My childhood friend’s child died suddenly and tragically, and I can’t seem to think about anything else.
Thanksgiving has just ended, and Chanukah is a week away, but I can’t shake the image of the bright light that was just snuffed out, and the unspeakable pain of her parents and siblings.
With little else that we could do, more than 100 of us gathered at JFK Airport to say tehillim — psalms — just before the family and the casket boarded their flight to Israel for burial and shiva (the traditional seven-day period of mourning). Mirrored in the faces around me, I saw the same feelings of helplessness, sadness, and shock that I was feeling. Family members and friends looked drained, with red, puffy eyes, expressing grief of unspeakable proportions. We stood under rain-drenched skies for which our umbrellas were no match. I heard the loud sobs of her peers, friends that had come to say a final goodbye and to watch as her casket was loaded onto the plane.
We said tehillim, bidding her farewell and wishing her a peaceful journey. The skies seemed to be crying along with us.
Sadly, this is not my first friend to lose a child. Each time an untimely death occurs, the tragedy feels like an electric current coursing through my veins, transmitting a shock that won’t dissipate. The injustice shrieks out at me. Why her? Why so young? And the agony of the family haunts me.
The randomness of this tragedy is jarring. It disrupts my life and that of our community. We who know the family all seem to be walking around in a daze, confused and disoriented. This is not the normal way of the world. Children are supposed to bury parents. It is not supposed to happen the other way around.
Recently there has been a spate of national disasters resulting in a tremendous loss of life. Hurricane Maria led to an estimated 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico, and the California Camp Fire had a death toll of 87, with dozens still unaccounted for. Yet for me and those in my community, the untimely death of one young woman is all-consuming and feels too much to bear. I understand anew the meaning of the verse in the Talmud, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.”
Judaism teaches that at death the soul departs the body, but it hovers nearby and is fully aware of everything that happens. We therefore do not leave the body unattended but rather provide shmira — a constant guard, as for something precious — in an attempt to offer dignity and respect to the deceased. By guarding and saying tehillim it is believed that we also are providing great comfort to the soul.
May it be so, that her soul finds peace and that the family finds comfort among the mourners of Zion.
Accompanying the family and the casket to JFK provided a small measure of comfort to us, her neighbors and friends. It was the last act that we could do before her casket was loaded onto the plane and the gate closed shut, leaving us outside in the rain.
My friend’s daughter always had a smile and a twinkle in her eye. She was genuinely interested in everyone, in helping others, and hearing what others had to say.
Let us all try to be more like Katie.
Tani Foger, Ed.D, LPC
Founder of “Let’s Talk” Guidance Workshops
for Conquering the Challenges in our Lives
She can be reached at DrFoger@gmail.com