Sherri Mandell
Sherri Mandell
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Twenty years on

We have worked hard to transcend the loss of a son murdered by terrorists, but the bull’s eye of grief and trauma at the center of everything never goes away
Koby Mandell. (courtesy)
Koby Mandell. (courtesy)

Some people think there are three kinds of time – the past, the present, and the future. But there’s another kind of time, time that exists outside of time. Time that doesn’t pass or disappear. Time that remains constant. The time that accompanies the death of a child, in our case, the murder of our son Koby, 20 years ago.

Our 13-year-old son Koby was murdered 20 years ago in Israel by terrorists.

My first born. My son.

Most days, I’m fine. And then…boom

Like this:

I am on my morning walk for clearing my head and facing the day. When I don’t walk, I feel depressed. When I do walk, I feel happy afterwards. Simple medicine. But this morning, I see a friend who I haven’t seen since corona started. She stops her car to chat. She says, “I was thinking of you.”

“Oh, why?”

“I know somebody and she is having a hard time praying.”

“And why did you think of me?”

“She lost a child.”

Oh.

I am the representative of lost children.

“I don’t know what to say to my friend,” she tells me.

“You don’t have to say anything,” I say.

I am ready to continue my walk.

And then she says the truth — “That, that whole area, it’s a different picture. It’s like a different time zone.”

Yes, I’ve been ambushed, but she’s also given me a truth. Bereaved families live in a different time zone. 20 years later. 20 years earlier. All the same.

A different time zone. A time zone that straddles this world and the world to come, heaven and hell, the earth and its black holes.

* * *

We have worked really hard to honor and transcend our loss. We created a foundation in my son’s name where, for the past 20 summers, we’ve run a sleepaway camp, Camp Koby for bereaved children, a therapeutic camp that gives kids a chance to mourn and a chance to feel happy, a chance to rejoice because they are there with people who understand them. We’ve helped thousands of children in the past two decades.

I wrote a few books, “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” “The Road to Resilience,” and my latest, “Reaching for Comfort — What I Saw, What I Learned, and How I Blew it Training as a Pastoral Counselor.” My husband and I traveled around the world speaking and fundraising.

I ran healing groups for the foundation. I learned Hebrew. My other children, thank God, grew up and we’re now grandparents. We’ve done a lot in these 20 years.

But something does not change. The bull’s eye of loss and trauma in the center of it all.

Our grief is 20 years old. That’s enough time for it to grow up and leave the house. And you know what? Usually, it does.

But there are days that it doesn’t want to leave, days I can’t escape it. Days that there’s no redemption. Days when the loss hits us like a punch to the gut. Days that remind us of the terror and horror and evil that should never be forgotten.

About the Author
Sherri Mandell is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. She is the author of the book "The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration." Her book, "The Blessing of a Broken Heart," won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. She can be reached at sherri@kobymandell.org
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