM

When I say how many children i have, usually others can't handle it.

I too have "lost" a child, but will never give up the hope of seeing his beautiful face again. I know my Father in heaven is keeping him until such a time. When I tell people that one is with my Father in heaven people usually have one of two reactions, "pity" or the "I'm sorry I asked face". I use this opportunity to tell them of the hope I have.

(10) Miriam Adahan, August 14, 2007 2:19 PM

Sherri, you are precious and your words are helpful to all of us who have suffered loss.

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