Revital (Revi) Becker
This January I have been bereaved for 20 years. Two decades have passed since my mother, Revital, died of Pancreatic Cancer.
Would it surprise any of you if I said I don’t remember much about her? I remember what she looked like and I remember what I should think and feel when her names comes up, but I do not remember my mother as I want to and as I think “I should.”
“Should,” how should I remember her? I was too young to accumulate a lot of stories, but still old enough so that I should have retained some. Why don’t I remember? Have I buried her memory and my thoughts too deep for me to reach them? Am I a bad son? Have I just forgotten? The answer to these questions is both yes and no.
As in most things in life, nothing is Black or White. We and our emotions live in that lovely grey area where nothing is 100%. So while no, I don’t think I am a bad son for not remembering her, yes, I still feel bad because I don’t. Yes, I have buried so many things in the depth of my emotional “hurt locker,” but no, that doesn’t mean I do not feel. Yes, I have forgotten but no, that doesn’t mean I can’t remember. See what I mean? Grey.
Mom and my grandfather Al
I was nine years old when my mom passed away. At the time we were living in the strange land of Louisville Kentucky, USA. After growing up a million miles a way in Israel, the cultural changes I experienced was 180° apart (as was the range of temperature on any given day in Louisville). Hot to cold, to windy to humid, all in one day. Without getting into too many specifics about my family back then, I’ll just say that we went from being a five-piece with a female lead to a quartet with an all-male line up. As it is near impossible to truly encompass all of what we experienced as a family and individuals, I want to take this time to talk about me and my bereavement.
Mom and me
This brings me to my main point, my bereavement. My own bereavement process has been lacking, or dare I say non-existent. I certainly went through the motions and have come very close to dealing with it in the past, but now, at 29, I can honestly say with a sense of false pride that I have not dealt with my loss. Not as I want to.
As one can imagine, losing a wife and or mother of three can do many things to many people. Some are broken, some go into denial, some come together and some pull apart. As I wrote earlier, life is lived in that grey area, and so continuing with that theme I say that we were all heartbroken, in denial, tried to stick together but ultimately pulled apart (emotionally not physically and not from each other). Though I knew that my family and I were there for each other, in hindsight I feel that most of the time we went through it alone. Those of us who dared to go through it at all, that is.
So why has it taken me 20 years to start the bereavement process? Can I even do it right at this point? Where to begin? What do I do?
Well, though I don’t have all of the answers just yet, I believe that my emotional renaissance started thanks to two major presences in my life, which led me to try and find out what I have lost and how to deal with it:
- My loving and caring wife has made our life together a safe place for me to bring my walls down. She started some sort of chain reaction that has led me to open up, talk, think, feel and love those around me and those that I have lost. She has guided me without even knowing we were on a trail (well maybe she knew a little bit, since she is much smarter than I after all).
- The second thing that has led me to realise that I have been in the dark all this time has been The Loss Foundation.
For those of you who have never heard of it, I’ll simply write that The Loss Foundation is a non-profit charity helping people with bereavement (you’d think you wouldn’t have to write “non-profit” next to “charity,” but in 2015 it doesn’t hurt). For the last four years, The Loss Foundation has created a space for people to share, deal and learn about bereavement, about loss. I write “learn” because on the surface I “should” be an expert on loss with my 20 years of experience, but only since joining have I begun to learn what this hole in my heart looks like. By working with the wonderful people at The Loss Foundation, knowing what others are and have gone trough, I am slowly unraveling and starting to deal with it.
And so I ask again, why has this taken so long? Why, only now, am I really taking stock and actively trying to deal with and remember my loss 20 years later? In short, I’m not sure. However, if I had to speculate I would say that it is a mixture of things. On the micro level, my family was trying the best they knew how, to deal, to keep going, to survive. To that effect we didn’t talk about my mom too much (not enough, anyway). We weren’t big on memorial services. We did go to the cemetery a few times a year, but mainly as a result of what the Jewish religion warrants. There were less than a handful of eulogies or poems ever read in remembrance at her grave during these last 20 years.
On the macro level, I am starting to realize that we, as a society, have placed a big old TABOO sign on talking about death. Through no direct fault of their own, my many friends have rarely if at all ever asked me to tell them about my mother, what losing my mom at nine years old felt like, how I am doing with it now and so on. I too am guilty of not talking about it, with the only difference being that now I see what I am guilty of and it saddens me that most of us have to walk around with this sense of hurt, alone and in the dark.
Shortly after my younger brother was born. I’m the fun one doing karate
I don’t know what the right way to deal with loss is, as there probably isn’t the “one way.” What works for some doesn’t work for others, and time is another non-linear concept that must be taken into consideration when dealing with loss. Some hit the ground running, and for some it takes time to open up and allow yourself, let alone others, to come in.
What I do know, however, is that we as individuals and as a society have to change. We can no longer afford to think and act as if death isn’t the unequivocally equal and a natural part of our lives. We love, we lose, we find, we lose. We are born, we die. One cannot exist without the other. Loss doesn’t always have to reflect poorly-lit hospital rooms, older people, suffering and solitude. While these conditions are true for many deaths, they are not the only things that are worth remembering. I’ll even go further and say yes to talking about that last visit to the cold hospital building, and to talking about the pain in the room, the frailty of your loved one, how they looked moments before passing away. Let’s not act in accordance to what we think is acceptable in modern society when it comes to death. Why should others’ perceptions about loss and grief mandate how we feel, love, lose and mourn. Let’s not just survive life, let’s live it, remember it in its entirety and help others remember what they have lost or forgotten. Start by talking. Nothing is off the table, not for you or your family and friends. Talk about it all, say the things you want to say, say the things that are hard, say that things that are happy. Listen and be heard.
So there it is. I’ve been sentenced to life, with no possibility of parole. It has been a sentence served 20 years in near solitude. I will forever carry with me the feeling of losing my mother at nine years old. I don’t remember her the way I want to remember; her voice, her smell, how she made me feel. However, I have taken off the blindfold and assembled a crack team to help me reignite what has been dormant for so long. I have my family, my friends, and now I have The Loss Foundation.
If you’ve read this far then allow me to thank you and ask you for one more thing, and that is to think. Just think. Think about your own loss; it might not be in your immediate family or friends, but chances are you know someone who has died. Think about them, think about their life but also about their death. How and who it affected. I ask you to think about someone you know who has lost a loved one, and think about what this means to them and how you can influence their whole day by just asking if they want to talk about it, and be there for them if they need you. Think about how and why you can change how we as a people treat death and dying.
You might not be looking to change the world by tomorrow, but as you grow up so does your realization that you are not an island of your own. There must be people in your life around you that need you. If not for yourself, then make a change so that when they will need you and unfortunately they will, it will be okay for both of you to talk about life, love and death openly and freely. Just think and remember that Love Lives On. Make of it what you will.
By Ori Becker
- If you feel like you need a space to start then please visit: www.thelossfoundation.org
- If you think that you can help spread the word then please do so by either sharing this post or by engaging in a conversation with someone who is bereaved.
- If you would like to share your story with us and the world, please do.
- Lastly, as The Loss Foundation grows and manages to help more people in need so is the need for more donations. If you feel that you can donate to this wonderful organization to help them expand across the UK and to continue offering bereavement support in a variety of ways, then please visit the donation page at: http://thelossfoundation.org/donate/