And then last night, we heard that another good friend had lost his wife just hours before. She was also in her 40s and suffered an apparent sudden heart attack.
Needless to say, this combination of deaths has affected me.
As many of you know, I lost my father when I was in college, and my mother passed away a little over five years ago. Just last fall, I lost my aunt, meaning another member of that generation was now gone. I've had a lot of experience dealing with the fact that death is out there, that it exists, and that it can't be fought off in the end. Like all of us, I try not to let it overwhelm me, but it never strays too far from my thoughts. For example, just yesterday, as I was video recording my daughters singing and reading aloud, it occurred to me that one day they would value these videos not for their own appearances in them but for the sound of my voice behind the camera. (I hate how morbid those thoughts are, but I cannot deny their existence.)
When I see all this tragedy around me, I want to offer words of comfort, and I tend to feel that my own experiences should be able to help. I should be able to ease the minds of those friends of mine who just started losing their first parent in the past few years; after all, I was a pioneer, exploring the territory well ahead of many of them. But my own experience has taught me the truth behind one truism: there are no words.
I remember that when my father died, my mother tried to explain to me that she had lost a husband, and it was hard for me to understand what that meant. All I knew was that I had lost a father. But now, having spent so much of my life with one person, I have a better grasp of what it was my mom had, even as I still have no idea what it means to lose it. I hear that a friend has lost his wife, and I want to say something, but I have no idea what I can possibly say. My own losses are in no way congruent to his.
What I can say is this: the first hours, days, and weeks after the death of a loved one are surreal. It's like stepping off a curb into a street that you didn't realize was there. For that time, the universe just doesn't seem to make sense. Then, slowly, you start to pick up the pieces of the world around you, and you manage to fit it together like a jigsaw puzzle that was scattered to the four winds.
At my mother's funeral, Rabbi Shmuel Feld talked about eventually adjusting to the "new normal." To all of my friends who are suffering these recent losses, I can't tell you that it gets better, because, well, it doesn't. But it does get "normal," if that makes any sense.
May we all be comforted.