During the recent shiva for my daughter, people asked questions that gave new meaning to the phrase “morbid curiosity.” Too many people chose to focus on Gavriella’s death instead of focusing on her life. The questions ranged from mildly inappropriate to absolutely-none-of-your-business, but one that came up multiple times was, “Were you expecting this?” with the implication being that if we had been expecting her death, then we were somehow prepared.
Gavriella suffered with an enduring eating disorder for 13 years, which was almost half of her abbreviated life. The eating disorder brought with it depression and suicidality. Gavriella fought like a warrior. Over the years, she had her ups and downs. Some of the downs were so low that her death was not completely unexpected. We knew that at times, her eating disorder and depression dragged her to some awful places.
But were we prepared? I think that to a degree we thought we were. We had been bracing ourselves for the impact, but there was no way to anticipate the brute force, the stunning power, or the enormity of the hit. We are reeling from the loss, and nothing could have prepared us for this degree of utter devastation and profound grief that we are feeling right now. So, if you must know, we may have been expecting this, but we were not prepared. I spent years steeling myself for the loss of Gavriella, seeing the writing on the wall, and I still wasn’t prepared. I never could be. She was my whole world.
For so long, we lived in a heightened state of fear that our daughter would take her own life, or that her eating disorder would get so extreme as to stop her heart. That threat was always there, pushing on our chests so hard at times that it was difficult to breathe, much less function. To a degree, we put on the same mask that Gavriella did, presenting an outward appearance that was wholly nonrepresentational of what was on the inside.
Every time Gavriella would be in a good place, part of me would savor it while the other part would be waiting for it all to come crashing down. If I am being honest, for me, there was no loving Gavriella during the years of her illness without experiencing pain, both the pain that she was suffering and the pain of knowing that her existence in this world was tenuous and fragile. But that child was worth all of the pain in the world, and I can say that even now, in the height of my grief.
Apparently, I am not the only writer in the family. My daughter Talia wrote a beautiful post on her Facebook page about losing her sister that I would like to share here, with her permission. The original is in Hebrew; this is my translation, with some literary license:
There are 2 types of death, sudden death and expected death. There is no better or worse. Both are awful, and both lead to the exact same result.
Expected death generally follows a long period of illness where you see a person wither before your eyes. With unexpected death, the person is just ripped away in the middle of their lifetime, without giving you the opportunity to say goodbye, without giving you the opportunity to make sure that you said “I love you” during the last conversation.
I experienced a different type of loss. I will call it a cunning and devious loss. One the one hand, I was ready for it, I have been vigilant in watching for it for many years now. After all, I saw how my sister’s illness controlled and invaded all aspects of her life. So, I knew that the day would come that I would experience this loss. It could have been in the next week, in the next 6 months, in the next 2 years, or maybe in the next decade. I lived in a sustained state of vigilance.
And since I was vigilant, I already adjusted and adapted to this reality, I learned to communicate with my sister, to love her as she was, and to understand her to the fullest possible extent, despite this sustained vigilance that was hovering over my head.
And then I received a call from my mother with the news of my sister’s death, and with that came the understanding that split my heart into a million pieces; this time, she was not coming back. This wasn’t a bad episode, or another hospitalization, or a difficult period—this time, she left us forever.
But I wasn’t ready! I had invited guests over that night, I made food, I packed my daughter’s bag for preschool the next day. I let my guard down! She was ripped from me just like that, in the prime of her life, and I wasn’t ready, despite all that vigilance.
But what difference does it make? Sudden? Expected? The bottom line is that you can never be prepared for something like this, for a loss like this, for a loved one being aggressively ripped from your life. After all, we were together since the very beginning in the womb, we were born during the same minute. We were supposed to be together forever, but my clock continues to tick while hers has stopped.
And now, what is left is sorrow, uncontrollable crying episodes that can happen at any time, and intense longing that will accompany me for the rest of my life…but I’ll be okay, I am already well skilled at adapting and adjusting.
The pain of my children is way harder for me to bear than my own. Seeing my grief reflected in my daughter’s words rips my heart out. But her ending made me smile through my tears, because that tinge of sarcasm and cynicism reminds me not only of myself, but of Gavriella as well. I could see all three of us writing a sentence like that, with just a wee touch of passive-aggressiveness and hostility embedded in a positive thought. And despite the pervasive sadness, in those final words laced with sarcasm, I feel that somehow, we will be okay.