Issue #74 / December 2019
I have a question about grief. You have written exquisitely on the subject, and I have found great comfort in your words, and have great empathy for you and your family’s devastating loss of your precious son.
My mom was murdered with an AR-15 by a white supremacist in our synagogue, killed because this 19-year-old felt Jews were ‘destroying’ the white race. It has been almost 8 months, I stopped counting out of numbness, and I still don’t have anger towards the shooter, but more so for people who my mother was close to, and in her death, claimed my mother as their own, and exploited the situation for their own gain. I am afraid to let go of the anger, because I feel it connects me to my mother, and to the tragedy where she died, my last experience with her. I am afraid to move forward in any way. Family members are grieving in a different way than I am and that makes things even more uncomfortable. I am afraid to connect or feel my mother’s spirit in any way.
Do you have any advice on these components of grief: the anger; the fear.
With utmost gratitude towards your input,
HANNAH, CALIFORNIA, USA
This is a very difficult question to answer, there are no adequate words and I worry that I will not do the enormity of the tragedy of your mother’s death justice, or your grief, for that matter. I apologise if I fall short. I cannot claim to understand the complexities of your situation, but although the circumstances are very different, I do understand about dealing with a death that is in the public eye and the deranging internal conflicts that it can bring.
The tragedy of my son’s death is inscribed into the collective consciousness of the town where we live and where he died. I have had to learn to share the reality of his passing with the town itself, because it affected us all. I doubt there was a mother in Brighton who did not feel a chill of horror and cling to her own children a little tighter upon hearing the news of Arthur’s senseless accident. But Arthur was our child, our own flesh and blood; Susie and I didn’t want to share him with anyone, and we were deeply possessive over his absence. It took us some time to understand that while he belonged to us, he belonged to the world too. In time we understood that, although we were the ultimate custodians of Arthur’s memory, he was, in fact, mourned by many, and many people felt outraged at the cruelty and randomness of the event, just as we did. Susie and I, individually and together, had to find a way to be with Arthur, but also to share him with a multitude.
In time we found a place away from the concerns of the world and our own conflicted feelings, that was silent and vast, where we could have the necessary and ongoing conversation with our son, to tell him that we loved him, and that we missed him, and that we were sorry. We found a place where we can be with him, in grief, beyond the glare and the noise of the world, a place of meaning.
Hannah, your tragedy was not an accident, nor a random act of fate, and this incident was an egregious affront to both your community and our collective humanity. Your mother was your mother, but she was also a Jew, and along with other members of her community simply doing the thing that observant Jews have always done on a Saturday morning. How difficult it must be for you to untangle this and find that silent space where you can speak with your mother, as her daughter, and be heard above the tumult of other people’s expectations, the various agendas of the media, your own rage and the enormity of the act itself. How can you find your own meaning in your mother’s passing?
It feels to me, that the meaning exists within the anger. Not only is your anger justified, it is compassionate and essential and, as you said, connects you to your mother, even as those around you take possession of her, eclipsing your feelings with their own needs. The righteous energy of your anger is the flaming sword you hold above your mother’s memory. It may be the very thing that protects her, shielding her from the suffocating demands of the world. Perhaps, at this time, your anger is a way of safekeeping the spirit of your mother, of caring for her, of seeking her, of calling her to you. It is a pure and holy anger.
But there is another place too, a quieter place that patiently awaits you, and maybe in time you will find a moment to temporarily lay down the sword and, speaking into the sacred silence, talk to your mother, in grief, in longing, and in her presence, and perhaps find some solace there. I very much hope so.