For the last eight weeks, I’ve been surprised at the similarities of two seemingly unrelated events. When the not so quiet whispers of lockdown began, I felt this surge of emotions at the onset of sudden change. It was intense and scary and yet familiar. But I couldn’t quite place it.
And then I started to remember the almost manic thoughts that propelled me out of bed to open all the curtains and blinds immediately after waking up. I remembered the concentration required counting the scoops of coffee into the Mr. Coffee. More than once I had to dump the grounds back into the coffee can and start all over. These small steps in my routine after my son died propelled me from one minute to the next. These constants got me out of bed when otherwise, there really was no reason.
My son died suddenly in a swimming pool accident in 2010. He was not quite two years old. From the planning of the funeral and onto Shiva, turning to God felt natural. Picturing my son in a safe “heavenly” place instead of his grave gave me some comfort.
The pain was enormous. The pain was all-encompassing. But I never felt angry at God. If God had my son with him, as we were taught to believe in Hebrew school, then God and I needed to be BFF’s. But to this day, I still struggle with the question “Where is my child?”
My faith in God was the only direction that gave me hope. As my husband and I sat in temple every Friday night, it was felt like the closest we could get to our son. And we felt like God followed us home every Friday night. Actually, we felt like he followed us to the diner for a BLT and fries and then home. After the trauma of burying our son, we believed God would be ok with a bacon, lettuce, and tomato.
For two and a half years after Noah died, we came home to an empty apartment. No sign of our old family of three anywhere. But I still felt like God was with us. We talked and prayed and even negotiated with God as we went through heartbreaking and expensive fertility treatments. All I had left to negotiate with was my faith. I promised God if he would just give us another child again, I would…I wasn’t sure what I would do. But I just knew God was the only one listening.
When Miriam was born, we thanked our doctors as well as God. But as she grew, I struggled with what to teach her about this unexplainable concept. Suddenly, my BFF God seemed confusing and uncertain. When faced with explaining God to a small child, I froze.
One time I remember Miriam asking me about something in nature. I probably answered something like “Because that’s the way God made them.” Miriam hit back with an innocent, “God? Who’s God??”
I never mentioned God again. On purpose. And man, I felt terrible.
My source of comfort,
My unwavering BFF,
I had no idea what or how to tell my daughter about God.
She knew she celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas. She knew we were Jewish. And that her brother Noah in Heaven was Jewish too. Yup, Daddy is Jewish too. But she never asked what Jewish meant. And I had no idea how to tell her.
I was afraid of painting a picture of this benevolent guy in the sky. I didn’t want to present God as always watching over us because for a young child, that could sound creepy. But I realized I was more afraid of the questions of “why” than the questions of “who.” Because I had no answer to why her brother that she never knew died. Or why people get sick. Or why we are in the middle of this insane pandemic and she can’t go to school or have a playdate or go see her cousins or grandfather. I’ve explained about “The Germ” as we’re calling it because germ sounds cuter than virus. But explaining WHY would God let these things happen is my big dilemma.
But as the lockdown stretches on, I find myself looking for my BFF God again. He was there when it all fell apart. And when it all started to come back together again, it was as if He faded into the background with a smug smile.
As my young daughter misses her friends and teachers and swimming lessons and everything a seven-year-old should be doing right now, I continue working as an essential employee in a liquor store. My husband has lost his job and has taken on the home schooling. My back and feet ache. My nerves are shot, and my temper is short. Something has been missing.
I needed something to look forward to during the days all strung together by sadness and uncertainty. And like a lightbulb over my exhausted head, the answer was Shabbat. We would start lighting Shabbat candles. I would bring a tangible symbol of my old buddy God into our kitchen every Friday night. I had lofty goals of explaining Judaism and God and faith and again I found myself at a loss for words. Oh also, I didn’t even have candlesticks.
I started by placing an ad on a Judaica Buy/Sell Facebook page. “Looking for simple Shabbat candlesticks to begin teaching my daughter about Judaism and bringing back a long-lost tradition for me.” Within minutes, a Rabbi from Louisiana commented on my post. She would gladly send me candlesticks and candles. Just message her the address. And a week later, silver candlesticks and a box of candles arrived in the mail.
The first Friday was exciting. We talked about listening to our inner voices. We talked about finding ways to calm ourselves down when we get upset. We talked about how every week we take a break and think about all the good things that happened. We lit the candles and sang the blessings and shouted in each other’s faces “SHABBAT SHALOM!!”
The second Friday felt natural already. We talked about the squirrel that dug up our seeds we planted. He’s a jerk.
We talked about missing school as I glanced at her lunchbox just sitting there. Untouched for weeks. We talked about feeling sad. We talked about feeling angry. We talked about feeling upset. But we also talked about finding things to be happy about. And her list of happy things was thankfully longer than I expected.
On the third Friday, we talked about how we were feeling during this stressful time And it was as if my old friend God pulled up a chair at the table and just eased His way into the conversation. And in another lightbulb moment, I figured out how to explain faith in God to my daughter. And reboot my belief as well.
God is that feeling of being ok. Even when things are far from being ok, God will be there with you. You can’t see him, but He is. And when things don’t always turn out the way you wanted or hoped, God may not make much sense to you. When bad things happen, God may even seem not so sweet. But when all the dust settles, God will always show up at the kitchen table on a Friday night.