(I've made some references to the original post about G. See it here).
At the beginning of the school year I made a very difficult decision; I decided I was not going to make regular shiva calls at my patients' families.
I used to go to most of them. Jews, Muslims -- it didn't matter, as long as their parents' home was legally and safely accessible, I would go. I needed the closure, and I knew it was important to the family. It also gave me a lot of insight into how these families live their lives, and helped me to feel a certain closeness with the child they lost. I have never regretted going, not once.
This year I took on new, additional roles at work, and so work began taking a lot of more my time and energy than every before. In one attempt to keep things balanced, I decided I could not make shiva calls at the expense of family/personal time, and my own limited emotional energy.
But G. was different. For one thing, he had been our patient for over two years. When he returned with a relapse, it was painfully clear to everyone, including him, that we would lose him. I remember the first day he returned to us to begin treatment yet again. He understood everything, and he expressed his anger, fear, and sadness in all kinds of ways -- through his jokes, his artwork, his questions, his body language. I felt only a minimal sense of comfort seeing that G. felt comfortable coming back to be with our department staff, with people who he knew he could trust, to listen in the most genuine way, to love him and accept him. I, like many others, felt especially close to him.
When G. died, I felt a real need for closure, and so his shiva was one of only two I attended this year. (The other one is a much longer story, for another time).
Upon entering, what stood out were photographs of G, everywhere -- in multiple photo albums, framed on the walls, taped neatly onto the poster board covering the television -- and thousands of pictures had already been uploaded to a memorial website. G. had older siblings who long since moved out when he came along, and so his parents basically raised him as an only child. He was the center of their life.
I had come with a CD of pictures and a digital copy of the essay he had written about his travel plans. I shared some stories with G's much-older brother, who is married with children of his own. The brother explained that the memorial website was only the first step; after the shiva, he would create another website for family and close friends, with stories from G's life.
On the CD I'd brought to give his family, there were a series of photos of the vehicle G. had designed. I was struck by a need to give this family any additional concrete piece of their son's life that I could, and so I offered, on the spot, to write a brief explanation of the process G. went through to develop the vehicle and plan his classroom trip. His brother swiveled his laptop around towards me and I sat down and began to type.
I am not used to writing essays during a shiva visit. It is so often a time of listening, a time of being, and not a time of doing. Words and tears flow, and after the week is up, the family is left behind in a miserable, quiet house, trying to figure out what they have lost, willing themselves to believe the unbelievable.*
But I did not want to make a promise, only to break it and walk away from the family without having returned to them a part of G that he had temporarily entrusted to me. When the essay was finished, I parted from them and hugged G's mother, as she reminded me that she wants to stay in touch.
Then I left, feeling just a little lighter, having returned a shard of precious jewel back to its true owner, and knowing it is one of many that, together, will continue to reflect the light of G, but will never be whole again.
Keep the balance,
*According to Lynne Halamish, the premier expert in Israel on the subject of death and mourning, the process of accepting the loss of a loved one takes about 90 days. The purpose of the shiva week is to give the community a defined period to learn of, and acknowledge, the family's loss, within the boundaries of the family's home environment. I was fortunate enough to attend a recent workshop in which Lynne discussed different aspects of the mourning process, but the above description is my own paraphrasing of her ideas.