The list goes on and on about things that we don’t want to talk about — death is at the top of that list. We talk around it instead of about it. No amount of language or magical thinking will bring people back. It doesn’t give power to death to speak its name. Sugar-coating death doesn’t make it easier, but it can make it harder.
Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer’s son, Sam, was diagnosed with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia). Phyllis shared her experience on her blog, Superman Sam.
At the end of October 2013, Rabbis Phyllis Sommer and Rebecca Schorr had a crazy idea: what if thirty-six Reform rabbis would shave their heads to bring attention to the fact that only 4% of United States federal funding for cancer research is earmarked for all childhood cancers as well as raise $180,000 for this essential research. Two weeks after this conversation, Phyllis and her husband, Michael, learned that their son, Sam, had relapsed and that there are no other treatment options for him.
36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave. Thirty-six slightly-meshugene, but very devoted rabbis who are yearning to do something. They couldn’t save Sammy; perhaps, though, they can save others like him. And spare other parents like Phyllis and Michael from the pain of telling their child that there is nothing that the doctors can do to save his life.
In the wee hours of 14 December 2013, surrounded by his loving parents, Samuel Asher Sommer, z”l, breathed his last and, on 16 December 2013, was tenderly laid to rest by his beloved family and friends.
In fairy tales and magical stories, there’s always the memory spell. The one that takes away memories. People in those fairy tales and magical stories want to believe that erasing memories is the way to fix it, the way to make it all better, to make it as though it had never happened, to take away the pain.
Pain is what we have.
The pain of missing Sammy so very very much.
To look over the breakfast table and know that there’s one missing.
To know that there will never ever ever be another photograph of him.
To know that the milestones that he celebrated are the only ones of his that we will ever celebrate.
To know that his life just stopped.
This is pain.
And yet…if you came to me and offered to erase it all…I would not let you.
I would not erase those days and weeks and months and years with him.
I wouldn’t even erase the 33 days, the last 33 days of his life. The 33 days that we lived with the real knowledge that someday he wouldn’t be here.
Would I erase the calendar in my mind?
Because each day, I can tell you where I was last year on this day. I can tell you that last year on this day we went to lunch at Michael’s. I can tell you that Sammy and I talked about his funeral. I can tell you that the next day we went into the city and got passports for the kids for our trip to Israel.
The calendar in my mind might grow a little fainter. Next year, I might not be able to tell you exactly where I was on this date.
Then again, I might….
I totally get why these fairy tales and magical stories believe that erasing the memories will make it all better. But you know, in those stories, it always seems to catch up with them. The memories always seem to come back, to return in some way that helps the characters to learn how important those stories are, how important those events were, and that even with the pain…they would rather know, rather remember, rather have the life that was lived.
And so would I.
Missing him every single day. But I wouldn’t have given it up.