This weekend I accompanied a dear friend to the cemetery to pay respects to the infant son he buried nearly seventeen years ago. We snuck onto the grounds (it was both Yom Kippur and Shabbat: two days during which cemeteries are “closed”) in the company of many other folks feeling the same pull to visit those that they had lost. As we made our way towards the back, we read the names on the headstones commenting on how long some had lived, how soon others had been taken. We noticed familial names that we recognized (if even in just a general Jewish way) and those which smacked of times gone by: Esthers, Hymans, Sauls and Bessies. We kept our eyes to the ground, searching for stones to leave so that Zachary would know that he had been visited and that he had not been forgotten. When I spied one under some dirt that could almost have passed for a heart I picked it up and cleaned it off fondling it in my hand, attempting a shine, as we made our way through the grounds.
It happened to be a beautiful day with a gentle breeze, the heat and humidity that had blanketed us for the prior several days gone. The sky was clear and the walk helped to clear our heads as we neared Zachary’s stone which lay, quietly and unobtrusively, surrounded by others who had lived long, and one can hope, full lives.
At the time of his death, I did not know Zachary nor did I know his father. He lived just three days. Yesterday his father spoke to him with an undeniable love, his voice periodically cracking yet strong and steadfast. He told his son how deeply he is missed and loved while assuring him that he would never be forgotten and that he had, in his short life, made his father want to be a better man.
I stood alongside him silently in a show of moral support but with the profound understanding that I could not begin to imagine his pain.
I often, on these pages, rant, rave and carry on about the frustrations of raising an outside-the-box kinda kid like Jess. I complain, I whine, I lament, I opine and I bitch. I too often take for granted that I am able to see her, talk to her, watch her successes (and failures) and am never forced to wonder what might have been. I am afforded the opportunity to appreciate the horrid experience for what it will teach me as a parent, a person. I am able to hug her after I yell at her, I can boast of her accomplishments and can (at least try to) eschew her shenanigans. Yes, she can be nearly impossible at times, but I am afforded the opportunity to walk alongside her when she is, knowing that there are many times that she is not.
It was not just Zachary who died on his third day of life. His father lost a bit of his spirit that day. He has worked hard to channel it into his two young sons, loving them with all his being. He strives not to be the perfect father, but the best father he can be. He has made a choice to carry on, not forgetting Zachary, rather making sure his short life is not forgotten.
I needed that shake-up, that glimpse outside of myself.
In the Jewish calendar we are starting a new year. We have asked for forgiveness for our sins and transgressions. We are starting fresh, working towards being the best versions of ourselves. We are taking a collective breath and working hard to appreciate how fortunate we are in the many ways that we are afforded the opportunity to be a part of the process of life.
It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is so damned hard that it seems impossible. I always say, “You/I can do this”. If we are being honest, I don’t always quite believe that to be true. Zachary is with me now…reminding me that it is.