In my previous blog posting, I shared some of the inspiring lessons that the newest “families of the bereaved” might learn from several bereaved parents who lost daughters and sons to terror-related attacks during the Second Intifada. These three families – Arnold and Frimet Roth, Sherri and Seth Mandell, and Amin Hassan – have demonstrated incredible resilience, strength, and determination and have turned their grief into doing good for others, turning the most negative episode in their lives into something infinitely positive. They have responded to pain and suffering by building, growing, making meaning out of suffering, and choosing life.
To fill the big holes in their hearts created by their losses, these parents have channeled their grief, pain, anger, and helplessness into life-affirming activities of remembrance, education, and activism, honoring the memories of their beloved children and truly making a difference in their lives and the lives of others. They have found meaning in their suffering by creating foundations to help other families and by speaking out to educate others and build public awareness about the impact of terrorism. Through these acts of healing others, over time, these bereaved parents heal their own hearts and souls, and leave a legacy for future generations.
The three bereaved parents in this posting – Iris Yihichya, Chana Nathansen, and Elaine Hoter – have learned how to “live next to” and “move forward with” their feelings of grief, pain, and helplessness. They share their creative interventions through art and writing to help others, especially children cope with bereavement.
Yafit Harenstein was murdered by a terrorist’s bullets, protecting her husband and two young daughters. Her mother, Iris Yihichya, discovered that she could express her own feelings of grief and hope through drawing and painting and now teaches art-therapy classes to children, sharing with them how to get the pain out from deep inside, learn to live next to it, and find the light at the end of the tunnel. She named her recent art exhibition Tzemicha v’Pericha – Growing and Blossoming.
Chana Nathansen is writing a book about her family’s struggle with the traumatic experience of the suicide bombing of the Children’s Bus on their way home from the Kotel. The book is meant as a proper memorial for her daughter Tehilla killed in the bombing and other victims of terror and “to increase awareness so that people will be more sensitive after a crisis.” Chana also shared her love for writing and her understanding of its power with her then six-year-old daughter to help her deal with the loss of her sister through creative expression.
Similarly, Elaine Hoter, whose son Gavriel was killed when terrorists infiltrated his yeshiva, helps other families cope with bereavement. Elaine wrote a children’s book, My brother was…, to help other children who have lost a brother, like her four year old son, cope with loss and mourning. The book tells the story through her young son’s eyes – everything he went through and the stages that children go through – things they normally can’t talk about with their parents because parents don’t understand what they are going through.
Unfortunately, twelve years later, with the current situation in Israel, many young children are seeing their parents, sisters, brothers, friends, and even strangers going to war, and sometimes not coming back, or victims of indiscriminate terror or rocket attacks. Their parents and other family members must grapple with how to help these children cope with horrible news, especially while they, at the same time, try to work through their own anxiety, pain, and grief.
I recently asked Elaine Hoter, as an educator and as a bereaved mother who has been there, how other parents and educators should handle these difficult conversations. She advised: “On the one hand we want to encourage empathy in our children with the victims and the families and make them feel part of our nation, but on the other hand we don’t want to scare the children and cause bad dreams and fear.”
Elaine continued: “I think the key is that you don’t have to tell the children everything. Keep out the graphic details. Paint a picture that we have a strong army and security forces – policemen, security officers, etc. – who do everything possible to keep us all safe. There is a difference when the child is directly affected by the event, if they were a witness to an attack or it happened within their family circle. As with adults each child has their way of coping, some like to hear stories, others like to listen to music or use clay to show their feelings or paint. As parents, we often know which is the best means for each of our children to cope with the trauma.”
Each of these three bereaved mothers discovered her own creative way to meaningfully recognize and memorialize a beloved child, as well as the means to help other traumatized children cope with their losses. By sharing their stories, it is my hope that the newest families of the bereaved – the families of the three yeshiva boys who were kidnapped and brutally murdered, the 65 IDF soldiers and officers killed in Operation Protective Edge, and the nine other individuals killed by Palestinian violence and terrorism this summer – will be inspired to find the strength to move forward and find their own paths to lightness through similar or other life-affirming activities, making a difference in their lives and the lives of others.