I got the call just as we were about to make Havdallah. It was my son in Israel. I could tell by his voice that something was horribly wrong. As he talked, I still didn't know what happened, or to whom. When he finally spit it out, the horror of disbelief chilled my body. It was my 20-year-old nephew, Aaron. "He is no longer with us," he said. He wasn't feeling well and went to sleep. He never woke up.
I screamed in horror for my nephew, then I screamed even louder for his mother (my sister), who I knew would never be the same. We cried together on the phone for what seemed like an eternity. It was in a nightmare. This doesn't happen to people you love.
There are no words for someone who has to bury a child. The pain is incomprehensible. In some ways similar to Auschwitz: You can talk to a survivor, you can even visit the camps, but no one knows the horror and pain unless you were there.
I am incredibly grateful to my sister's community, good friends and to my own children, who stopped their lives and were there in an instant, to help with all the details, like arranging all the food, mopping floors, or lending a shoulder to cry on.
To my brother-in-law, the words "I'm sorry" are far too inadequate to express my sympathy and too feeble an attempt to mend your broken heart.
To my nieces and nephews, who've had to endure such pain at such a young age: What can be said to make them feel better? How can we help them see that life is still good? I am so proud of their strength and courage. I know you just want your brother back.
Most of all, the real hero in this story is my sister. She was always my hero. I always knew how strong she was, even before this. We could laugh our way through anything. She always worked hard to see the good in everything, the hand of God in everything. The week of shiva was no different. Throughout it all, she kept saying, "It is all good. For whatever reason, God had to take him. His journey was done."
It was she who felt bad for the people coming to comfort her during shiva. No one wants to come to a shiva house for someone who lost a child. The looks on their faces were so sad, yet she would try to comfort them, saying, "It's okay. It's all for the good." Someone came collecting tzedakah, and she jumped up to run and get some money.
When all the guests would leave, and it was around midnight, we started laughing and joking. What else can one do when you are in such pain that if you could, you would crawl out of your skin, roll into a ball, and just die? The laughing was a temporary escape, to muster the strength to be able to wake up tomorrow, to breathe in and out, to survive another day.
There were wonderful people who came to shiva. Those who shared their own personal stories of loss were a tremendous help, to see that you can survive this. And the little things, like the person who brought paper goods for Shabbos, and bought expensive plastic cutlery that looks like real silver. A little thing like that made everyone feel so cared for.
It is a nightmare. I am not his mother, yet I have moments of being so overcome with grief and sadness that I will never see him again. And I know it is just the tip of the iceberg to what his parents and siblings are feeling.
They say we all have greatness in us, a genetic force inherited from the matriarchs and patriarchs. From where did my sister get the strength, to sit there on a Sunday afternoon, and think about what you are going to write on your son's tombstone? To have to tell your parents that their grandson is dead?
To Aaron, I am so grateful to have spent time with you not long before this happened. I could see what a kind, gentle soul you are. And you made your mother proud. Whenever she would talk about you, she would say, "My Aaron, I love him so much."
You will be missed beyond belief, and you will be forever young.