It’s also a remarkable amount of work, a second (or third) job. My partner, Ian, and I have sat down with groups and met with counselors. We have joined Zoom sessions, read the words of those who have come before us. Together with our surviving daughter, Hana, 10, we recently traveled to a conference at Boston Children’s Hospital to process our grief and try to face the absence at our table with other similarly reeling families.
Such experiences aren’t in search of solace or solution, but of place. It is powerful to be around people who recognize the insistency of loss, its daily presence, the continued impact of which so easily slips past others, unseen, as everyone else returns to the business of living. It has made me recognize how many people walk around concealing pain.
As a family, we have weathered a batch of life markers since Orli’s death. Hana had a birthday in June, Ian in October. We have had Passover and Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and Sukkot, each of which was — the counselors were not wrong!— by turns meaningful and excruciating. Families arrived in synagogue, or at the holiday table, dressed and smiling, their children growing ever older, while Orli remains the age at which we parted.
Quietly, we mark our elder daughter missing, and wait on others to do the same. On Passover my father proposed adding a cup (“cos,” in Hebrew) for Orli, the way we leave a cup for Elijah, noting that absence is woven into our observance. In late summer we even, ill advisedly, attended a wedding. It was too soon. We were not ready to be surrounded by unadulterated joy; we did not know how to hold ourselves, and our pain, without dulling the bride and groom’s shine. We fled during cocktail hour.
But I have also found I relish the occasional dark humor of other parents who have lost children, who recognize the macabre place we all live, how comically awful it is to run into people who still don’t know. “How’s the family?” a writer I ran into asked me the other day. I wanted to say, “So Hana started volleyball, and, well, Orli’s dead.” Orli would have laughed. Instead I changed the subject.