Almost three and a half years ago I was thrown into the world of the grieving parent. At the time, I was in a highly alert state, taking words that were said to me and dissecting them one by one. Sometimes people said things that I found confusing, and maybe even hurtful. I started reading…
On Thursday, my American friends will be enjoying Thanksgiving with their families. I will be on a train to Montreal. When I get there I will be celebrating the first night of Channukah. It is the only time these holidays have ever coincided. This year Channukah is going to be different than all other years.
One of the lessons of Channukah I have learned over the years, is the significance and importance of one little light. We all experience potential life changing moments. It is a moment of inspiration that gives us the desire to make ourselves better people or simply to make a change in part of our lives. After a few hours, days or sometimes weeks that feeling fades and we go back to our old routines. It is how our friends and family can go back to their regular lives, while we remain in grief for the loss of our babies who never even had a chance to try to fulfill the hopes and dreams we had for them.
At the end of the day it is the small flame of caring, kindness and friendship that we experience on a day to day basis that makes our lives better. Those small acts don’t fade away as quickly. There is a song by The Fountainheads that I find inspiring with this message. I would also like to recognize some of the acts of kindness I have experienced in the past almost 3 years.
When the pregnancy hit 32 weeks we thought we were in the safe zone. We went out and bought a stroller and brought up some of Channah’s baby stuff from storage. It was the first time we brought baby stuff into our apartment. 4 days later Gabi died from a true knot in the umbilical cord.
We called my wife Rachel’s Aunt and Uncle (our closest relatives here). They managed to make it to the hospital in what seemed to be half the time it should take to get there from where they lived. We called our Rabbi. About half an hour later we realized we had a ton of questions for him. When I called him back he told me that he was just parking the car and would be with us shortly. Other friends made all the baby stuff in the apartment disappear before I got home that night, including returning the stroller. They also arranged for weekly cleaning help for two months.
Channah had a sleepover with other friends. They were there to comfort her as I shared the news over the phone because I wouldn’t have a chance to tell her in person. There were many visitors in the hospital. When Rachel came home we had visitors in our home similar to a Shiva (house of mourning). For a while meals were sent in just as would be done with any other mother who had given birth.
If you go to the military cemeteries here, you will find mothers who spend all day everyday at the cemetery mourning for their lost son or daughter. They bring a chair, food and an umbrella to protect them from the elements. They have become so consumed by their grief that they are unable to care for their living family. Although she tried to fight it, this is the type of grief Rachel had. The biggest difference was there was no cemetery for her to spend her days.
Eventually we found the right Psychologist and Therapist to help her with the depression. We didn’t know how we were going to take on such a huge expense. Then from an unexpected place came the person who Rachel would refer to as her ‘Guardian Angel’. Someone she had never met in real life offered to cover these extra expenses for the first little while. It was a huge relief. As time went on there were good days and bad days. When the depression hit the lowest of the low, some really good friends were able to pull her out even if it was just for a few hours or days. It was those friends that can take credit for saving Rachel’s life on many occasions.
Then there was the morning Rachel didn’t wake up. The ambulance dispatcher told me to get a neighbour to help move her body to the floor. It wasn’t even 7am yet, so I called a friend who was also studying to be a nurse. All I said was “I need you here, now!” She came over right away. Somehow she managed to get Channah out of the apartment, ready for school, brought her too school and return to offer comfort and support in those first few hours. The Rabbi came over right away. He helped play translator during the police interview, while dealing with the paramedics and funeral arrangements. A team of people were cleaning my apartment that had fallen apart from Rachel’s two year battle with depression. The school sent over two psychologists to guide me through what needed to be done to look after Channah.
An organization brought in a high priced lawyer that I met outside the court house to stop an autopsy from taking place. Rachel’s Mother, Brother, Sister and a cousin within a few hours of hearing the news were on the way to the airport to make it to the funeral which had been delayed a day for their arrival. They only stayed until the next day when my parents arrived to provide support for the next three weeks.
Channah stayed home during the week of Shiva. Her teachers came to the apartment about 3 or 4 times a day, each time bringing 4 or 5 kids for Channah to play with. There were people who made sure meals were taken care of, as well as people checking in from time to time to make sure I was OK. For the first week I had a rotation of friends sleeping on my couch so I wouldn’t be alone. Channah has been going on weekly sleepovers, allowing me to play hockey and softball. For a time I had a teenager coming over once a week to give me an hour out of the house at night. One of the local charitable organizations has provided access to their Financial Planner as well as a Professional Organizer. The two of them have been key to getting my life back on track.
Again as time went on and people went back to their normal lives my support network slowly backed off. It allowed (in some cases forced) me to get back on my feet and start taking care of my own life. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish.
In the middle of the night, when Channah was asleep and my loneliness was at it’s strongest, I had one more small light to brighten my life. This song by Great Big Sea does at a great job of describing that moment.
I turned to an old friend an ocean away for support and comfort. As time went by my pain and grief shifted in to a burning desire to rebuild my life. I leaned on different people who I could lean on for different types of help. Especially at first, each step forward was incredibly hard. Every step of the way my friend was there to lean on at the other end of the telephone. Like a fire, that small spark that inspired me to keep going grew stronger and stronger.
On Thursday, I will be on a train to Montreal because on Sunday I will see my friend who has been a little light in the darkest days of my life. She will be wearing a wedding dress as Peri and I take the next step in building a family together.