This is one of those posts I just need to write. I debated about writing this at my other blog, but decided I wanted this post to live here.
Today (Tuesday) has been flanked by death and beauty.
Tonight, I hover in that liminal space in between the two, not quite limbo, not quite purgatory – but in that aspirate hesitation, that moment after you exhale but before you allow yourself another breath – that seemingly endless comma in between instinct and choice.
I must, to a degree, speak in vagary due who was lost and what’s been shared already. I will say that all of my immediate family and friends are well.
But today, or rather, sometime last night, a life extinguished and today we are left to deal with the acrid odor of smoke that permeates our memory. Just like that – a finger snap – a life, gone.
In Judaism: the radiant point from which I try to find meaning, to shape the mundane into the holy, to transform whispered hope into prayer – in Judaism, suicide is akin to murder.
“It matters not whether he kills someone else or himself,” the Rabbis say. “His soul is not his to extinguish.”
He was a father, a husband. He was a brother and uncle. He was someone’s son once, too, before his own father and mother died before him. Personally, in the time I’d known him – I have no gentle memories.
But in an instant – a finger snap, an unseen breath that snuffs out a candle – and he was gone.
When I hear of someone who’s died, someone I know: I flip through my mental roster of those I’ve already lost. It’s important for me to remember their names, their stories: they mattered. They mattered to me, in some way or another. I think of Amber, of Nan and Granny, of Michelle.
I think of Efthemia – the first funeral I ever went to when I was just 16 years old, burying a classmate only a year younger than myself. We were in theatre class together the day before she died. When she didn’t come to school the next day, it seemed like just another school absence. We wouldn’t find out until seventh period that day what had happened.
Amber: the overdose. Nan and Granny: old age – two long lives full of memories, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Michelle and the impossibly-timed tree branch during a sudden storm. Efthemia’s lifelong disease we never knew she had.
Their lives, respectively and respectfully punctuated by that finger-snap snuffing out of their life-flame.
Tonight, another name is added to that list, another punctuated descriptor of how they left this world. Another story sadly truncated. Or maybe that’s how the ending was always supposed to be written.
It’s not my story to tell – only to remember.
We don’t like to talk about the night our son almost died. He was only five days old. We had only just met him and in the span of just a few minutes, our otherwise healthy son plummeted into a precarious state that lasted for weeks in the NICU.
“This is very, very serious,” the neonatologist had said. I will never forget the gravity in her eyes, her otherwise pleasant and calming face suddenly ashen and somber: “You need to be worried.”
In this liminal space tonight, in this paused hesitation of my own breath – I remember that feeling of holding my breath, of gasping and sobbing, of feeling like I was suffocating in that small room as she talked to us about survival rates. I remember that feeling that a metronome’s tick had stopped mid-swing and we had no idea if the rhythm of our new family would continue. I remember feeling like every second was another perilous breath that could cease at any moment, that just like that – a finger snap – and how our son would be gone.
I remember that first real sigh of relief, when that same neonatologist told us we were finally in the clear:
I remember the moment when I could breathe again.
Every death I have experienced personally has had a name.
I have never faced the death of the unnamed. I cannot fathom those depths of grief for the life that was never known, never named. Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day and the meaning is not lost on me, even in this strange limbo of my own currently conflicted grief.
Upon the shocked and sudden knowledge of a life that is no more – we gasp. We suck in as much life force as our lungs and heart can muster before we utter things like, “Oh my G-d” and “I’m so sorry” and “What happened” – and we might even fight the instinct to release that inhaled breath for a moment as our brains process what we’ve just been told.
My day was flanked with death and beauty.
The beauty was in remembering to breathe again, the exquisite and precious beauty of being alive.