I’m in the second year of my son’s passing and I feel like I’m still in a dream. In this horrible dream, Jacob passed away. He’s no longer with me. Problem is, I can’t wake up from this dream. Every morning I awaken and a small piece of me hopes he’s still here, upstairs in his room, or maybe out walking the dog. Or maybe he’s in law school where he’d been planning to go. Maybe that’s why he’s not here. Or maybe he got tired of living with his parents and found himself an apartment. Maybe that’s why he’s not here. Maybe.
Like the movie Groundhog Day, each day is the same. Each day I wake up without Jacob.
I’ve heard it said that one definition of insanity is when the same thing keeps happening over and over, but each time one thinks the outcome will be different. I’m just not used to my son not being in this world, and each day, I think it will be different. Rabbi Asher Resnick, senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, told me that losing a child is like losing a limb. Each day I look for that limb and I see it’s still missing. Somehow, I have to find a way to live my life without that limb. I have to find a way to carry on with day to day living, working around the debilitating reality that my son is not here.
Unexpected Grief Triggers
There are so many things that trigger my emotional heartache. It’s like I’m experiencing phantom limb syndrome, the feeling of sensation in a limb that has been removed. I’m seeing people who look like my son.
In my post about the tragedy at Meron, ‘The Meron Tragedy – Children Ripped Away From Their Parents’, I mentioned that I saw a picture of a young man who looked like Jacob. I thought maybe I was imagining things so I showed the picture to my husband. He agreed, this boy looked like our son. And he even had the same name, Yaakov, which in Hebrew is Jacob. A while later, I was speaking to my Rabbi and I mentioned that I saw a picture of a boy who passed away at Meron and that he looked like Jacob. My Rabbi replied ‘Yeah, I noticed it too, but I didn’t want to say anything.’
I recently noticed young man who comes to our shul on Shabbat. He looks like Jacob. The nose, eyes, and forehead is Jacob. He usually arrives in time for Musaf, the last part of the Shabbat prayer service. Jacob was a late riser, so that’s the time when he would go to shul. This young man wears a gray suit without a tallit. Jacob’s suit was gray, and being single, wore no tallit. This man is the same height and build, has the same dark wavy hair as Jacob. He walks to his seat with that same casual saunter just like Jacob. He talks to no one. Jacob didn’t speak to anyone during davening either. I end up staring at him for a long time, sometimes with tears in my eyes, hoping he doesn’t feel my stare. I asked my husband ‘Did you notice the young man in shul who looks like Jacob?’ My husband said he did.
I’m reading about young people who died from heart issues just like Jacob, and their names are also Jacob. Several years ago, there was a five year old boy who had stomach issues, was taken to the hospital, and died some hours later from a failed heart. He had the same first and last name as our son. I recently read in the news that there was a young boy who, after receiving the Covid vaccine, died in his sleep. He had an enlarged heart. His name was Jacob too.
Every time I turn around I’m either seeing a Jacob or hearing about a Jacob who died from a heart condition.
Living With Grief Day By Day
Grief Relief in Keeping Busy
It’s not that my life is emotionally paralyzed. It’s up and down. Sometimes, I’m ok. On busy days, days when I have stuff to do, I may not think about Jacob very much. Sometimes, days go by when it’s even hard for me to cry when I think about him. It’s as if my heart is numb to any feeling. It’s during those times of emotional numbness when the physical aches and pains start. Lack of sleep, muscle or joint pain, ear aches, gas pains, or some sort of weird ailment usually happens when I’m in this emotionally numb mode.
There’s an old expression ‘idle hands breed mischief’. I’ve created a new expression ‘idle minds breed depression’. On other days, days when I’m at home with not much going on, my unoccupied mind starts to wander. That’s when I think about Jacob constantly. I get sad and depressed. Then the torrent of tears begin anew.
So how am I coping with my grief? The best thing I can do is stay busy. I’m retired, so getting out of the house for any reason is emotionally helpful. Being around others works wonders for my mood. Unfortunately people don’t reach out to me to get together. I guess they feel that, since it’s been over a year since my son’s passing, I’m no longer in need of companionship. So I have to reach out to them. Even shopping for groceries can be beneficial. Sometimes taking a short drive with no particular destination, I find interesting locales. Like the old Chuck Berry song:
‘Crusin’ and playin’ the radio
With no particular place to go’
Better than staying home.
Grief Relief In Talking, Art Therapy, Or Just Crying
Talking it out helps. But I find I have to be very selective who I talk to. The people I’ve found to be the most helpful to talk to are either others who have lost a child, or my Rabbi. They are always ready to listen, are not judgmental, and they know that grief over the death of a child doesn’t ever go away.
I’ve found that art therapy is a wonderful way to cope with feelings of grief. In art therapy various art mediums can be used to express emotion. It can be drawing, painting, sculpting, or whatever. I love to draw. Pencils, charcoal, pastels, I enjoy all of these. Drawing calms me down. I find that, since my son passed away, I’ve been drawing more and more. It’s helpful to draw what I feel. What do I draw? Whatever I’m feeling in the moment of my grief. Pictures of water waves, graves, and ugly demon-like faces are just a few of my ‘artistic’ creations. Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and just scribble. Or I’ll fill up a whole sheet of paper with lightly drawn circles and ellipses. It all calms me down.
The best form grief relief for me is crying. I mean really crying. First the tears starting to well up in my eyes. Then the muscles in my throat tighten up. I let the grief come like a wave washing over me. My therapist calls it ‘grief imagery’. I close my eyes and imagine looking out at the ocean, seeing a rolling wave get bigger and bigger. Then the wave breaks over the rocky shore. Water and white foam fly upward then cascade down. I imagine I hear the water as it falls onto the rocks. I find it cathartic.
The worst thing I can do is hold my tears inside. I asked my Rabbi if he thought that, after all this time, it’s strange that I’m still crying over my son. He said, on the contrary, if I wasn’t crying I wouldn’t be normal.
King David Found Grief Relief Through Prayer
King David had a very hard life, physically and emotionally. His brothers hated him, his father in law tried to kill him, he lost most of his family as well as two sons. His incredible emunah, faith in G-d, is what kept him going. He composed the book of Tehillim, a collection of psalms, offering praise and thanksgiving to G-d. In these psalms, King David expresses his grief, anguish, and hope that things will turn around and be better.
King David wasn’t only writing for himself, he was writing for everyone who reaches out to G-d in grief and despair. Sometimes I come across a psalm that I can really relate to. In Psalm 55, King David wishes he could be like a bird and fly away from all his troubles:
‘O that I had wings like the dove, I would fly off and find rest…I would wander afar, I would dwell in the wilderness…I would obtain deliverance from violent wind, from tempest.’ (Psalm 55:6-9)
I wish I could be like that dove. But I can’t live life in a bubble. My husband needs me, my other kids need me, my grandkids need me. So I plod on, taking it day by day, finding ways to live life with my missing limb.