A Life Story Cut Short
My husband and I attend a support group for bereaved parents. All of us had a child who passed away as an adult. One person mentioned that it’s very painful to watch her child’s friends growing in their careers, getting married, and moving on with their lives. Memories of her child’s life will forever remain stagnant, frozen in time at the age he died.
Another person in our support group described her kid as a ‘failure to launch’. Like a rocket at lift-off, the child soars skyward, but then stops gaining altitude, sputters out and falls back to earth.
I’ll Never See My Child Get Any Older
Our son Jacob was twenty-four when he left this world. He graduated from college, worked in internet affiliate marketing, and taught academic chess to elementary school kids. He was trying to find his niche in the world. He took the LSAT to apply to law school. He wasn’t sure if he’d like law but thought he’d give it a try. He did rather well on the LSAT, but he wanted to get a better score, so he was studying to take the exam again. That’s when his life’s story stopped.
I think of Jacob as frozen in time. I see his twenty-four year old face, a face that will never age. I remember his wavy hair, hair that will never get longer or turn gray. Sometimes he would sport a beard. I remember his beard, black, short, and scratchy, a beard that won’t get longer or change color.
In Some Ways, My Child Was a Failure to Launch
I think of Jacob as a failure to launch in that he had so much career potential and so much social potential that was never fulfilled. Maybe he would have liked law, maybe he wouldn’t, but I know he would have found a career that he enjoyed. He was a smart kid. I’m sure one day, he would have called me and said, ‘Ma, I want you to meet this girl I’m going out with.’ And I know I would have liked his choice for a wife. Jacob was kind and caring, and I know his wife would have been too. He would have made a good husband, and a loving and caring father.
Growth in This World and the Next
Is my son really frozen in time? Perhaps not. Judaism teaches that this world is transitory. The ‘real’ world is the next one:
‘Rabbi Yaakov would say – This world is the entrance foyer for the world to come. Prepare yourself in the foyer, so you may enter the banquet hall.’ (Pirkie Avot 4:16)
A story about Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim (1839-1933), describes his meeting with a traveler who stopped at his home for a visit. The traveler was astounded at the simple surroundings in which the Chofetz Chaim lived, in which there was barely any furniture. The traveler asked the Rabbi ‘Where is all your furniture?’ The Chofetz Chaim answered ‘Where’s yours?’ The traveler said ‘I don’t need furniture, I’m just passing through.’ The Chofetz Chaim responded ‘So am I.’
Spiritual Growth in Heaven
My son has a life in the next world and he’s still growing spiritually. Jacob benefits from the mitzvot we perform on his behalf.
One of the things we did in Jacob’s memory was to set up a scholarship fund at the middle school he attended. Here is an excerpt from a beautiful letter written by a father who received tuition assistance from the fund:
‘…you are literally saving my son’s neshamah right now with your generous donation for his education. You are literally putting a massive smile on his face and my face…When I told him we worked it out and that he will be attending Yeshiva and not public school this coming year, he ran into my arms practically in tears thanking me.
I heard a beautiful idea once, I think in the name of the Arizal Z’L – ‘Even in death, the soul has the power to comfort another human being’.
I promise you, I swear to you that my son and I will do everything and anything in our power to bring more Torah and more divine light into this world, that we will use your gift to it’s fullest and to use this opportunity to reinforce my son’s love and dedication to G-d and his laws. I guarantee that your son’s neshamah will have a tremendous aliyah in Shomayim and that through our actions and through my son’s journey in this world, your son’s neshamah will shine as bright as the neshamahs of Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak and Yaakov, as bright as the souls of our mothers Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.
The world survives only in the merit of learning Torah. Your son is keeping this world going.’
Tears were in my eyes when I read this letter. I’m always saddened that Jacob did not leave physical children in this world. The child benefitting from this scholarship fund will learn Torah because of my son. In a spiritual sense, Jacob has a child in this world, and this is a source of comfort for me. We hope this fund grows, enabling more children to receive a Jewish education.
Spiritual Growth in This World
In contrast, Jacob is also helping others grow spiritually in this world. Any good deed, any act of kindness done in his memory spiritually elevates the person performing the mitzvah.
An example is the following. I recently purchased two books by the same author. The first book, dedicated to the author’s daughter, asks that people who learn from this book pray for her recovery from illness. The second book, published two years later, asks that one learning from the book remember her beautiful soul that ascended to Heaven. She was 34 when she passed away, leaving young children behind.
I thought, ‘G-d, would it ruin Your Cosmic Plan to have this young woman live a few more years, or even live to old age?’ G-d has a plan, I don’t know what it is, and if He told me I wouldn’t understand anyway. As for me, I’m spiritually elevated when I read this book and remember her.
May we remember those who have passed on and perform acts of kindness for those around us. It’s a win-win scenario for us and them.