Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Breathing More Efficiently

It is the middle of the night. I don't know why, but suddenly I'm awake. Something has pulled me out of a deep slumber. I hear someone crying. Am I dreaming? No, no, it's in my right ear. Sobbing. "Karen?" "Yes?" "What are you remembering about Ariel?" "I can't remember what his running shoes looked like," she sniffles. "The blue ones?" I ask. "No, they are black," she says. Ariel went to pulmonary therapy a few times a week in the last months of his life, when he was still strong enough. The idea was that he had to be in the best shape possible to endure the lung transplant. "He has to learn how to breathe in a more efficient way," his nurse explained to me. Karen bought him running shoes. For several sessions he was on the treadmill and the rowing machine in his yeshivish black shoes. Susan Clark, his loving pulmonary therapist insisted that Ariel had to have proper shoes. Karen went out and bought the right shoes for him. I can still see Ariel's face when he finished his exercises: flushed with a healthy pink and a thin sheen of sweat he would smile hugely and say, "I did forty-five minutes today, Dad." Ariel loved going to the pulmonary therapy sessions. It did not take too long for the nurses, deeply religious Christians, to cleave to Ariel. Susan Clark, the director of the unit took me aside and said,"That boy of yours, Ariel, he's special." It is not going too far to say that Ariel loved Susan. He spoke of her with a profound tenderness and respect. It was hard, so hard for Susan to hold herself back from hugging Ariel. He explained the halachas to her, and she was perfectly appropriate, but she told me, "I really want to hug Ariel. It's just killing me that I can't even shake his hand." The other patients peppered Ariel with questions about Torah and belief. Ariel, in his patient and gentle manner, educated these people in a way that was entirely new to them. Here was a whole new universe that Ariel had entered and reshaped through sheer force of goodness. Karen holds me and sobs."I can't believe that it's taken me this long to feel his absence," she says. "I 've gone for so long not letting myself face the truth. How could I have done that?" We stay locked together for the rest of the night. In the morning, I go down and daven, then enter Ariel's room, open his closet and take out his sneakers. They are black. I got it wrong. How could I have forgotten what color they are? What else have I forgotten? What else will I forget? The shoes still hold the imprint of his foot. It is a poignant indentation. More personal than any other article of clothing. I press a shoe to my chest, and I hold my breath. I hold it for as long as I can. My head swims, my heart races, my face aches. Is this what he was feeling? Is this what the fibrosis did to him? I explode and gasp for breathe. I hold Ariel's running shoe to my chest. I gasp for breath and just sit there trying to remember everything.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I began to read your writings since you were published in the Jewish Press. I am so sorry for your loss and the pain you and your wife are experiencing. You are a most powerful and skilled writer. Your words are keeping your son's memory alive. Your words are also giving support to a lot of other parents who have "walked in your shoes". One of the things that help me when I had a stillborn, was the support that I received from others who knew the pain that I was experiencing. I know that the pain I experienced can in no way even be compared to your pain and loss. I pray that you and your wife have nechama.

August 4, 2004 at 5:43 PM  
Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

I'm always amazed that more people don't comment on your blog. It's so well-written, and contains such incredible depth and pain and humanity...maybe that's what scares people. I'm amazed by your strength, and your commitment to the memory of your son, as you attempt to live an outwardly "normal" life. I can only hope that your observance, your wife and the rest of your family can bring you hope and happiness, and that you publish these blog posts as a book that will undoubtedly touch many people. I also hope that your writing provides you with an outlet for your pain and anger, and a way to process your emotions. Wishing you and your family all the best.

August 7, 2004 at 10:08 PM  

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