“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
Woven through the stories and the summers of our youth
Your laughter threaded through the soundtrack of our days
And nights spent in the camp that hugged the Delaware
Where slivers of our hearts will always stay
They say time flies too fast, my friend, and I believe it’s true
For it seems like only yesterday I first laid eyes on you
Or maybe just this morning, not so very long ago
So tell me how the hell are we supposed to let you go
I’ll remember you with laughter and I’ll think of you with joy
Of long-forgotten moments when you were just a boy
While sifting through the memories that span across the years
Of words sent over miles where you shared your hopes and fears
Now I’m sitting here in sadness ‘cause I can’t believe you’re gone
It shouldn’t have to end this way – it seems so very wrong
As I listen to the songs we’ll never hear you sing again
My smile slowly drowns in tears with thoughts of you, my friend
Quintessential Dave, who always made us laugh:
In memory of Dave Alpert, who left this world way too soon…
Links to Dave’s music:
by Liza Rosenberg
You don’t talk
Or catch my eye
As I walk by
Cross the street
Change your path
I don’t exist
Erase the past
One by one
Destroy them all
Until it’s done
Forget that we
Were ever friends
I don’t exist
It’s all pretend
Lives and souls
That never touched
Laughed so much
Love and trust
I don’t exist
It breaks my heart
Picture created by Talya Shachar-Albocherby Liza Rosenberg
So long, my friend; I wish you well
As you embark upon this journey of searching for your self
I understand – you need to go
To walk this path alone
So I wish you strength and love
To help you find your way back home
I hope I cross your mind from time to time
And if I do it’s with a fondness and a glimmer in your eye
That you’ll dip into our well of memories at least once in a while
And that maybe you’ll allow yourself to think of me and smile
It’s not for me to question and it’s not for me to know
Even though I love you – I have to let you go
I’ll think of all the fun we shared and not of what was lost
And be grateful for the gift we had despite the heavy cost
But for now the only thing that I can do
Is let you go and hope you know that I’ll be here for you
And if our friendship’s meant to be
Then maybe you’ll come back to me
But for now, my friend, I wish you well
Sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging by a thread
Sanity lost in a roadside ditch – barely breathing, left for dead
Scattered bits of mind and soul where brake marks should have been
Attesting to the crash and burn my sanity’s been in
As I bump along the journey of my life
Careening as I do between the laughter, joy and strife
Peering at a map that often makes no sense at all
And I go around in circles, just trying not to fall
‘Cause it’s those jagged sunken holes that seem to trip me every time
They’re hidden in the shadows and the corners of my mind
Trap me in their clutches and try to take me down
Engulfing all my senses and inviting me to drown
And as I wander down my path, I’m still holding hands with fear
Who’s fending hope off with a stick for reasons still not clear
Contentment tries to keep the peace
While optimism praises some new lease
On life – she’s keen to share
As sanity sways just like a drunk
Acting like some stupid punk
And looking rather ill and worse for wear
Logic comes from nowhere, and tries to grab the map
Love decides to take a chance and choose a different path
The crazy gang has run amok and left me to obsess
About the roads not taken and cleaning up the mess
While the sun shined overhead and my husband tidied up the gravesite, our seven-year-old started to sing a silly song. As I gently explained why a cemetery wasn’t really the place for such activity, he interrupted me. “But Mommy,” he said. “I’m singing a song to make Elad smile. Don’t you want him to be happy?” Surprised by his question, I looked at him and struggled to find an answer.
Yogev was five years old when we told him about Elad, the brother who died before he was born. Having discussed it with my husband several months earlier, it hadn’t occurred to either of us not to share this tragic piece of our family’s history. We didn’t want secrets; we didn’t want to create a situation where Yogev turned around years later in anger, demanding to know why we waited so long to tell him, or even worse – confronting us because he’d inadvertently found out from someone else. In short, we didn’t want to live our life with an elephant in the room. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
There’s something about my birthday drawing near that always makes me feel like putting the proverbial pen to paper to do a bit of soul-searching. In 2009, it resulted in a blog post about musical influences, and in 2010, it resulted in a mind-spill of self-reflection.
Now here I am in 2013, trying to figure out how to mark my latest trip around the sun (in writing, anyway – the real-life celebrations are being taken care of as I write this…). I’ve been tossing a few ideas around in my mind and brainstorming with a few of my closest friends, and what you’ll find below is a result of that process. Since my son turned nine last week (and because nine fits nicely into 45, but we all know the first reason sounds much better…), I’ve divided the list into five categories with nine items each, mostly in random order. I’ve included a slew of links to relevant old blog posts, and just for fun, I’ve linked almost every instance of the word “poetry” (or variations thereof) to a different poem of mine, so be sure to check those out too. You can hover over each link to read its brief description.
About me: (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
When I heard that the wife of one of my brother’s oldest friends had lost a child, I sent a carefully worded email to her husband, asking if Stacey might want to talk to someone who had been through something similar. She did, and the connection was made.
That was approximately eleven years ago, and over the years, Stacey and I kept up our correspondence at varying degrees of frequency, never losing the special connection we’d created out of a mutual, almost desperate need for support from someone who understood. As we managed to have other children and move on to other subjects, that shared, profoundly visceral understanding of devastating loss has always been at the heart of our friendship.
Stacey and I have exchanged hundreds of emails, yet no opportunity had ever presented itself for us to meet in person – until recently. My brother and his family were celebrating the Bat-Mitzvah of their eldest daughter, which – conveniently for us – fell during my son’s Passover vacation. I was looking forward to seeing family and friends, but from the moment I decided that we’d make this trip, much of the joy I felt was in knowing that I would finally have the chance to meet Stacey, whose painful journey had been such an integral part of my own healing process. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
You tell me that I’m strong; the bravest person that you know
And I know it’s just my journey
That makes you think it’s so
Dragged along a path I wish I didn’t have to see
It’s not the one I chose – the path selected me
You tell me I’m courageous; that my courage gives you hope
And I know it’s just my journey
That makes you think it’s so
When every day’s a struggle and it’s never really gone
Yet giving up is just as hard as going on
You tell me I inspire; a role model for all
And I know it’s just my journey
That makes you think it’s so
Facing my adversity is all I try to do
Doing what I have to, just to get me through
I don’t want to be the bravest or the strongest that you know
I’m not trying to inspire
My courage comes and goes
You speak your words with love and I know they’re meant to heal
But these attributes you see in me I simply cannot feel