On Grieving for a Lost Loved One

Shadows in Winter - COVER IMAGE_corrected.jpg I didn't know it then, but those moments before the seizure would be the last time I would speak to Leah (at least when she was conscious) -- and it was the last she would speak to me. From that instant, she would never regain consciousness. Remembering it now, I wonder what her last thought was before slipping under: Was her mind thinking clearly enough at that point to harbor any organized consciousness, or was it just the moving slides of fleeting perception? Did she intuit that these would be her last moments of awareness and seeing? Was she thinking of Aderet? Was she thinking of me?

The doors to the CT scan room open; the team of doctors emerges. It is Dr. A. who speaks to me first.

"Mr. Fishbane."

The haze of my waking dreams drifts out and passes over me again.

"The scan shows a large mass in your wife's brain. From the CT we can't tell whether it is a tumor or a bleed, and we'll need to do an MRI to determine that."

Again I am outside of myself. The odd sensation of unreality.

Did he actually just say that? Did I imagine the whole thing? I suddenly understand that each moment of terror on this otherwise ordinary Tuesday has led to this, each step leading us with an inexorable force to the worst-case scenario. Now falling, falling -- into the emptiness of the nonexistent, of disbelief, into a story that is not mine. Not mine...

"So it's bad either way," I hear myself say.

As before, I am not really asking.

"It doesn't look good," Dr. A. replies in a soft voice. "All we can do right now is pray."

He places his hand on my shoulder in a gesture of healing. My chest and abdomen rise and fall with the heaviness of breath.

I feel the blood receding from my face -- fear rising slowly in me from an unknown interior space.

I can't believe this is
happening
I can't
believe

I can see how they are all looking at me now -- the critical-care specialist, the high-risk obstetrics people, the radiologist. Suddenly I am that person -- the recipient of the news the physician dreads delivering, the one standing in the inner circle of tragedy.

When the tears come I can feel the threads of my world unraveling -- no more barriers, just an abyss of darkness underfoot, like the recurring dream of falling, except this time I don't wake up.

Crying never came easily for me -- the feelings there hidden out of sight, in the silence of my insides. And that always frustrated you -- wanting to know I could weep, that I would weep for you, if it ever came to that.

It has come to that.

"If I ever go, you'd better cry for me," she said to me in her playful way.

Can you see me crying for you now?

* * *

Aderet wakes wailing and crying. It takes me a while to realize what she is saying, but gradually it becomes clear. She is crying out for her Imma:

I want you... I want you...

I come into her bedroom. She is so tired that she has already fallen back asleep, but when I go to fix her covers she wakes for a moment.

"Did you see Imma in your dream?" I ask her.

She nods. Her thumb in her mouth, her voice soft and sad.

"What happened in your dream?"

"Imma was falling off a cliff! She was falling and falling to her death!"

My God.

I shake inside for my baby girl. Powerless to stop her falling mother. The terrifying sensation of dream-fall becomes the slipping away of her protection, the center of her world. I could hear the terror and the fear in her first screams. That was it. Dead. Gone.

In the morning I ask her again about her dream; I need to know that she is okay. In the meantime she has added a new element to the story:

She was falling almost to her death, but I flew like Tinkerbell, and I caught her and she was in my arms, and I gave her some pixie dust and she flied with me! I was almost to death, but I gave her pixie dust and brought her up to the top. And then she never fell. I was being safe with her.

Abba, can our dreams ever come true? 'Cause I wanted to save her for real. I wanted to save her for real, Abba.

* * *

I am relatively okay for large stretches of time. I think part of my old self has returned. Then, with the force and suddenness of a slamming door, I am back in the throes of it -- the hollow, sinking ache. My first impulse is to call Leah. To pick up the phone, or to walk in the front door ready to unburden myself into her presence. To enter back into the space of home.

Presented by

Dr. Eitan Fishbane is assistant professor of Jewish Thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He is the author or editor of five books, including Shadows in Winter and The Sabbath Soul.

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