Shabbat With My Son
A Pleasant and Happy Family Table
The Friday night Shabbat meal was always a special time for our family. When the kids were small, we looked forward to discussing the Torah portion of the week, and of course looked forward to the yummy food, especially the dessert. Then the kids grew up. For quite awhile my husband and I were alone in an empty house. It was really nice when Jacob decided to move back in with us while he was studying to go to law school. His presence once again enhanced our Friday night meal.
Jacob would sit at the Shabbat table with his silver kiddush cup in front of him as we all sang Shalom Alechem. My husband then recited Ashes Chayil. When he got to the part “ …Her children rise up and make her happy…” I would glance at Jacob and smile. Afterward, Jacob would rise and stand before his father. My husband would place his hand on his head and recite the special blessing we give to our sons on Shabbat:
“May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menasseh. May the L-rd bless you and watch over you. May the L-rd cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May the L-rd raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”
Father and son would hug each other and then my husband made kiddish.
That’s how it was. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s not how it is now.
Shabbat Without My Son
A Quiet and Lonely Meal
Now, our Shabbat is quiet and lonely. During Ashes Chayil, I look at Jacob’s empty seat and say softly, ‘Jacob, you made me very happy.’ After reciting Ashes Chayil, there’s a slight pause as if it’s time for Jacob to receive his father’s blessing. Then we remember, oh yeah, he’s not here. My husband proceeds with kiddush.
You see, on that Shabbat morning seven months ago, Jacob suddenly passed away. Since then, every Shabbat, my mind relives that terrible morning. Sights and sounds come flooding back in a disorganized array of emotions ranging from disbelief to wrenching sadness. I try not to think about it but at some point my mind keeps going back to that day. His bedroom is empty. The upstairs is quiet. I think about him constantly. Simply put, it’s getting harder and harder for me to enjoy Shabbat.
So what should I do? How can I lessen my emotional pain every Friday night and all day Saturday?
I’m Not Giving Up On What’s Inherently Good
I’m Not Giving Up On Shabbat
I know a mother whose son passed away around the same age as Jacob. The boy left this world on Passover. His mom decided not to celebrate the holiday any longer because the memory is too painful. There are those who would tell me to give up Shabbat because it reminds me of such unpleasantness. They reason that if the rituals of Shabbat make me sad, get rid of it. However, an old expression comes to mind:
‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater’.
This idiom, deriving from an old German proverb, means we shouldn’t eliminate something good when trying to eliminate something bad.
What’s So Special About Shabbat?
Why is Shabbat so precious? In the words of essayist Ahad Ha’Am (1856-1927):
“More than the Jewish People have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.”
G-d wants the Jewish people to keep Shabbat. While we don’t know all the reasons for this, we do know that keeping Shabbat is for our benefit. By doing so, we acknowledge that He is the Creator, He loves us and cares for us. Shabbat connects us to G-d and to other Jews. Shabbat is an island in time. Twenty five hours of putting everything aside and just being with my Creator. No work, no paying bills, no looking at the news on the internet. (There’s never any good news anyway.) I don’t have to do anything or be anywhere. I wish it could be like this all the time. I just wish Jacob was here.
I’m not going to get rid of Shabbat because it evokes unhappy memories. The benefits of observing Shabbat are too much to give up. G-d has a reason and a timeline for everything. If He wanted to take Jacob back on Shabbat, that was the best time to do it. Jacob must have a very special soul. Shabbat is just too beautiful and too precious to throw away.
Enjoying Shabbat Again
Am I Avoiding Grief?
A neighbor recently told me ‘Your house is too quiet. You need some joy in it.’ Humans are social by nature. One of the keys to a happy life is to be around other people. We are so fortunate to have one of our sons and his family living thirty minutes away. So we’ve asked them to spend Shabbat with us. Observing Shabbat with my son, daughter-in-law and little grandson is truly a blessing. The sounds of conversation and of the baby bring happiness to the whole house.
And yes, after Shabbat is over and everyone goes home, I’m still in the same empty house without Jacob. It’s still painful.
I don’t want to forget about Jacob. I just want to lessen the pain, and if I can do that even for a short time it’s worth it.
Don’t Throw Out the Baby With the Bathwater
Making It Work
It’s natural to associate any event with a particular place and time, or even a particular person. So many things, which started out as neutral, or even elicited feelings of joy, are are relegated to something we’d rather forget. When a loved one passes away, especially a child, the place and time may become etched in our minds as something inherently bad. So much so in fact, that we want to reject that particular place and time altogether.
However, rejection may not be a wise choice. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Shabbat. It’s just that my outlook is skewed. So too, each person needs to sift through their emotions and determine if something or someone they once viewed as good should now be rejected. I truly hope that the mom who decided not to observe Passover will change her mind and reclaim the intrinsic goodness in the holiday.
What ever it is, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Try and make it work.
Running Away From Grief
It’s Not A Solution But It’s Better Than Nothing
I wish I could get out of mourning mode, constantly thinking about my son and how he passed away. I’m afraid that if I stop mourning him I’ll forget him. There’s an expression ‘time heals’. I seriously doubt that’s completely true for a parent who lost a child. But maybe there’s some truth in it as far as making the emotions less intense. Maybe after a long while I’ll be able to remember him while at the same time not be so sorrowful.
Am I just creating a diversion by surrounding myself with other people or maybe even going to other places to push away unhappy memories? Can I ignore reality by closing my eyes? Am I running away from the terrible fact that Jacob is no longer physically here?
Maybe. But for now, it’s ok to run away.