The Last First
Over the initial year after Aaron's loss, during much of which I was writing this blog, I made note of a number of milestones, different special occasions that we observed for the first time without him. The first of each yom tov, my first birthday and first father's day, Aaron's birthday and (how horribly unnatural using this word still seems!) his yahzreit. Now, with nearly two years passed, most of these milestones have come and gone a second time. With these repetitions came a level of respite, with the ache of Aaron's absence each time, if no less acute, at least somewhat more familiar, a burden to which I had grown a bit more accustomed.
Now as we are about to enter Pesach, I feel that dread of fresh grief once again. Last year we knew that of all the annual celebrations and events, Pesach would be by far the most difficult for us. It was at Pesach time the previous year that Aaron's illness first began to seem, just possibly, serious enough to worry about. He was sick at the sedarim; his first MRI - still of his neck at that point, not yet of his head, God forgive us - was on chol hamoed. So last year we decided that we just couldn't handle Pesach, and while our adherence to halacha didn't allow us to simply skip it, we did the next closest thing; went away to a hotel.
(Parenthetically, since last year I have followed with a new understanding and amusement the annual debates about whether going to a hotel for Pesach is a positive experience, or whether those who do so are not giving their children an authentic yom tov. To me the answer, last year, was yes to both choices! And we were far from the only family at our hotel who was there for such a reason. Not all who run away for the holidays are the spoiled rich.)
So here I am, at a final first; our first Pesach at home without Aaron. My feelings are confused and jumbled in a way that I have struggled to describe before. Since earliest childhood, Pesach has been my favorite holiday, and nothing, not even this unspeakable loss, can take away the deep-rooted, almost instinctual gladness that its coming gives me each year. Yet the grief today is so intense, so real, almost as if, Debbie said last night, it is two years ago and Aaron's loss has just happened.
The closest I come to describing how I am feeling today is not joy lessened by sadness, nor sorrow muted by joy; but rather joy and sadness merging as one, a unique "korech" of charoses and maror with each, somehow, maintaining its separate full and undiluted flavor. For the first time I really understand the Egyptian miracle of barad, where ice and fire wound down from the sky together, coexisting as could never seem possible.
And in thinking about the plagues; when I recite them tonight, how can my voice not catch when I come to the final, ultimate punishment of our foes; makas bechoros, death of the firstborn? To be blunt and perhaps sacrilegious; our own firstborn was taken from us two years ago, not long after Pesach. I wonder, did the average Egyptian have any more understanding of why they were punished? With all the open miracles that occurred in those times, did they even have a glimpse of God's plan? Could they begin to guess why their children were not spared, while others' were? Some thoughts are best, perhaps, not pursued.
And yet, there can be unexpected words of comfort today as well. I received an email this morning from a dear, non-Jewish friend, who without benefit of those oh-so-pithy words of our sages that I heard so often during shiva, got right to the heart of the matter:
Since it will be the first time home at Passover without Aaron, you haveBlinded by tears - and I haven't even chopped the horseradish yet - I must stop with that. My wish for a zeesen pesach, a chag kasher v'samayach, and a year ahead of only simchas, for all my friends and readers.
to be dreading it. A few thoughts...
Aaron is in God's arms and is having a wonderful meal. You are not to
worry (and by the way, the angels did all the cleaning and cooking).
Aaron's a happy camper.