Thursday, June 17, 2004

A Stubborn Grief

The first time Karen and I visited Ariel's grave was right after shloshim. I was so filled with dread that I asked Karen's best friend, Audrey, to drive us to the cemetery. Little was said during the forty-five minute drive. Most vividly, I remember exchanging a long glance with Karen and in that split second we were both thinking the same thing: this cannot be happening.
Ariel is buried in Simi Valley. The views are lovely and pastoral, with blurry, distant mountains burned ochre. There is always a brisk wind whipping down the passes. We chanted the prayers, and we sobbed; we were all struck with a sense of unreality. Was Ariel really here? Was his body under our feet? I kneeled and touched the ground, his eternal blanket. Karen said, "Maybe he's cold, maybe he needs a sweater." I said nothing. Karen is his mother and she wants to shield her child from all harm. The wind picked up and Audrey, a loyal friend, moved to Karen's side, she seemed to float in a motion that was part wind, part liquid, and in an instant they were joined together at the foot of Ariel's grave. They stood like this for a long moment, staring out at the mountains, weeping and sobbing and shivering.
I remembered Rav's warning from the Talmud: He who mourns for his dead too stubbornly weeps for some other dead.
I recognize Rav's peerless wisdom. The temptation to bury yourself in the garb of endless grief is powerful. But with all due respect to Rav, I have lost others that I have loved: my mother who nurtured me, my mother's mother who heroically loved me, Jamie, my college friend who was gunned down by an evil junkie, two close friends from Israel who were killed in the Yom Kippur War. I grieved for them too. It was a grief that rose and fell. But the death of a son, the death of a child, this is a grief that cannot be confused with others. Which is what Rav was afraid of. Don't mix griefs. Like milk and meat, it is to be avoided. For Judaism loves order. Halacha is attached to the exacting particulars of our lives. But Ariel's death is singular. It maintains a steady pitch. The needle is always in the red zone. Nothing in life has prepared me for this hammer-blow. No one has written a manual explaining how to keep breathing after the heart has been unhinged from its cavity.
A friend from the film business calls to tell me that she can't come to the unveiling, but that she will be with me in spirit.
A friend from shul calls to tell me that he cannot come to the unveiling, but that he will give charity in Ariel's memory.
My friend from the film business asks how I'm doing on the eve of the unveiling. "It's hard." I reply. This has become my standard response. Not terribly poetic, but honest and utilitarian and true, like a piece of Shaker furniture.
When my friend from shul asks me the same question and I give the same answer he shoots back, "It's supposed to be hard."
My Hollywood friend suggests that the unveiling will provide "some closure." She is well meaning, but deeply schooled in the superficial language that infects the business that I have chosen as my profession. Film people want reality to ape the paradigm of the movies they manufacture. They yearn for clean cut resolutions. Happy endings. There is no pain that cannot be rewritten. There is no hurt than cannot be overcome by a third act rescue, preferably at the hands of a love that neatly balances the loss. Hollywood people, though ruthless in the extreme, are, in fact, incurable romantics. They want me to join support groups, attend grief counseling sessions run by aging hippies with ponytails. They want to believe that anything, everything, no matter how terrible, can be washed away in the shallow waters of New Age therapies. They want to believe in something -- just as long as it does not involve God.
My friend from shul will give charity and daven. He knows that it is hard, that it will always be be hard, and he understands this is the way it is supposed to be.
He recognizes the ultimate truth that all parents of children who have died live with: all we can do is endure.
Tomorrow is Ariel's unveiling.
I'm trying to hold back time.
But it will come.
Tomorrow will come.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is a frum man like you doing in such a business with people who are so insensitive and shallow? Did your son approve of your Hollywood career or did he consider it to be bitul z'man?

June 17, 2004 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger Shoshana Abensour said...

Dear Robert,
Ignore the previous callous and shallow comment. You said it very well.

You write beautifully- this is your special gift and you are a light unto the nations no matter who you write for. Never lose it. Keep the writing going!

I am missing the unveiling- I messed up on the logistics but am with you in spirit and hope to visit his grave in the near future.
I don't think Ariel needs a sweater but I know that you and Karen do.
This is normal. I still shiver when I think about the passing of my own son who was murdered in cold blood.
May Hashem give you the koach to bear this terrible pain and may you continue to make Ariel proud in your own mitzvot down here.

Here's what people don't understand: my daughter-in-law's grandmother who lost a son 25 years ago said it very well- this is a pain that never goes away- it's kind of like arthritis- you learn to live with it. This is what I meant in my email to you the other day regarding the "gift of time".

May you have consolation from shamayim.

See you Sunday.

Shabbat Shalom.

Joanne

June 18, 2004 at 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watching movies might be bitul zeman ( waste of time ) but writing them is a parnasa ( making money ) It is no crime for most people to watch movies.

Also , giving reproach to a man who is in mourning is a definite sin. Go read the book of Yiyov ( Job ) about that.

Please go ask your Rabbi if now is the time to reprove someone about how they make a living. It is amazing how insenitive people can be.
Hopefully your new series of book will teach people how to relate to each other and have more empathy toward each other rather then just preaching at each other ....

May all pain and suffering stop.
wishing you the best.

June 21, 2004 at 6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday, while I was at a blood drive in Balt., I remembered a story about Ariel that I thought you might appriciate. Approx. 4 or 5 years ago, at the very same annual blood drive, Ariel came to the blood drive to donate blood. Needless to say, they did not accept him (his blood) because of his medical condition. He was dejected when they rejected him. I still don't know if he really thought he would have been able to donate his blood. I do know, that he came to that blood drive only thinking about how he can give up some of his blood to help someone else. Ariel always put everyone else before him.

June 21, 2004 at 7:43 AM  

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