“God is good”, you hear people say when things go their way, as though this mythological entity of questionable existence has allegedly made the decision to intervene and bestow moments of goodness in the lives of a blessed, chosen few. I don’t believe that God exists, but if I did, I would probably agree with my late mother, who – robbed by ALS of her ability to speak or eat – confided in me last year (using a text-to-speech app on the iPad that never left her side) that she believed in God, but that she did not believe he was benevolent. Less than six weeks later, she was gone – taken not by the ALS, but rather by an exceptionally aggressive bout with ovarian cancer that took us all by surprise and turned our world upside down.
It is difficult for me to accept the notion of a deity who may be charitably benevolent under extraordinarily mundane circumstances, while denying that same benevolence to others – even when lives are at stake. How can your God be good if he is seemingly charitable on a whim, yet indifferent – sometimes brutally – to suffering? If God existed, why would he rally behind you to ensure that you get something relatively trivial, while at the same time suddenly take the life of a father of three young children, a father who lost his own father only two weeks earlier? What kind of “good” God does something like that?
Your God is not good when refugees are suspiciously seen as terrorists instead of victims of war.
Your God is not good when hate so often seems to be on the verge of trumping love, when there are those who judge people by the color of their skin, their religion, their country of origin or their sexual orientation.
Your God is not good when he drowns a family in grief and then plunges them in even deeper, or when he seals a woman’s fate with one terrifyingly crushing disease but destroys her with another.
And do not speak to me of your God’s master plan or tell me that everything happens for a reason, for I can think of no valid reason for your God to wreak such havoc and devastation. I can think of no sane reason for children to suffer the heart-shattering loss of their father while grieving the loss of their grandfather, or for their grandmother to bury her husband and son within two weeks of one another. I find no comfort in master plans of bilious darkness or senseless loss, in destructive chaos and stolen innocence. If there is a comfort to be found, it is in the beauty of selfless deeds and acts of kindness; it is in the love we share and the space we hold for others in times of need – or in the space they hold for us.
If your God was truly good, I would like to think that he would not be so selective in his benevolence. I believe in benevolence, but I do not believe in God. Instead, I choose the tangible goodness of friends, loved ones and strangers. It is these blessed beings who truly accompany us during our journey, celebrating our joys and supporting us through our sorrows, helping to collect the shards of broken lives strewn about amidst a clutter of unanswered prayers.by Liza Rosenberg
On February 29th, my mother passed away following a brief battle with ovarian cancer. This is the eulogy I wrote, which was read during the memorial service by my parents’ rabbi.
There is something surreal in preparing for a journey whose sole purpose revolves around saying goodbye to one’s parent. My father and Josh called, and Dad prefaced our discussion by asking if Yogev was within earshot. I quickly entered the bedroom and closed the door behind me, sinking down on the bed as my mind began to race, processing the words I was hearing – “Mom”, “cancer”, “back”, “aggressive”, “hospice”… No one could say how much time was left. Days? Weeks? A month or more? As a family, we agonized. Tickets were purchased, and as I tried to pack for a month’s stay in Sarasota, it dawned on me that I needed to pack something to wear to a funeral. Not only that, but I also had to remind Danny that when he’d start packing for himself and Yogev, he would have to do the same for them.
And with all of this going on, I was in turmoil and I was heartbroken. My mom was dying. My mom, who had spent the last two years battling a slowly progressing case of ALS, was given the opportunity to avoid being utterly ravaged by one monstrous disease in favor of a different one that would take her more quickly and relatively more mercifully. She grabbed it, and I understood completely. After nearly 76 years of life, she made the brave choice of one tragic death over another.
And what a life it was! A wonderful husband, amazing children – in my opinion, anyway – and incredible, beautiful grandchildren – and that’s a fact.
When I think about my mom’s role in my childhood, it makes me smile. She was the one who spent hours throwing a baseball back and forth with me in the street on Rosehill Blvd, at a time when it was still a dead end and there were very few cars to disturb us. Together, we spent hours and hours at the public library downtown, happily staggering out with armloads of books. She organized the most creative birthday parties and made the best Halloween costumes. One year, at the height of the first Star Wars craze back in the late 70s, my mom even turned me into R2-D2 – a tradition we’ve managed to carry into the present as Yogev prepares to dress up as Kylo Ren for Purim this year, after dressing as Anakin Skywalker last year. Clearly, the force is strong in our family…
I moved to Israel shortly before marrying Danny, and we usually saw my parents twice a year for several weeks at a time. Before Yogev was born, they started coming to Israel less frequently because the trip was a difficult one. Once he came along, though, they began to make annual visits again – which they did until my mother was diagnosed with ALS.
Yogev loved spending time with his grandparents – and they with him. Spending time with Grandma meant art projects, fun activities and outings – everything from sculpting side-by-side in sculpture class, to line dancing across the living room, to Easter egg hunts in Sarasota whenever Passover vacation conveniently coincided with Easter, and so much more. Hands down, though, our absolute favorite activity to do with my mom was puppy hugging at the Southeastern Guide Dogs facility just north of Sarasota. My mom always loved dogs, and passed this love down to me. I, in turn, passed it on to Yogev. We LOVED going puppy hugging. Yogev and I would happily join the circle of people sitting on the floor while Mom and Dad would sit on a nearby bench. Mom and Dad got it right though, for while we would sit there trying to entice each puppy to play as they ran and tumbled around us in a blur, kindly volunteers would inevitably bring a puppy or two over to my parents so they could get some quality puppy time as well – without having to work for it at all!
Nearly every item of clothing I’ve purchased over the years was tried on and acquired with my mother by my side. Every visit to Sarasota (and to Schenectady before that) always involved several outings for shopping, which sometimes resulted in a look of disbelief from my father as we’d walk into the house, arms laden with shopping bags. For him, shopping always meant that when you needed something specific, you’d go to the store, find what you were looking for, buy it and come home. Mom and I would roll our eyes when Dad would ask what we were going to shop for and head out. And while I know that shopping may sound like a rather mundane, unexciting activity, those were also the times that allowed us to have our one-on-one conversations. Those moments comprised such a big part of the quality time we shared, and it’s going to be so strange to visit those same shops on my own. I’ll do it though. Not only because I know she’d want me to keep doing something that we enjoyed doing together; I’m also reasonably certain that the last thing she’d want would be for me to have to walk around without any clothes, so… Right, Mom?
And now, all of a sudden. It’s all come to a screeching halt. There will be no more Easter egg hunts and no more sculpture classes. No more line dancing across the living room filled with your artwork. No more shopping together or visits to the theater. There will be an empty space on the bench when we go puppy hugging – which we will, of course, continue to do. But most of all, there will be no more pain for you, and that’s the most important thing. The only wish I’ve made on every first star in the sky has finally come true – you’re finally free from all the pain and suffering of the past two years. Danny, Yogev and I love you so much, Mom, and we’re really going to miss you.by Liza Rosenberg
You would think that after 13 years, my coping skills would be better. And yet, here I am once again, just a few days shy of January 20th, the anniversary of our firstborn’s passing, quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) struggling to maintain the remaining shreds of my sanity through wave after wave of wildly unpredictable emotions.
Some years, it passes by smoothly and practically unnoticed. Other years are harder. Last year was especially rough. As I awaited the upcoming release of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery”, which contained a story I’d written about our loss (coming with its own set of mixed emotions), I was blindsided by the news that a good friend lost her three-year-old daughter in an accident. On its own, the news would certainly have sent me reeling, but combined with what I was feeling over my own impending milestone date, I quickly found myself engulfed in raw, searing, emotional anguish that I hadn’t felt in years. My old wounds had been unexpectedly ripped open, and I wasn’t sure if the agony I was feeling was more for my friend or for myself. As I tried to be there for her, I worked very hard at trying not to let her or most people know just how bad off I was. I don’t know if I succeeded or not.by Liza Rosenberg
For me, one of the most remarkable aspects of Facebook is that it provides so many of us with an opportunity to come full circle; to reach beyond the relatively shallow aspects of our former, younger selves and build on the positive aspects of the relationships of our youth. We have, hopefully, shed our bitchy, divisive teenage angst and injected wisdom and maturity accumulated during the years that have passed, allowing these relationships to grow on new, wonderful levels. Perhaps you weren’t friendly with everyone back in the day, but to a certain degree, each individual played a role in the tapestry of our formative years – loving us, hating us or not knowing we existed, with a never-ending palette of grey shades in between.
As a member of such a community, I feel very blessed. I am often in awe of how we have come together with a unity that deserves to be celebrated, despite the time gone by and the great physical distances between us. I am encouraged by our collective urge to reach out to one another as adults and the desire to cast aside our childhood differences and form friendships with those who knew us when.
My friend A is one of those. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
The time difference between Israel and the East Coast of the United States is seven hours, which means that I woke up yesterday morning to learn that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US forces at some point during the night. This being the age of new media, it’s probably not terribly surprising to anyone that I discovered this bit of news via my Facebook feed (with Lisa Goldman having the dubious distinction of being the bearer of such tidings, since her status update was the first one I read). The news websites confirmed the information that my Facebook friends (and indeed, my Twitter feed as well) were sharing – some rather giddily, and the images I saw on television shortly thereafter showed Americans in front of the White House celebrating and singing.
I didn’t cheer, nor did I jump for joy or break into spontaneous singing of a national anthem. I wasn’t sorry to hear the news, but I also found it distasteful to watch people joyously celebrating someone’s death, and in the same raucous manner that one might celebrate a major sports victory. I can’t share the view of some of my friends who believe his death was wrong, or that he should have been brought to justice instead. I think that sometimes, as disturbing as this type of retribution might be, it may be the most sensible response to a situation whose components defy the most basic elements of logic, reason and humanity that most people hold dear, regardless of nationality, religion or any other circumstances that define who we are as individuals and members of the human race. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
It was the hardest telephone call I’d ever had to make. “He’s gone,” I said quietly. “It’s over.” I could hear my father’s sharp intake of breath, followed by a choked sob. From my mother I heard nothing. Sitting on the narrow bed in our spartan hospital apartment with my husband by my side, I proceeded to convey the news to my parents that their six-month-old grandson had died.
The days and weeks that followed would pass in a blur, and the only thing I could recall from the funeral was the way my friend Grace grasped my hand so very tightly, and how grateful I was that she did so. I remember the friends who came to our home during the traditional week of mourning, and I remember wondering whether I’d ever be able to smile or laugh again. At the time, it seemed unimaginable. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
When day is done
I shall not weep
I’ll close my eyes
And try to sleep
Try not to think
Of days long gone
Try not to think
Of special songs
Try not to think
Of games we played
Try not to think
Or be afraid
To live my life
Without you here
To wait in vain
You won’t appear
Except in dreams
I see your face
And so I wait
For sleep’s embrace
This coming January will mark eleven years since we lost our first son, and while the brunt of this tragic episode is long behind us, I suspect that the repercussions will last forever. There will always be little reminders, times when I will be taken by surprise, moments that will cause me to hesitate, to pause before reacting. I am at a loss as to how to respond when a Facebook quiz asks about the birth of my first child, and innocuous, innocent questions leave me lost in thought. Sometimes, it is simply easier to maintain a certain degree of levity through denial than to complicate things with the truth.
That’s not to say, of course, that the birth and subsequent death of our first child is a secret. It just means that I often find myself having to decide whether or not disclosure is appropriate in different situations. It means that some of my friends are aware of the difficult, painful path we traveled while other friends are not. Again, it isn’t a secret, just a story that has yet to be told. There is a time and a place for everything. And last week, we decided it was time to tell the Little One about the brother he’ll never have the chance to meet. It was something we’d talked about several months ago, something we felt needed to be done. We wanted to do it during the summer in order to give him time to get used to the idea before heading back to school. One day last week, it just seemed right.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, either from him or from us, though it was a scene I’d envisioned many times. He was curious, taking in what we told him and processing it as much as his age would allow. We told him stories and showed him a photograph, answering his questions as best we could. He enjoyed looking at the photo, and when he asked me who was cuter, him or Elad, I told him that both of them are beautiful. When he asked if our home was also Elad’s home, I told him that it was, but that Elad had been very sick and had stayed in the hospital. Later on, he asked me if I loved Elad, and told me he knew that Elad was in heaven. I answered that I did love Elad, just as I loved him, and then told him that Elad was somewhere else as well. I told him that Elad would always be in my heart, just as his grandfather and his dog would always be in his heart. The Little One became quiet as he processed this, and then changed the subject.
He has since been to the cemetery as well, though he I think we succeeded in making him believe that it is simply a special place where we can go when we want to remember Elad. He asked me why our dog’s stone (we’ve marked the burial spot) doesn’t have writing on it like Elad’s does. I reminded him that there are lots of other stones there, and the writing makes it easier for us to find the right one. When I pointed out that there are no other stones near his dog’s stone, he responded by asking what would happen when his uncle’s dog died, concerned that we wouldn’t know which stone was which.
Death is not a new idea for the Little One. He knows that his dog died (and even told my parents’ neighbors that he “had a dog, but he’s dead”) and he remembers his paternal grandfather, who died nearly two years ago. He never had the opportunity to meet his paternal grandmother, but we’ve made sure that he knows her name and can recognize her in pictures. With Elad though, it’s the first time he’s been old enough to even partially grasp the idea of death and dying. He’s not there yet, but it was important to us that he grow up with this knowledge, that it not be a secret, discovered accidentally or shared at a later age when he might resent us for keeping it. I’ve experienced a range of emotions during this period – relief that he finally knows, fascination with the ideas that are clearly forming in his mind and the questions borne from those ideas. Perhaps there’s also been a bit of disappointment that he hasn’t shown more interest, even though I know that this may come as he matures and begins to understand more. After all, it’s hardly fair to expect a five year-old to show emotion for the brother he never knew, or to have a wisdom and understanding of these things that goes beyond his years. Most of all, though, this process of removing the burden of an untold story has been intensely cathartic. We have finally begun to banish the elephant from the room.by Liza Rosenberg