By Malkie Hirsch
Lately I’ve been noticing how many of our interactions involve posing and answering questions.
Some are conversational, like “How’s your day?”
Others are more practical: “Do the kids have the lunch they want?”
And some are specific and strategic, like my competent friend Laura’s check-in:
“Can you make sure Dovid goes to school on Wednesday so Eliana knows which kids go in carpool?”
So many questions, so many planned thoughts, so much advance notice.
Except when things happen out of order. They’re unplanned. To human knowledge, that is.
Then there are the big questions — the ones that are just left dangling in this lifetime — the “why” questions.
We don’t have the answers and see just a portion of the picture, just a piece of the puzzle that is our lives.
Many people feel unsure of how to help someone experiencing loss, going through something so painful and sudden. When the muffin platters and bagels eventually stop showing up at the door and your new reality sets in, you’ll recognize the people in your life (and even some previously not in your life) who bravely step up to the plate, and offer themselves in ways that show you what they’re made of. They take the popular question of “How can I help you?” a step beyond, with thoughtful action and preemptive purpose. Sometimes even anticipating favors we didn’t even know we needed.
“I’ve taken you out of carpool rotation for the indefinite future,” said Laura at the start of this school year. Of course, upon hearing that, I cried. Because most days, I can’t keep track of the things I have to do, and on top of all that is the constant carpool trips for a plethora of different activities. After school, Sunday school, mishmar, hockey — the list is endless.
Some people just know what will help, what will impact your life for the better. And so, Laura took this on, explaining that her kids are older, and she knew with my two preschoolers still at home on Sundays, it would be hard to get babysitting coverage.
So I knew that I never had to think about Dovid’s carpool. I could breathe a bit and would always silently thank Laura for that show of empathy and thoughtfulness when Sunday would roll around.
Laura didn’t have the big answers I so desperately asked for. What she did have was the ability to put herself in my position for a moment and think of something that would help me in such a way that was more helpful than she knows.
I just left the shivah house where Laura and her family were mourning her father, who was hit and killed by a car.
Laura’s a planner. Always has been. She had wanted to make sure her daughter would be ok to drive the kids to school and back because she was working on New Year’s Day, and told me that her husband and son, Avi, (in Dovid’s class) were attending Siyum HaShas.
I heard the pride in her voice. It’s a big accomplishment, 7 years in the making. Her husband, Steve, wanted to show Avi what dedication, hard work, and love of Hashem’s Torah can do.
That epitomizes chinuch.
The event was planned in advance, and in turn, Laura was planning as well.
She was planning a simcha, too — Avi’s bar mitzvah is in less than a month.
But tragedies are rarely planned.
“How’s he going to get up and lein?” she asked.
Her father had been his leining rebbe. So beautiful and now so empty.
“How’s he not going to break down and cry?” She wondered aloud.
“He wants to know what happens if he does cry, will someone have to go over it again, lein the parashah again,” she asked us as we sat there.
We had no answers.
It’s so uncomfortable to not know how to comfort your friend in pain.
To be at a loss for words, when I so badly want to have the words to make her feel better.
“I just can’t see my children in pain. How can I prevent Avi from crying all the time? Can I?” More questions with no real answers.
Every shivah house is different. Grief has no real template. It depends on who’s mourning, the cause of death, age, context, and history. Different details will determine the emotional energy in the shivah house.
The combination of Moshe’s age and the sudden nature of his passing, made our shivah house particularly painful and hard for many to attend. But they did, because though they didn’t have answers, they knew coming to comfort the living members of Moshe’s family would in some way bring us something.
The halachah is not to open conversation with mourners, because there are, in fact, no answers. There is, however, listening.
Listening to us talk about the great things he achieved during his short life, listening to funny stories only our family knew about, that would help us too.
I wasn’t at the Hecht shivah house for very long but I received a beautiful picture, describing a man who was well respected, loved, cherished by his children and grandchildren, and will be greatly missed by his loved ones.
Stuart Hecht was an educator, a husband, and father who spent the better part of a year teaching his beloved grandson to lein for his upcoming bar mitzvah. They bonded over their favorite parts of the parashah and often would FaceTime when they couldn’t meet in person. They’d sing those parts in unison and I know Avi will be thinking of his grandfather, hearing his voice, and memorializing their Torah, that entire time while he’s up there reading for the tzibur.
Pearls of love, wisdom, and fond memories poured out of Laura and her mother as they sat, shared, and inspired. They were clear eyed, they spoke of their husband and father’s aneivus, yashrus, his sterling belief in G-d and His plan.
“He always told me that the minute you’re born, there’s an expiration,” said his wife. “No compromising on that one. The minute that baby is handed to you, the minute his life starts, there already an end.”
And no matter how long and beautiful and full someone’s life may be, more times than not, the timing won’t seem right. Won’t be ideal. A day after practicing with his grandson on the parashah. Three weeks before Avi’s bar mitzvah, Laura’s father and Avi’s grandfather’s time was up. No one knew, no one expected, no one had planned for that.
Can we understand G-d’s ways?
I know this time for Laura and her family is bittersweet, and certainly more bitter than sweet, even though it should have been simply the happiest of times for them. Laura’s dad was a man whose daughter’s mind generated chesed, who taught the next generation Torah — right until the end.
I know by listening to the way she and her family spoke about this loss that her father would be so proud of their emunah that this was G-d’s will and although they don’t understand it, they have to accept it and move forward through the pain, questions, what ifs, and everything else that accompanies someone as they process this loss.
There are a lot of questions that can’t be answered. There are a lot of things I don’t know, Laura doesn’t know, things no one can help with. And that’s where our faith in G-d having a plan comes into play. We don’t understand it, we don’t like it, but we accept it.
There are a lot of things I don’t know.
But I do know that I, and a community of other friends and family, will hold Laura and her family up when they think they can’t get through this, a pain that’s so deep and indescribable, unless you’ve gone through it, you can’t understand what it feels like.
We each travel our own journey, but my family and I are walking a similar path of bittersweet faith.
I know that the bitter is outweighing the sweet at this moment in time, but that one day they’ll look back on the life of their husband, father, and grandfather, and be able to reminisce about the sweet times they shared, the role model he was, and the legacy he left in this world.
We may not have all the answers, but we can sit with the questions, sit with the discomfort, sit with one another, and sometimes, that itself is how we begin to heal.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.