by Lisa Newmark
Rosh Hashanah 2018/5779
I was about to board a plane when my phone rang.
I saw that it was my daughter, so of course I answered.
Expecting her usual bubbly voice, I was completely unprepared for the screaming I heard instead - “he isn’t responding, he isn’t responding”
Handing the ticket to the flight attendant I walked onto the plane while trying to comprehend what was happening. What did she mean “he wasn’t responding”?
The call dropped, so I anxiously waited for her to call back. The phone rang again, but this time she was barely audible and told me that her beloved friend – her first love – the one who saw her beauty and challenged her to see it too- the one she was going to change the world with (they were already working on a plan) – had suddenly died. 22 years old, gone.
Stunned by this catastrophic news, I feared for my daughter’s ability to weather what was ahead, while I too, wept for the loss of this extraordinary young man.
There was no way that I would have her go this road alone, so I decided to meet her in Los Angeles as that is where his memorial would be. I needed to do something – make food, pick up people from the airport – anything, as long as I could be close.
The sky was a brilliant blue and the air unusually warm on this early December day, as I pulled up to the home where he had lived.
I texted her – “I am here."
Her small body opened the door and she slowly descended the four steps leading to me.
She collapsed in my arms, weeping.
She let me hold her for a few precious minutes, and then with my shirt damp from her tears, we entered the house together.
On the couch sat his mother who had just flown in from Chicago and a few of his housemates.
Leaving my side, my daughter squeezed into the center of this little tribe, nuzzling in close to his mom, causing my heart to wilt.
I wanted to say “hey, over here - come sit next to me – lean into me, “ but I didn’t and she didn’t. And I knew why - she needed to be as close to her friend as was humanly possible - his mother, her arms.
I sat across from them, listening to them share memories of him – they were even laughing. It’s what we do when we can’t cry anymore. I desperately wanted to feel a part of them, but the two feet between my chair and that couch could have been a mile wild. I was a stranger in my daughter’s universe.
The weeks and months that followed, I watched her disappear into grief – eyes dim, skin ashen, a smile gone. Would she ever come back?
Grief takes time – I know
Grief is dark– I know
Grief is relentless and exhausting and lonely – I know
But why was it taking so long
One month – six months – a year
Wasn’t it time to get over grief?
I missed her infectious laugh
I missed the way she would sing without knowing we were listening
I missed her sparkle and her touch and her booming spirit
I was growing more frustrated
I was becoming more angry
I wanted her to come back to life – come back to me
She challenged my impatience and said “I need time”
She stared down my anger and said “I am angrier”
She asked me to wait
Wait until she was ready
She asked me to stop putting pressure on her to “get over grief”
But she didn’t know how scared I was
She didn’t know that her grief was mine
Yes, I was grieving for the loss of her friend, but my heart was breaking because I couldn’t mend hers
My love wasn’t enough – and I was terrified that she wasn’t coming back
that Grief was stealing my daughter
But I could see I was pushing her away
If I wanted her to come back, I knew that I had no choice but to wait and hope and pray
I stopped asking “how are you”
I stopped giving advice
I stopped expecting anything
So, I asked my fear to take a back seat - that she would return when she was ready
And then one day, I am not sure how long it had been,
I noticed that a crackle of light began to appear in her eyes
Her lips began to curve at the edges
I even thought I heard a laugh
She had begun to emerge- and like the caterpillar that becomes the butterfly, her time in darkness had only made her more beautiful, more resilient and more whole – because she let grief just be.
And I learned to let grief be too. To dwell in discomfort, but to hold onto hope. To be a witness to my daughter’s darkest hours because that is what she needed me to do. And to let go with open arms and a full heart, because that is when love returns.