I went to my bank and got one of those checkbook-sized calendars. I have wanted to be able to remember people's birthdays, ever since I called my good friend, Patty, on her birthday, which was fine except that I didn't remember that it was her birthday. She just kept waiting for me to say something. When I finally remembered... I called her back. Yeah, that was awkward.
Anyway, this little green checkbook calendar is not for remembering the day people were born. It's for remembering the day people died - my own personal yahrzeit list.
I haven't always believed in remembering the dead, at least not strongly enough to actually do it. Until I entered them into my little green book, recently, I didn't even remember the dates of my grandparent's deaths.
But in my 40th year of life, my wife, Aly, and I suffered what they call "The Worst Loss". One is not supposed to compare pain and loss but no one seems to dispute this label. We joined the ranks of parents who have experienced the death of a child. With her, we lost the present as we knew it and the future that should have been. All we were left with were the memories and the worry that in time we would lose those too. Since May 3rd of 2006, remembering has become very important to me.
It has been 29 months since the death of our daughter, Micah Mei. And still, one of the hardest questions that my wife and I get asked is, "So, how many children do you have?" Such a simple question, but a devastating "catch-22" for a bereaved parent. Any hesitation tells the person that something is wrong, so in that split-second I must make a choice. Do I drop the "I have a child who died" bomb on an unsuspecting, well-meaning person or do I deny my child's very existence - failing to remember?
I believe in the power of remembering our loved ones who have died. But that makes sense: I am a Jew. I stand here today because I stand on the shoulders of millions of Jews that have come before me. As Jews, we remember, not only during the yizkor service (later this afternoon and 3 other times each year) but each week at the end of every Shabbat service - every service, in fact. And then there are the Jewish holidays - always the recounting of a story. We Jews are all about remembering.
This Beth Am community [along with amazing people from Stanford and the JCC] was there to hold us up when we could not do it ourselves. It was said that Micah had a "minion of rabbi's" at the hospital. And this amazing Beth Am clergy never said, "She is in a better place" or "God needed her more" or "Everything happens for a reason." For these things we have deep, unending gratitude.
And still, as time passes, I, as a bereaved parent, feel the pressure to "get over" my loss - get back to a normal life. There is the sense that if I continue to talk about my child that I suffer from what, in psychology, is called "unresolved grief." You know, the old woman who, decades later, is still talking about her son, Johnny, who never came home from the war. The woman who has never "gotten over it” - who has never been the same.
Which makes me think that maybe the entire Jewish people should be diagnosed with "unresolved grief", what with all that remembering. Kaddish is said by Jews EVERY SINGLE DAY. Some of my non-Jewish friends have observed, "After 1000's of years of experience, Jews really know how to do grief and death" - our Jewish ancestors discovered the power of remembering. We affirm this when we say, Zichrona Livracha – may her memory be a blessing.
I would like to spend some time remembering Micah Mei now.
To continue with the prophets theme, we chose the name Micah. That was before we opened Micah's referral envelope giving us a first glimpse of her picture and her Chinese name: Mei Ke. That's right, Mei Ke. It was "bashert" - meant to be.
She was found in Qianjiang, a city in the Sichuan province, wrapped only in an old coat. Apparently her 11 months in the orphanage were filled with sadness and tears, which is not true for all Chinese orphans. Micah had a tired sobbing wail that would burst out intermittently for almost 48 hours. And then... at the Panda zoo the next day, her Zayde worked a miracle: he made Micah laugh. It was then that we knew that it was going to be OK. That she'd accepted us as her “forever family.”
Micah loved water. In fact, after we submersed her in the Mikveh, not only did she not cry but she gave us a look that said, "let's do that again.”
She loved being outside. Micah could barely walk but she loved to dance – even learning to do “shimmy shoulders.” Every day she saved her biggest smiles for her big sister, Isaiah.
Micah was supposed to be a healthy baby, but she suffered from a seizure disorder that led to her unexpected death. We only had her in our arms for 6 months, but she is in our minds and hearts forever. This cliche is true for us AND at the heart of our conflict because she is always inside of us; but more so, as time passes, there are fewer places and times to tell Micah's story, to speak her name aloud.
There is no "getting over" my grief – no getting back to normal. The truth is that for better and for worse, burying my beloved daughter, Micah, has changed me forever. There is no cure. There is no pushing it away or avoiding it because the mind may forget but the emotions do not. Rather, I know that I must allow my emotions to flow through me. Emotions in our being, like money in an economy, must keep moving or (as we all know too well right now) the whole system could shut down – become a depression. I must feel the sorrow and the loss trusting that someday my emotions will transform.
Each night in bed, before we say the Shema, my daughter, Isaiah, and I recount a "Micah Memory."
Each week, I turn the page on my little green checkbook calendar-contacting those who have lost a loved one.
Each time, creating the time and the space for remembering.
Yom Kippur Services, Congregation Beth Am
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