“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne
I go to sleep late, as usual in these weird Corona days. Before I shut off my phones for the night , I check my WhatsApp messages one more time. Simon asks me briefly if I want to join the online Azkara of his brother the next day… Of course! I answer, but what time, and I ask him to please send me the link.
Gidon died in the horrible helicopter crash in 1997. I think it was 1997. I know it was while my son, Yarden, was coping with his aggressive cancer; he was only about 3 at the time, when we got the terrible news that Gidon had died. The night it happened, I remember noticing how loud the wind howled through the apartment. Pauline and Charles arrived soon afterwards from London, and years later Charles told me how they had both seen Gidon’s face reflected in the window of the airplane, as they flew on their saddest trip ever to Israel, to bury their youngest son.
Gidon was the first and only soldier I knew personally who had died. In that way, I’m blessed, since so many of my friends and family lost people throughout the years in the army. The stories are overwhelming. Every day, in the newspaper, on the news on Galei Zahal, as I used to drive back and forth in heavy traffic to work, and via friends, I would hear of soldiers who had died.
As if I wasn’t surrounded enough by death. My own son lived on one more year, after Gidon died. And at the age of 4, as he was no soldier, he had a simple burial service in the Holon cemetery, and rarely had a memorial service throughout the years, since we’d moved abroad. At least not a formal one. At home, each September, I’d go into a private mourning season. Until after the date he died, September 26th. Then, a small release of relief. It’s over. Back to life.
And my struggle with Memorial Day, in Israel, started even earlier. I never did like death. When I’d just arrived in Israel, and the mother of a friend of mine died, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I avoided her and felt guilty.
In the army, during officer’s training, the first Lebanon War broke out. We trained, studied and worked every evening in the army food rations factory, packing boxes of food for soldiers on the front. And in the mornings, when all the other girls were checking the newspapers, to see who of their friends had died, I hung back. I’d only been in Israel for three years, at that time, and the people I knew on the frontlines would have been my classmates from high school. I figured that if someone died, I’d get a call. I wasn’t keen on running after death. It was there, all around us.
After the army, when I was already a Lieutenant, I was asked if I’d agree to be on the team of soldiers who gives the bad news to family. It was a voluntary position. I didn’t volunteer. Cold hearted, maybe. Or protecting my own heart. I felt I couldn’t possibly cope.
Fate has a funny way of getting back at you, however. Later, when Yarden got sick, I was faced with death from the first day of diagnosis when the surgeon came out in scrubs to tell us that he was bleeding intensely on the operating table and might not make it. For two weeks, during his stay in the Children’s Intensive Care unit, in an induced coma, I willed him to stay alive. During the two years of his chemo, radiation and surgeries that followed, I breathed life into him every morning and every night. I funneled spirit energy from the universe through me and into him, with Reiki, accompanied by Chinese medicine, acupuncture and whatever else I could lay my hands on.
Around me, people were sick and dying. Children who we knew, from the Hematology/Oncology Dept. at Dana hospital often didn’t survive. I was in a support group (Hosen) for Cancer patients and their families. All my favorite people, but one, eventually succumbed. Memorial day is every day for me. Whenever I imagine those cheerful, brave faces, the jokes we made together, the dancing to dolphin music, the meditations and the tears.
And then Drora too got sick. Her youngest son, Mikey, was born a month before Yarden, and she was the best friend one could ever have. Always there to help, to comfort, to laugh, to teach how to live. Her strong opinions and beauty of mind and spirit will never die in my memory.
My son died; Drora died. Years earlier, when I was living the single carefree life in Tel Aviv, Yoram died, of Dengue fever while in Thailand. Gidon died. My mother’s friends got sick and died, many well before the time they should have. A heart transplant that never happened; Alzheimer’s at an early age.
I woke up late this morning, having not set an alarm, and did my morning mediation with the Calm app. In the middle, I started to think about Gidon, and the Memorial service. I wondered what time it would be held. When I check my phone, ten minutes later, I’m already an hour late for the ceremony. Missed it. I send Simon a message, and feel sorry, regretful. Sad.
So, Yom HaZikaron comes every year, and I want to tear my clothes and wear black. I want to be recognized as a mourning mother. I want the world to put on sad songs for me, to hold me, as I half collapse and cannot breath. My grief is private, though.
But the bells do toll, and they toll for me too.