Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year Has Passed

Everyone knew today would be a hard day. Peri made sure that I would take today to myself as a time for reflection, contemplation and reliving my nightmares.

I took Channah to therapy this morning. After I dropped her off at school, I went to the cemetery. Each trip to the cemetery is a different experience. Aside from the reason I am there, I watch the different people that are there. I take note at the changes I have noticed since my last visit. It is humbling watching the cemetery grow.

Today I took note of the surroundings. The Superbus depot, the apartment buildings, a ringing school bell,  the beautiful view of the surrounding mountains that are in full green this time of year. The bench which can be used as a landmark to find Rachel's spot blew over. She has some new neighbours and some new grave stones are being made.

I spent a good chunk of today just listening to music and even took a much needed nap. I have appreciated the people who have been able to reach out and let me know that they are also feeling the pain of today. There is a reason I included the word 'friend' on her gravestone. That is exactly who she was for so many people, even if they never met in real life.

In the last little while I have started looking at Rachel's death from a different angle. Perhaps Gabi's death had nothing to do with Rachel's. Maybe her time to pass had already been determined. In some bizarre way our loss of Gabi and Rachel's battle with depression were to provide me with the tools to raise Channah after Rachel was gone. At the very end of her life this became clear. If I look further back there are hints to it much earlier.

As I stood staring at Rachel's grave a thought occurred to me. The life of Rochel Emeinu has in many ways been someone my life could relate to with my life with Rachel. From her battle with infertility, her deeply ingrained midot of chessed, to the words Shavu Banim that are sung to new olim. Today I saw her in a different light.

She died giving birth to Benyamin. Her death was so sudden that she was buried on the side of the road. Why couldn't she live longer to help raise her son? Why couldn't she live long enough to be buried in the family burial plot in Hevron? A standard answer is that she needed to be at the side of the road in Beit Lechem, where the Jews passed her on their way to exile. That thought brought comfort to the people facing the fear of exile. It was her pleading to God that was accepted with the promise that her children would return to their land. I see a big hole in that explanation. The other Avot had a chance to plead for salvation. It was an act of kindness to her sister that brought about the acceptance of Rochel's request and not her location. Why did she have to die at that moment.

Rochel's mission in life was to do her part to bring about the 12 sons Yaakov needed to complete the Jewish nation. Her sister Leah delivered 6 children without much difficulty. Rochel brought a servant into her marriage that was already split with her sister just to get two. When her nephew brought home fertility medication she sought it for herself. Rochel tells Yaakov "Give me children or I am dead."  The birth of Benyamin was the completion of her lifelong mission. Once that was complete her time was up.

Between the depression and migraines Rachel's life had become a living hell that I would not wish upon anyone. She worked really hard to manage as best as she could to provide the best for Channah and I; at the same time helping hundreds if not thousands of people deal with the pain she suffered in her life. She gave herself a tremendous two week push to accomplish as much as she could until the onset of one last migraine. She died peacefully in her bed, with me by her side, her last words "Thank You, Jason".

I don't know why that moment was the point where her life could be considered complete. I do know what tools she left behind to help Channah and I. I also have a taste of the impact she has had on the world and how many people are hurting today because of her loss. Even if I don't fully understand, I have to at least try to take some comfort from that.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

God's Practicle Joke

Since Rachel's Yahrziet last Shabbat my mind has been drifting all over the place. I have become very much aware of the dates of where they fall out on the Gregorian calendar. As I think back to this time last year, I realize that Rachel was still alive for those events.

A bunch of memories seem to come up over and over again from December 31st of last year:

- The disconnect from the world as I sat on my couch. At that moment, no decisions needed to be made as I waited to find out what time we were going to court and people were all over my apartment doing different things to help out.

- A friend telling me it was time to eat so he was going to make me a sandwich. Again the disconnect of not being able to make a bracha.

- Watching friends post both openly and discreetly about Rachel's passing that day.

- As midnight approached sitting with a friend, preparing the Mishnayot signup and watching big chunks of it fill within minutes.

Last week, we read Parsha Vaeira where the first 7 of the 10 plagues were cast upon Egypt; the last being the plague of hail. The Egyptian people received a warning that the hail was coming. Those who 'fear God' were to bring their animals inside and protect themselves. The rest chose not to pay attention and face the consequences. Pharaoh watched his empire crumble before his eyes and agreed to let the Jews go. As the ice melted and the hydro workers finish restoring power he saw that not all was lost. The flax and barley crops have been destroyed but the wheat and spelt survived. Despite all of the destruction, there would still be food to eat in Egypt. In Pharaoh's eyes, God had failed to destroy Egypt.

When I realized that this week is Parshat Bo, I was realized that it matched up perfectly for where I am going to be emotionally this week.

Without wasting any time God instructs Moshe to tell Pharaoh it is time for the next plague. He uses the term התעללתי which Rashi explains as making a mockery of Egypt. It could also be read as a prank or practical joke. So what is the joke? Just as Pharaoh thinks that his crops have been saved, in come the locusts to finish the job. He is no better off then if the hail had destroyed the wheat and spelt.

When I was in Yeshiva on December 31st we got the shiur with the Gemara that if someone was born on December 25th the Bris would be on January 1st. Those are the only dates on the secular calendar that the celebrations begin at night, proving their religious nature. I can't remember if a curfew was imposed that night but a handful of us watched two videos supplied by the Yeshiva for after night seder. One was the BBC version of ’The Disputation' and a 6 Day War Documentary.

That night made an impression on me and for years Rachel and I pulled hairs on how to handle New Year's (aka Sylvester). In the end we would not celebrate but if our friends happen to be getting together or there was an Arrogant Worms concert in Bradford we would go. In the beginning, I would even leave the room shortly before midnight in order to not be directly partaking in celebrations.

I planned my life and God played the practical jokes. When Rachel and I got married we agreed we would never celebrate Valentine's Day. However we would always mark Tu B'Av. I picked up her family’s custom of giving the mother flowers on the child's birthday. When Rachel's water broke at 27 weeks, Channah blocked the hole with her head for another 5.5 weeks until finally going into fetal distress and being born on February 14th.

Last year, I spent December 31st preparing for a funeral/shiva and struggling to survive as a single parent. I think it is safe to say that although Rachel's Yahrziet is the 18th of Tevet, I think it is safe to assume I will never want to participate in a New Year's Eve celebration no matter how I feel hashkafically.

When this idea first came to me, I looked at it as a slap in the face. However, Rachel and I had discussions about death where we agreed that to some degree you get to choose the moment when you die. If we put that together with the mesorah that Tzaddikim get some kind of warning that their end is near, perhaps it was not such a far fetched idea. Maybe, just maybe Rachel would choose that moment in order to make sure I would never have that conflict again.