From our first Yom HaZikaron in Israel, I told my kids: “I don’t ever want to sit in the middle section during the memorial service with families of soldiers killed in the line of duty. Be safe when you are a soldier — don’t act rashly.” Well, my kids obliged. I do not sit in the middle section.
That said, my youngest followed my request to letter of the law — but not in the spirit. What do I mean? Well, he is still alive, thank G-d, but he is not the child I knew. Netanel suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when a terrorist shot him in the head while he was on guard duty.
No, we did not go through the gut-wrenching heartbreak of a funeral, shiva, and other mourning practices for our son, and frankly, I don’t know how any parent is able to survive that. We don’t have a yearly azkara, but we know the date when our lives were forever changed. I visit Netanel nearly every day and love being with him. His friends visit him. He joins the family for Shabbat meals (even though he is fed through a stomach tube). He listens. He tries to communicate. But he is not the young man I sent to the army, and probably never will be.
Before the terror attack that nearly ended his life and killed two of his fellow soldiers, I asked him what he wanted to do after the army. He told me he wasn’t sure — but I am positive that his dreams didn’t include recovering from a TBI and being labeled as “100+ injured.” Now his job is rehabilitation: learning how to do the simplest tasks, like breathing and swallowing independently. Who knew that swallowing, which a newborn baby does instinctively, is so complicated?
I work hard to make sure my life is not spent wallowing in grief for who my son was. Instead, I advocate for him to ensure that he gets the best help and therapy available.
So as Yom HaZikaron approaches, I am faced with a jumble of emotions. While I thank G-d that I am not sitting in that middle section with families whose sons made the ultimate sacrifice, I do grieve. I grieve for my son who is not the same as he was, and who will likely endure a lifetime of therapy to regain a bit of his former self.