Lights for Lori: Remember with love

Lori

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Last Saturday night, I checked the New York Times website at 10:30 pm, to see what I’d missed.

I hadn’t been online during the observance of the final day of Passover–also the Jewish Sabbath.

Hearing the news of any senseless attack on innocent lives is horrible enough. My close connection to the Jewish synagogue that was attacked made it all the more “up-close and personal.”

I had no words to write at the time. I still don’t. (My April 27th blog post, Time’s Arrow, had already been scheduled to run.)

Today, Friday afternoon, I returned from a 6-day writing residency to find the needed words in my inbox.

They were from a dear friend and mentor–Nechama Laber– who inspires Jewish women and girls across the globe with her positivity, strength, and faith. With her permission, I’m sharing excerpts of Nechama’s newsletter with you below.

Whatever your religious practice, lack of, or beliefs, I hope Nechama’s words inspire you to find ways to add light to your corner of the world in honor of Lori and all the innocent lives lost through acts of hate and terror.

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LIGHT FOR LORI!

Our hearts were torn into a million pieces upon hearing about the shooting at Chabad of Poway on the last day of Passover and the loss of a precious life, Lori Gilbert Kaye.

Lori was a pillar of her synagogue and community for over 30 years. In her last moments, she fought evil to save the lives of others. She is a true Eshet Chayil – a {Woman of Valor}–Warrior in our times. There is so much we can learn from her. “V’hachai Yiten El Libo” – the living shall take to heart.

The following facebook comments from her friends taught me so much about her.

“You are the kindest most generous person I know!



” 
How can I express more kindness and generosity?

“You are always thinking about others! You deserve it!” 
How can I think about another and help someone in need?

“Don’t ever change you are one of a kind!” 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once sent a letter to a widow whose husband was a fallen soldier:  “A bullet, a shell fragment, or a sickness can damage the body, but it cannot hurt or affect the soul. It can cause death, but death is only the separation between body and soul.”

Lori’s soul will never change. Her legacy lives on. She is truly one of a kind!

Let’s light Shabbat candles for Lori with a prayer for peace and encourage others to do the same. Every mitzvah (good deed) we do is a candle that illuminates the darkness. Let’s increase in acts of goodness and kindness — just as Lori did each day.

Lori reminds us to appreciate our family. She wrote this message to her daughter and one can feel the love through her words. Let’s share our praise and love with our family members too. May God comfort Lori’s family and bring the redemption now!

“21 years ago, Hashem {God}gave me the opportunity for the greatest job ever! Happy Birthday, Hannah Jacqueline. It’s been a whirlwind journey & I cannot be more proud to be your mom. You are smart, kind, beautiful & wise beyond your years. We wish you abundant blessings as you begin this next chapter of your life. Keep reaching for the stars, & always remember to “Enjoy Life, It is Not A Dress Rehearsal”





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Nechama Laber, center, two of her daughters, and their grandmother getting ready to light Shabbat candles.

 

How Do You Write About Grief?

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

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We all experience grief and loss. Some of us more than others. There is no escaping its grip.

The longer we live, the more we lose.

The grief of losing a thing, and the fear of losing it,
are equal.”     
        ~Seneca

In trying to comfort others, or share our grief experience, we get stuck in the sphere of emotion and physical sensation. How do we speak about grief?

We turn to metaphor and imagery.

A black hole.  A sinking ship. A shredded heart. Time stands still. Grief eats like acid.

Sometimes, grief can be described in the same way as love.

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming.”      

For is there grief without love?

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“All you can do is learn to swim.”

Author Anne Lamott writes, “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

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Siesta Keyes Beach, Sarasota, FL. March 2019

The Geometry of Grief

I turn on the local Saturday evening news after 24 hours of being unplugged. Lead story is: “Cambridge woman killed Friday afternoon while biking in Boston.”  A beloved, longtime Brookline librarian. Her photo flashes across the screen.

That’s my old friend!  That’s Paula. No, it can’t be.

I stand there trying to absorb the story. Police. Accident scene. Hit by a cement truck. Friends giving tribute. Boston cyclists mourning, calling for safer intersections…

Now I’m crying.

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Pubic Library of Brookline

I met Paula Sharaga when my kids were young. She was the new children’s librarian our local library.  I liked her quirkiness and warmth.  Paula and I were both early childhood educators, active in the Jewish community, and, of course, book lovers. We had lots to talk about.  Sharing our family Rosh Hashana dinner with Paula just after the tragedy of September 11 is a special memory.  

Later, Paula moved to Cambridge and took a job at the Brookline Public Library. This meant we didn’t see each other much. Our friendship, like many others, shifted to email and Facebook. And then, gradually, our contact lessened.

Strangely, just a few weeks ago, I thought of Paula for some reason. I realized it had been a long time since we chatted. I made a mental note to reach out.

I never did.

Now Paula’s Facebook page is filled with expressions of sympathy, sadness, and memories. I’m awed by the outpouring of love. 

Scrolling through her page, I’m quickly updated with all she had been involved with the past years.  Environmental activism. Politics, protests. Nature hikes. Cycling. 

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I see that she married her long-time boyfriend.  I read his words of shock and disbelief.  Paula’s husband is now in the After.

I know that place well.

You are thrust into that place with a simple phone call. 

Now I  pray that Paula’s husband is surrounded by love in the After. That the intense grief from losing his wife and her abrupt, tragic ending will not shadow the eventual light. 

I hope no one will say to him: “It was G-d’s will,”  or “She’s in a better place,” or “Let me know if I can do anything.”  (Just do something!)  I hope no one will count the months or years of his grieving and tell him “it’s time to move on”.

No one ever knows the right thing to say to someone in mourning. The Jewish custom provides a simple script: “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion. May her memory be a blessing.”

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I leave you, dear readers, with my newest essay published by Women on Writing, which seems fitting at this momentThe Geometry of Grief.

Listening to Silence

Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our  enemies, but the silence of our friends.”      

                                                                           ~  Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Silence hurts. Silence comforts. Silence teaches. Silence breathes. 

City dwellers, parents of young children crave silence like a drug.

The loud silence of a newly empty nest screams through the hallway.

Silent night, holy night. 

Middle of the night silence wraps too tight around your wakeful soul.

The painful sound of a lover’s long ambiguous silence never quiets. 

Silence stretches between two longing hearts, connecting them no matter how far.

Sit in the silent space a loved one once occupied. Let it envelope you.

Silence sometimes speaks louder than words.

Silence stands in when there simply are no words.

Silence feels heavy when it carries the weight of unspoken words.

Silence whispers, I need you.

Silence is golden when you hold a special secret.

The silent treatment feels powerful yet treats no one.

Silence vibrates at a frequency only our bodies perceive.

Debussy said, “Music is the silence between the notes.”

Creation emerges from silence. ~

Does Time Heal All Wounds?

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“Time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind.”  ~  Nathaniel Hawthorne

If you have suffered great pain and loss, there is a good chance a well-meaning person offered this familiar consolation: “Time heals all wounds.”   

Why do we insist on repeating this phrase? Because we don’t know what else to say. Because there isn’t really anything to say. We want to make the person feel better—somehow. We, standing on the far shore of grief, are certain this saying is true.

Even with some inherent truth in this adage, I believe it is unhelpful to those in the midst of fresh grief. Such a person care barely move through the minutes of each day. 

When my father died suddenly and tragically, I could only see Before and Now.  I did not care about how I would feel six months into the future because I couldn’t imagine that future.  As an ambitious person who can get consumed with productivity and efficiency, I had to surrender to grief. I had to learn that recovery cannot be rushed along.

Even today, exactly one year later, I do not feel the passage of 12 months. The chronological movement of time did not heal. It is what happened to me during that time. I got therapy. I had supportive friends. I practiced self-care. I mourned, grieved, reminisced, and reflected.  All this contributed toward healing. The wound is still there, perhaps covered by a scar, but the unbearable pain has lessened.

Each grief is unique to the person who is grieving. Circumstances of the loss matter, too. The loss of a child, for example, may never be “gotten over”. The worst thing you can say to a grieving person is, “Gee, it’s been X months. You have to get on with your life.”  Wouldn’t the grieving person “get on with her life” if she knew how?

Instead, it is far better to say: “I know you are suffering terribly and can’t see any way out. But I know you will get through this if you give yourself time to heal.”

Then offer your steady presence. Listen more. Say less.

Time itself does not heal wounds. If anything, time may soften the sharp edges of pain. The grief process, unlike time itself, is not linear. Grief has the power to make you feel stuck in time. It has the power to narrow your vision so you can’t see a future.

Time can heal if you use it well. You have to take time to do the necessary inner work. The only way to get over grief is to go through it. There is no detour.

Losing My Words

Albert Camus Quote

 

This past November, I lost my father in a horrific accident. The days and weeks following were filled with disbelief, turmoil, and trauma.  I couldn’t eat, couldn’t think, couldn’t write. The crushing grief took away my words—and that was devastating. Writing is how I make sense of the world.  I imagined that writing would be part of my healing, but I could not find any words to tame my anger and sadness.

I wasn’t even sure what day it was. 

The recovering perfectionist, take-charge, get-it-done, type of person found herself in a state of confusion and paralysis. I had no choice but to surrender to grief and give myself a big timeout. This meant putting aside writing projects and taking a break from consulting work.

But there was one job I couldn’t take a break from—homeschooling coach to my youngest daughter. Audrey was in the midst of her college application essays and creating her art portfolio.  She had 10 colleges on her list. As her homeschool supervisor/guidance counselor, I was responsible for all documentation, the transcript, curriculum description, as well as reviewing her essays. Now, my brain was muddled, my attention and energy compromised. I felt panicked by my inability to fully resume this responsibility.

My daughter knew how much I was suffering. Yet in the midst of our family crisis, she became a pillar of strength.  The years of homeschooling had prepared her for independence. Audrey continued her studies and kept all commitments. She reached out to a mentor for help with writing the essays. She enlisted a team to assist her in finishing her portfolio film—all while I was curled up on the living room couch.

Gradually my brain fog lifted.  I was able to check over Audrey’s final applications and help her prepare scholarship essays. Miraculously, I watched the tasks on her College Countdown list disappeared one by one. Jan 15th arrived and the final application was submitted. We were done. 

Winter. Spring. Summer.  

Now I have a homeschool graduate, on her way to college, who knows how to advocate for herself and problem solve. She faces obstacles and challenges with grit and grace. These essential qualities aren’t reflected in grades or test scores, but they will carry her far.

My words are returning.

The healing continues.

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