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Jason Bourne and mental illness

Since Ariel died by suicide, he has been trying to live his life and manage the tsunami waves of pain

Last night, from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m., I watched one of the Jason Bourne movies for the fifth time since the day my son Ariel z”l died by suicide. Ten years ago, a mere two months after Ariel z”l won the National Judo Championship in Israel for 14-year olds, in his age group, we watched the “Bourne Identity,” in East Hampton, where we were visiting my parents. I thought that the action-packed movie might lift his spirits a little, because he seemed a bit lost. Instead, tears rolled down his handsome and strong cheeks, as he curled up in pain. Now, I was at a loss and didn’t really understand his pain. I’ve tried to understand Ariel’s z”l pain the past 10 years. His pain ended six and a half months ago, but for me, and so many others, the pain of his loss intensifies each day.

Since Ariel’s z”l death, I’ve chosen to live and even enjoy life, but within the context of an incessant and ubiquitous pain. Sheryl Sandberg defined this as “Option B” in her powerful book about living life with pain, after her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. I have learned the past few months that the time between the tsunami-like waves lengthens, but when it hits; it hits hard.

Recently, we made a shivah call, and learned about someone’s battle with manic depression, periods of hospitalization and the deadening impact medication had on the quality of life. The waves started to get stronger as soon as I left the house. The noise in my brain was loud. I wrote about Ariel’s z” l “noisy brain” in my eulogy when he tried to help me understand what it’s like to live with OCD. He compared my one-step split second decision to have a cup of coffee to his decision-making process. “Should I have coffee? Should I have it now? If I have it now, it will affect me ‘x’ way, if I have it later, it will affect ‘y’ way. Should I have the coffee in a glass cup or in a coffee mug? What should I put in the coffee? Should I eat something with the coffee? What should I eat? Paleo says to eat this, this nutritionist says to eat that, but the enzymes in my body are affecting my bowel movements. Abba, I’m exhausted, while you are just relaxed drinking your damn coffee. Can you begin to understand my screwed-up life, Abba?”

I tried, very hard, and I am still trying to understand. I often don’t succeed. After Ariel’s z” l friends, who bring me so much solace when there is no solace, visited us on his birthday, I went to Ariel’s z”l grave and shouted at him, “You had — have — so many people who loved you.” I didn’t say this lovingly. I said it out of anguish, despair and a desperate attempt to understand his decision to end his life.

As the wave subsided at 3:00 a.m., after the conclusion of the Jason Bourne movie, I think I gained some understanding. Ariel z”l was determined never to be hospitalized and felt that the medications weren’t helping and that new medications would turn him into a walking pharmacy. He was afraid of being deadened; numb. So Ariel z”l chose his own option — to end his pain on his terms.

In all of the Jason Bourne movies, Bourne fights fiercely for his independence and dignity. Ariel z”l was a fighter, my own special champion. But when he felt that he couldn’t fight anymore, he chose to end his movie.

I so wish that Ariel z”l would have chosen differently. And even though I will probably never fully understand, I promise that next time I visit Ariel’s z”l grave, I will tell him in a more loving voice, “So many people love you and always will.”

About the Author
Meir Charash, originally from Fair Lawn New Jersey, made Aliyah to Israel 37 years ago. In 1979, Meir acquired a B.S. in Business Management, majoring in organizational management, from Boston University and a MSW in 1984 in Group and Community Work from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work (WSSW) at Yeshiva University. Meir worked as a community worker in Beit Shemesh and in Jerusalem, was the Director of the Israel Office of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia for 19 years providing fiduciary oversight to donor funds and facilitating Israel – Diaspora relations. Meir’s expertise is in the area of community building, fundraising and organizational behavior. In addition to supervising Wurzweiler social students, Meir worked as Faculty Advisor and Coordinator of the Israel Block Program from 2010 to 2017. Meir is married with three children and resides in Armon HaNatziv, Jerusalem. He is a certified fitness trainer, Thai massage therapist and an avid mountain bike rider having participated for nine years in the Alyn Charity Bike Ride for the Children of the Alyn Rehabilitation Hospital and in two races, the “Epic,” and “Sovev Arava”. Meir served in the armored forces for a year and a half and 15 years in reserve duty.
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