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Some Reflections on Loss and Renewal

Some Reflections on Loss and Renewal

The night of my brother's funeral, the moon was full - enormous and hanging low in the sky. More than twenty years earlier, when I was in college, Bob and I went on a bike trip through Northern Michigan.  One night we stood on the shore of Lake Michigan watching a sunset so late that you'd only see it in the far north. We saw a full moon rise over the lake. Later, he told me how each time he saw a full moon, he'd think about how many months it had been since the bike trip. Our brains were similar; I had been thinking the same thing.

My brother and I always had a special connection. As a kid, I adored him. I was only 10 when he left for college and I cried thinking things would never be the same. They weren't, but Bob's leaving home began a new era in our relationship. I visited him at college in upstate New York. When I was in high school, he graduated and - like a good Jewish boy - went on to medical school. I went with him - just the two of us - to help him get settled in his apartment in Washington, D.C. I remember being in the garage at my parents' house, the car packed with his belongings. I know now that he must have been terribly nervous. While he wasn't one to hide his feelings, he did that day. I felt like we were embarking on an exciting adventure.

Thirty years later, I still occasionally pass by the apartment he lived in on New Hampshire Avenue. The following year, he moved to a house in Bethesda, bunking with another student. I visited Bob in that house so many times. At 15, I was like a little sister to a whole crew of his 20-something friends.

I live just a few blocks from that house now. When I'm feeling stalwart,I run by it as Bob and I did early one morning just months before hedied. When he was alive, I thought that if I saw the residents, I wouldtell them, "My brother lived in your house in the 70s. I visited him andwe went to the Folklife Festival. I remember your kitchen wallpaper."

As I'm writing this, it's a few days away from Bob's birthday. I can'tpicture him at 59, although I remember his appearance perfectly - how hemoved, his voice. The rapid-fire messages he left on my answeringmachine. How many months had passed since our bike trip? The postcardI'd saved still sat in my drawer. I thought I'd gotten past the mostprofound grief, but it haunts me at inauspicious times.

Peace finally came in fits and starts. Such tiny glimpses of it at thebeginning. In my children who fell asleep with me, flanking me on bothsides. In a friend who shopped for my son's eighth birthday partybecause I was too bewildered to make the simplest decisions. In myco-worker who, when I returned to the office shaken and vulnerable, toldme how beautiful the faces of my children are. And, most of all, in myhusband, who stayed by my side throughout in spite of my persistenthypervigilance. He made me laugh at the oddest times.

This year, my husband's four siblings, their spouses, and children, camefrom far and wide for my son's bar mitzvah. None of them are Jewish.They came for us, for Ben, born in Guatemala, now a Jewish Americanteen. The night before the bar mitzvah, we sat outside for the Fridaynight Sukkot service. The moon was full. We invited people in to thesukkah. I silently invited Bob.

The next morning, the sanctuary was filled with family and friends. Thelove in that room was palpable. The truth of all that I have --something I'd been telling myself for five years -- was finally there ina felt sense. I was calm. I was resting in the arms of my family. I wasresting in the arms of the Divine. 

Jessica Bernstein is a science writer and a member of Temple Emanuel,Kensington, MD. She has served on the Temple school board and is activein social justice issues.

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Published: 5/04/2011

Categories: Death and Mourning, Spirituality, Jewish Journeys
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