Sunday, July 04, 2004

Rochelly's Kitchen

From the death of my son Ariel, these pages are born. I write amost exclusively about Ariel, of who he was, of how much we miss him. But there are other children who have made their way into my consciousness. As I once wrote, parents of children who have died belong to an exclusive club; a dreadful club that no one wants to join. Nevertheless, here we are.
A few days after my very first posting, Surie Lazar, of Brooklyn, New York, wrote me a detailed and moving letter about her seventeen year-old daughter, Rochelly, niftar eleven years ago. Over the weeks, Surie and I continued our correspondence, trading stories, sharing memories. And so, I was delighted when the phone rang this past Thursday afternoon and on the other end was Surie. "I am here in Los Angeles," she informed me, "I'd love to come over and visit." "That's wonderful," I replied. "Let me tell you how to get here." Surie called out to her husband: "Joe, come here and get the directions." Dimly, I heard Joe respond: "I don't want to visit, I want to go into the jacuzzi!"
Twenty minutes later, Surie and Joe cruised into a parking spot in front of our house, cruised into our lives. They are a handsome couple who have just celebrated their thirty-third anniversary. They have a married daughter who lives around the corner from them in Brooklyn, and twin sons. One son is soon to be married. Mazel Tov.
We sat and talked about our families, our lives. Surie explained, tears puckering in her beautiful blue eyes, that more than anything in the world, she wants to make sure that her beloved Rochelly is never forgotten. She admits that she feels the need to talk about Rochelly. "It's my way of keeping her memory alive," she said dabbing at her eyes. Joe said, "I'm different. I keep it all in. I don't feel the need to talk and talk." And then, naturally, Joe talked and talked about Rochelly. He recalled when the twins were having their bar mitzvah, two years after Rochelly died. It was Parshas Yitro and Joe was searching for a d'var Torah to deliver. He wanted to talk about Aseret Ha-dibrot, the Ten Commandments. In the middle of the night, Joe got up and opened one of his Torah files. He found a d'var Torah on the revelation at Sinai. "I read it and it was so beautiful, so vivid, you felt as if you were standing at Sinai. But I had not written it. It was far too beautiful. All of a sudden, I remembered that Rochelly's class was given an assignment to do a major Torah project. She was assigned Parshas Yitro. In effect, she wrote my speech for me. I read her speech at the bar mitzvah on Friday night. There wasn't a dry eye in the audience. Everyone was mesmerized." Joe could say no more.
Surie went on to explain that for the past eleven years they have operated a foundation called Rochelly's Kitchen. Twice a week, Surie cooks gallons of chicken soup. Volunteers deliver it to patients in Brooklyn hospitals. All the cooking is done by Surie in her kitchen. I have it on good authority that Surie's chicken soup is like a little taste of heaven. Why am I not surprised when Surie tells me that she does all this, in addition to working at a full-time job outside the home?
We sit and talk companionably for about two hours. We compare notes on the truly dumb things people say to you when you are sitting shiva. Things like: Well, at least you have other children, and He/she is in a better place, and Ha-Shem is testing you. We confess that we are angry when people do not mention our child who has died. At the same time, we are angry when they do mention them. We agree that no one else knows how we feel, and thank God, that is exactly how it should be.
As Joe and Surie leave, Joe grabs my hand. I apologize for taking him from the jacuzzi. Joe smiles and chuckles. It is the self-effacing laugh of a man who knows himself well. "Don't you worry," he confides, "I can go to the jacuzzi anytime, but coming here, well..." His voice fades. No more needs to be said.
It is ironic. Karen and I have lived intensely private lives. We do not thrive in social situations.
In life, Ariel gently led us, by example, into a more observant existence; in death he leads us into relationships that never would have been possible before.
There is a Kabbalistic notion that out of every evil action, some measure of good can emerge. I never really believed this. It was too abstract; it left room for too much bad behavior. And though I am not a mystic, I do recognize the possibilities in this notion. Now, I detect a subtle shift in our lives, a willingness to open up to people in a way that I never considered.
Perhaps, I am becoming a kinder, more generous person.
And perhaps, as Karen and I sat with Surie and Joe and traded sweet memories of our children, perhaps, in heaven, these two pure souls observed us in all their perfect radiance.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How incredibly moving. I'm sorry that you and the Lazares all belong to this exclusive club, but I'm so glad you found one another through this blog, that you can communicate like this, and that you were able to meet in person. It speaks volumes about you all that you're all making such a massive effort to do so many good things as inspired by your children.

--jackie

July 5, 2004 at 2:00 AM  
Blogger Rochelly's Kitchen said...

Robert,
After I e-mailed you this morning, I spoke to a friend and I told her about the advice I gave you. While I was talking to her, I thought of an analogy on how I manage to continue functioning, even though I think about Rochelly all the time. No matter what activity I am involved with, my thoughts about her are always with me. Think about windows on the computer. When I am working on a certain project, that's the active window. The other one, however, is still on the computer, in the background, and I can always bring it to the foreground if I choose to. As long as I know that it is constantly there, I am not ignoring it, I am just concentrating on matters that requires my immediate attention ( my children, grandchildren, parents, mother-in-law, friends, job, Bikur Cholim, etc.). From what I observed, this is exactly what you and Karin and probably other parents are doing. This, in my book, is called coping. Of course, it is normal to forget yourself, once in a while, and to do things backwards. We would not be human beings if we were perfect all the time. As long as we keep reality in the forefront, we should be able to stay out of Joe's mental institutions. Good Luck,
Surie

July 12, 2004 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Rivki Locker said...

As one of Rochelly's dearest friends, I was touched to see this blog and the others on your site. Thank you for a very meaningful collection of inspiration.
Memories are such a very interesting thing. When Rochelly passed away in our senior year of high school, heaven and earth shook so we thought things would never fall back into place again. I remember writing a poem for a school publication, marveling at how people went about their business immediately outside the hospital while Rochelly lay in a coma, and then even as we left her funeral just days later. We all knew that life wouldn't be the same for us again.
Each time I see the Lazar family - the twins, the grandchildren, etc. - I marvel at how in certain ways life has really moved on. I've gone on to build a family of my own, and Rochelly's family has by no means stood still. Hundreds of ill people have benefited from Rochelly's Kitchen, a Sefer Torah was donated in her memory, and a home for mentally disabled women was erected in her name. The twins are all grown up, and the sweet infant who in my mind will always be Rochelly's baby niece is a young lady already.
Life didn't stand as still as we thought it would, and we - her friends and her family - have grown and built and moved forward.
The memories of Rochelly are so very fresh and vivid, though. Yes, I've moved on and built a very full life - that's the blessing of forgetting - but I think of Rochelly weekly, daily sometimes. I remember the times we shared at her house and at mine, the trips we went on, the secrets we shared. I remember giggling and passing notes in class, growing up together, sharing things I didn't share with anyone else. Nothing, nothing - not time, not motherhood or career - will ever dull those memories.

August 7, 2004 at 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Custom Disposable Cameras said...

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May 22, 2006 at 1:09 AM  

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