Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Digging Through Garbage

Right before Shabbos, we receive a brochure from Ariel's Yeshiva. The pictures of the young men in the Beis Midrash are hypnotic: the boys in their dark pants and crisp white shirts, and their posture so familiar. I lean in and squint. Is that Ariel in the background? No, no, of course not. I turn pages, read each article. How come, I irrationally wonder, there's nothing about Ariel in the brochure? There should be a headline that reads: Ariel Avrech Is Sorely Missed. Is he already forgotten? I am hurt and angry. Ariel spent four years in the yeshiva and it's as if he was never there. He loved his yeshiva with the kind of love that Shlomo describes in Shir HaShirim. How can they go on without him as if nothing has happened?
Am I crazy?
What am I doing?
Do I expect everyone to grieve the way I do? Do I really expect his yeshiva, his Rebbeim, and his friends, to dwell on Ariel's absence with the same intensity that I do? Hadn't they supported, revered, prayed for him, and reached out to us, calling, flooding us with letters and tributes?
I exist in a world somewhere between supremely rational thought and utter looniness. When people ask me how I'm doing, I resent it. When people neglect to ask how I'm doing, I resent it. Some days I think it would be better for me to stay in my house, avoid all human interaction. It's too draining. A friend called and asked how I was.
"Some days I'm okay, some days I'm not so okay." I respond. "If your read my blog, you'll get a better idea of what's going on in my life."
"I don't want to read your blog," my friend responds testily. "I'm your friend, your blog is for strangers."
"Okay, sorry."
That's the end of that conversation. Gosh, I feel like I've committed a sin, suggesting that my friend actually read Seraphic Secret. One of the reasons I write Seraphic Secret is because it's simply too draining to explain how I feel. And besides,I don't know how I feel or what I feel until I write it down. This journal is not just for strangers. It's for me and Karen, foremost, and then everybody else.
Several times this past week friends have been offended by my suggestion that they read this page. But the truth is, the strangers who read and write to me probably know me better than the friends who refuse to be readers. My friend Surie Lazar intimately knows the convulsions of my heart. My Hasidic friend W, dutifully reminds me to maintain strict standards of tznius in my writing; I'm afraid I disappoint all too often. Yes, a whole new circle of friends, many grieving parents, have stepped into our lives and filled the awful vacuum that Ariel's death has created.
The other day, Karen cleaned up and organized Ariel's room. There are hundreds of Torah tapes in Ariel's library. There are boxes of micro-cassettes: Ariel taped his gemara shiurim so he could review them. There are dozens of tapes made by his friends of classes that Ariel was too sick to attend. Karen and I have decided to donate some of the tapes to a library in Lakewood dedicated to the memory of his friend Shia Twersky z"l who died tragically in a car accident. We know that Ariel would like to share his Torah with others. After organizing his drawers and dropping off the tapes, Karen broke down and cried. Between sobs she explained, "I just realized why I could do it; it was a maternal act, and that was the basis of our relationship, it was a way that I could do the caretaking that I would do normally. I felt that by letting his belongings accumulate dust and just pile up on his desk, I was neglecting my son."
Karen has a gift for organization. I have a gift for flight. While Karen was busy in Ariel's room I was locked away in my office making believe that I was not aware of what Karen was doing.
"Do you really want his room to stay exactly the same as the day he died, wouldn't that be disrespectful?" she asked me.
"No," I lied.
When I dumped the garbage from my office into the big garbage can at the curb, I noticed several micro tapes in the can. Karen has thrown away some of the tapes from Ariel's room. I reach in and grab them. I stuff them into my pockets, look around to make sure that no neighbors are watching,then scurry back to my office and hide the tapes in the bottom drawer of my desk. All the time, a little voice in my head is saying: Robert, this is really not normal.Karen has disappeared some of Ariel's tapes, but she has not told me because she knows how hurt I would be. But a few minutes later, I feel like a fool. I take the tapes and gently put them back in the garbage. Karen must have thrown them away for a reason. I have learned to trust my wife's instincts. If she believes that there's no reason to keep these tapes, well, I'll trust her. My wife is rarely wrong about the important things in our life.
And besides, I do not want to dig through garbage cans for the rest of my life.


Blogger YourMoralLeader said...

So many friends have taken offense when I've suggested they read my blog to learn what is going on in my life, that I've largely stopped doing it.

September 8, 2004 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger YourMoralLeader said...

I asked Alana Newhouse, arts and culture editor at the Forward:

"Do you think writers as a group tend to be misanthropic?"

"Yes. The best writers need to escape the world to think hard to create art. It's almost a survival mechanism. You turn on your misanthropic stance when you need to leave the world to analyze it."

September 8, 2004 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger Rochelly's Kitchen said...

I am not surprised that your friends refuse to read your blog. Every time I bring up Rochelly's name in front of friends, I feel like I am imposing. The message I get is: why don't you get a life? It is eleven years later, this is ancient history, let's talk about current events, why bring up the past. What they don't understand is that we have a burning desire to include our children in our present lives. Ariel and Rochelly were integral parts of us; we don't want to wait till Messiach comes to include them in our daily activities. Everything that we do, everything that happens around us is a constant reminder of them, no matter how much we talk or write about them it is not enough. They are not here to enrich our daily activities, when we enjoy our other's children's accomlishments and warm embraces we feel cheated that there could be so much more. When my grandchildren marched down and Baila and Moishy's wedding I was the proudest, most adoring grandmother, but how could I help thinking of the other would have been grandchildren that Rochelly would have given me? Rochelly dreamed of having a husband just like her brothers turned out to be. On so many occasions she told me that she wanted a husband who should not be ashamed to show his feelings even though he should be macho and cool, one who was educated both in Torah and in secular studies. She described her brothers perfectly, and being that she was more a mother than a sister to them, she would have been very proud.
My mother-in-law lost three children (a seventeen year old and a thirteen year old son and a twelve year old daughter), in Aushwitz. Although this happened sixty years ago, she still talks and cries about it constantly as if it just happened. She gets very angry when people tell her to enjoy the present, and not dwell on this tragedy constantly. Because of the way she has constantly talked about them I, as well as everyone who knows us feel that we personally knew these children and feel her loss. We keep their yar tzeit, we give a tikun on Shevuoth for them even though they died before my husband and I were born.
Robert, ignore the world, do what your heart tells you to do. My family, my close friends and I are avid readers of your blog and we all mourn Ariel's loss and we are getting to know him better and better with each word that you write.

September 9, 2004 at 6:56 AM  
Blogger With Love said...

What was that movie, the one where a couple loses their daughter and tries to make a surrogate son out of her finance? I saw that movie a little more than a year after Timmi died, and when Susan Sarandon said something like, "I'm pissed when people ask how I am and I'm pissed when they don't," I felt that the writer of those words had either lost a child or known someone very close who had. I, too, felt angry when people didn't ask how I was doing - what, don't they care? - and resentful when they did - well, how the hell do they think I'm doing?
I'm no longer angry, but I still often find myself unable to respond when people ask how I am. It makes me realize that I myself don't really know. I think that, like you, I really know how I am when I write about it, because it's so complicated and contradictory that I need to think about every word to get it right. Also, I know that nothing I say will really be understood by the person asking, because they haven't been here.
For a very long time, I didn't initiate any contact with people other than my husband and children. Besides the fact that, as you said, it was so draining, I think I wanted to avoid giving a "din ve-cheshbon" on how I was managing (or not managing). I don't think that made me misanthropic, just traumatized, dissociated and unable to truly communicate with most other people.
What I answer to most people nowadays is, "OK, right at this particular moment." or "Not so great today," or just a noncommital "Baruch Hashem." I feel I have lost much of the comfort I used to get from talking to people who care about me, but the loss isn't as sharp as it was when I saw that movie.
People who get insulted when you suggest they read your blog, because they want you to talk to them personally about how you are feeling are, I think, a subset of people who want something from you. I can't stand this, like when people come and tell me that they felt terrible that they didn't come to Timmi's azkara and then report exactly what they were doing that made them unable to make it. What they want from me is that I (1) care deeply about their being there, (2) forgive them for not coming, and (3) be grateful that they wanted to come and "were thinking of me." I feel as if they're using my daughter's death as an occasion to prove to themselves that they are good people. They have no idea that their presence or absence is insignificant compared to the true absence - Timmi's - and to the actual fact of my having to have an azkara for my child. I get resentful, and then reproach myself - after all, they mean well, and don't I want people to care, and to try to help in whatever small way they can? But there it is. It's how I feel, and no one who hasn't been here can understand that.

September 9, 2004 at 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one of your closest relatives, I do not understand why "friends" complain
of having to read your Blog to know, literally, where you and Karen are at
emotionally. I share many of your thoughts and attitudes but find it difficult to discuss them with other people. I hold all of those souls whom
I have loved and lost within my consciousness. I continue to ask the questions
and cherish the memories. It is also part of the so-called healing process!

September 10, 2004 at 7:41 AM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I just stumbled across your blog and wanted to say that I am sorry. I don't know if you'll find it to be meaningful or if it will be helpful, but I thought that I needed to say something.

I lost one of my closest friends to cancer on August 25, 1998. He met my wife, but he never got to meet my beautiful children and to know me as a father. And I never got to share his own joy in that manner either.

He had three brain tumors, and it was the third that killed him. Sadly I can say that I watched him deteroriate and become less than he was mentally, but I learned many things from this experience. I am not sure that any of them will be helpful to you as I think that this is uniquely personal.

And as a father I cannot begin to imagine how badly this must hurt.

But I do want to share something with you. For a long time there was something missing in my life, a dull ache remained. I could recreate the funeral in my mind's eye instantly.

And then one day that ache was not the same and I was saddened by it. I had grown accustomed to the pain and felt some comfort from it. But I came to realize that I didn't need to hang onto that pain any longer and that by letting go I was not being disloyal.

He lives on in my heart, forever young and I still miss him. But as I mentioned, I no longer feel the need to carry the weight to mourn him. His memory lives with me and always will.

In any case, I think that this blog is a great idea and a terrific resource for you. I hope that with the new year upon us again that you find some peace and that is really a Shana Tova for you and your family. Again my condolences for your loss.

September 10, 2004 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

I have just read through this entire blog and it has moved me to tears. I am the mother of two very young girls and I have lost people dear to me, but I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child.

Your son Ariel was a very special young man. Please accept my heartfelt condolences on his loss. And shanah tovah to you and your family.

September 10, 2004 at 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you might like to know just how much of an impact your son continues to have at Ner Israel. I am a former talmid of the Yeshiva and predated Ariel.
Although I and my classmates never met him, we have heard much about him. While he was sick, emails were sent out to former alumni describing him and the nature of his illness with a request to daven for him. His fellow students went out of their way to make sure word got out describing just how special he was.
To this day, when I meet students from Ariel's time, I mention his name and always manage to hear of his good deeds and nature. It is easy to see the awe and sadness that overtakes these young men when they talk of him.
May the new year bring you continued strength to enrich our lives with your writings and may your words bring you a measure of comfort.
Shana tova u'misuka.

September 13, 2004 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

L'Shana Tova to you both.

September 15, 2004 at 3:29 PM  
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