I mourn my son Ariel z”l every single day and require no Azkara to remind me. But on this evening of the seventh Azkara, I mourn the loss of my son with the shadow of the slaughter of “השבת השחורה” hovering over us. Today, I hold these crushing losses – the personal and the national, so different in magnitude and context, side by side. גם וגם – October 7 and 7 years – a connection of calamity.
Ariel, your decision to end your pain by suicide left us shattered, and in unending anguish. I try to forgive you, knowing that you suffered greatly from a cancer of the soul. At the time, I simply could not grasp the anxiety and depression that tormented you, and I am not sure I understand it today, seven years later. On some days, my mind tells me that you had a disease and that I did all that I could to help you. But on other days my heart tells me that I could have and should have been a better father, and that you, dear son, despite your terrible illness, could have done better, too. Forgiveness does not come easy for me. Over time, I hope and pray that I will slowly learn to forgive you, and to forgive myself. But Suicide is a damn hard thing to process, and I won’t apologize for my raw feelings.
After losing his son Barak z”l to suicide, my friend Alan asked me: “How do you get up in the morning? How do you survive?”
I told him that I would never be healed, but that there was a healing process. What I did not tell Alan was that this process has been a long and arduous one, filled with endless falls, tears, anguish, anger, and guilt – and a yearning that rips my heart. I knew that he would figure that out on his own. I also did not tell him that I wake up every single morning thinking for a fraction of a second that reality might be different, before realizing that it is not… Sadly, I sense that in the wake of October 7th, many, many more of us, and indeed we as a nation, will now wake up the same way –wishing that reality were different, before realizing that our lives have been altered forever.
So, I ride, I write, I take photos and love my G & T and scotch. I experience profound joy spending time with my family and friends. I find solace sitting at Mitzpe Ariel or riding my bike in the mountains, thinking about nature, God or the mystery of a beautiful flower that I had never contemplated before Ariel’s death. But life will never be the same since losing you, Ariel. I’ll share with you an anecdote to illustrate one facet of our connection.
Baseball, and our support for our beloved Yankees, always connected us. In 2003, when Ariel was ten, we stayed up all night watching the Yankees – Red Sox playoff game. At around 6 am, the Yankees hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning, and I remember the two of us jumping up and down, screaming again and again together: “The Yankees are going to the World Series!” In this moment of simple joy, I hugged Ariel tightly and told him: “This is why baseball is the American Pastime and a metaphor for life – you never give up, you always believe in yourself and your team, and you keep playing to the final out –because you always have a chance to make a comeback.” To which my dear 10-year-old boy responded: “Abba – stop hugging me so hard – and what is a metaphor!?
At the time, I had no idea how profoundly complicated and difficult mental illness is for so many people. Mental illness is not a game; it is a debilitating disease and not everyone has the strength to ride through, to keep going, to make a comeback. For our brothers and sisters who were slaughtered on October 7, and for the soldiers who have fallen, there are no extra innings, no chance for a comeback – no hafugah.
The personal and national loss now reside side by side in my heart. But though my heart is deeply scarred, it is not broken. I will continue to ride through, and Israel as a country will ultimately prevail. My son, though, will not. His game ended seven years ago and no words, no Azkara, no prayers, and not even hugs can change this painful reality.
I wish I could hug you just one more time, Ariel, and watch just one more Yankee game with you. Alas, baseball in many ways really is a metaphor for life – one should always strive to ride through, but also have compassion for those who cannot. For some people like my dear son, the game just ends and there is no next season.