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It takes a kibbutz to mourn a child

I had known him for eight years. But the kibbutz had known him forever. And we all grieved.

The kibbutz lost one of our own last week.

Death always shows up way too early, but this was just freaking ridiculous: He was only 30.

It’s complicated – (with me, it always is) – but I knew him very well: I knew him well enough to know that when he lived in the US, he liked Steak and Endless Shrimp from Sizzler. I knew him well enough to know that he could quote an entire season of Friends (could he BE any more accurate with the comedic timing?). I knew him well enough to know that he loved watching action adventure movies with a large popcorn (extra butter) and soda (no ice), and that he would call your bluff in a poker tournament with a sardonic smile, and a “don’t fuck with me” gleam in his eye.

I knew him well enough to know that he loved his niece and nephew with a ferocity matched by their father and me. And even when his body hurt in ways that no one should ever know, when they would come running toward him with their bandy legs pounding the distance between where they had waited, and where he stood with his arms outstretched, he would bend down and lift them both high into the air.

“We’re flying! We’re flying!”

And they were.

Still, it’s murky territory when your ex husband’s brother dies.

(When a marriage implodes, the casualties are far-flung. The ex partners withdraw to lick their wounds, supported by their respective friends and family… And yet… oh, how easy it is to forget that those who support us – the family members and friends on both sides of the line – are injured as well. A truce is called, but the rules of engagement are no longer clear.)

Anyway. This isn’t about that.

It’s about this: I’ve said it before – but a kibbutz is a small town on steroids. Mayberry, only more-so, and with the threat of nuclear terrorism on a slow and steady drip. Our homes lean against each other, the walls listen and breathe. Cough once, and three people will ask you if you’ve seen the doctor. Gain five pounds, and your son’s teacher will ask you how far along you are in your pregnancy. Sure, some folks pretend not to notice the tiny changes, but most will say something when you wear a new dress at Shabbat dinner at the Hadar Ochel: “Tidhadshi! What a pretty dress!” Or when you ask for long layers but walk out of the beauty salon looking like the love child of Rachel Green circa 1994 and Hulk Hogan: “Don’t worry. It’ll grow.”

I guess it’s a matter of survival – even the families that haven’t spoken in two generations, deep down have each other’s back.

And so it is – for worse: At the park: “Why isn’t your son wearing socks?” Or at the cafe: “Oh, you’re having another hafuch? Did you get a raise?” Or at the clinic loud enough for our cousins 232 kilometers in Beirut to hear: “No. We don’t carry the Morning After Pill. Don’t you want more kids?”

But mostly it’s for the better – At the grocery store: “When is your dad coming to visit?” Or near the main gate: “Do you need a ride?”

Or outside the gan the morning after my ex husband’s brother died, when the news had already trickled out like water from the dripline sprinklers in the eggplant fields, I walked outside and the guy cutting the grass turned off the lawn mower, took off his gloves, and gave me a hug that smelled like sweat and sun and springtime.

I walked twenty steps, and another person hugged me.

And then another.

And another and another and another and another.

The kibbutz breathed more slowly, moved more slowly, was more slowly than it had been the day before.

I had known him for eight years. But the kibbutz had known him forever. And we all grieved.

It wasn’t like this when my mom died.

I remember walking up the street to CVS to buy sunglasses to hide my baggy, bloodshot eyes. (Jackie O wore a big black veil. I was going to wear big black sunglasses.) The last time I had been at CVS, I had carried out a large value pack of chocolate flavored Ensure for my Mom. (“It tastes like chalk, but it’s the only thing I can swallow.”) I thought about the 11 cans left from the 12-pack I had brought home while I walked up the aisle in the cosmetics section (“Honey, are you sure you want to get that lipstick? It’s a little dark for you, and you’re much prettier without it.”) And then down the hair care aisle (“Saraleh, your hair is beautiful. Why do you want to ruin it with all that Sun-In?”)

Jeez. Who knew Memory Lane had flourescent lights and a Kenny G soundtrack.

Grief has no sense of timing. I didn’t have my Funeral Sunglasses, and heavy tears rolled down my cheeks.

“My mom just died,” I said out loud to the stock clerk stacking Depends.

“My Mom just died,” I said again to the old woman reaching for the Advil.

“My Mom just died,” I told the man at the checkout stand, as I left CVS empty-handed.

I walked home.

No one hugged me, or stopped me to ask why I was doing the ugly cry down Sepulveda Boulevard.

But here it’s different. Here, everyone stops each other and everyone says “How does something like this happen?” and everyone hugs everyone else because we’re all grieving in varying degrees.

Here, we set grudges aside long enough to show up at a funeral and sit shiva, and even when life kind of sort of returns to normal, we’ve been humbled and softened, and we’re kinder to each other, at least for a while. “Only simchas” we tell ourselves, even though we know that our mettle is tested and proven during these moments of complete and utter suckage, during these moments when it would be realllllllllllllly nice to be an atheist, during these moments when we learn to lean on each other so that others can lean on us.

And here, there are no questions when you forget what you’re saying mid-sentence when the words hang and drift off,  or when you lose your patience over something stupid and snap at one of the other mothers at the park, or when the tears drip down your face and onto the ground. Here, you don’t need big black Funeral Sunglasses to hide your bloodshot eyes.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.