As soon as I heard the news, I switched into big sister mode. I made arrangements for my kid, packed a bag and set out to be by my sister’s side as she experienced a loss so devastating I’m feeling emotional just typing about.
As I cradled my baby sister’s head on my shoulder and felt my shirt go damp, I just kept thinking about how I shouldn’t be the one doing this. I shouldn’t be the one laying down beside her and holding her as her body sobbed. I shouldn’t be the one stroking her head as she told me she would never be happy again, how she wanted to be dead instead of him and how the aching inside was too much to bear.
Please don’t misunderstand my feelings of helplessness towards my sister as a grudging help in her time of need. No, I am (happy is the wrong word) grateful to be her big sister and be able to comfort her. But, due to religious laws which have no place in a house of deep mourning, my brother-in-law could not be there for her. Even if he had been willing.
It’s hard to think of a 20 year old boy, peach fuzz on his spotty face, as an adequate, supportive husband. It’s similarly hard to think of a 19 year old girl as capable of dealing with such a grave loss. They are both so woefully ill-equipped to deal with their own grief that they can be expected to care for each other as much as they can be expected to eat a bacon cheeseburger in the middle of Boro Park.
I’m not faulting my brother-in-law for his inadequacy, or for his cluelessness in dealing with my sister’s pain. I grieve alongside him – for the moment he won’t take my nephew to cheider, for his pride when he would become a chosson himself, for everything in between.
As I held my sister up to stand, licht tzinden seemed such a cruel way to bring in shabbos – the opposite effect was achieved. Here was a harsh reminder as I lit my shabbos candles, that she would not hear the cheeky, impish boy laughter that she so deserved to hear. At least not from him. She shook, not able to finish. Collapsing from the weight of her grief, I begged my mother to intervene, to let her go. My mother and I, having reached an entente of sorts grounded in a shared desire to help, saved face for my sister. I’m grateful.
As I alternatively sat and laid down with my sister, I couldn’t help but think of how polarized my experiences with her were. Here was the same little girl who held court on my mother’s hip the day my father left, the one whose shock of dark hair sprouted in all directions making it a nightmare to tame. The same girl, grabbing her turban in a fit of rage and throwing it across the room where an imaginary Hashem was standing, revealing a depressingly bald head.
Leaving my sister’s house, I was struck by the inadequacy of the velt to deal with this. Had he lived, had he been saved, there would be happiness. Licht tzinden would have given my sister the extra happiness to cap a happy week. Even a prescribed set of guidelines to follow would be there had he lived past pidyon haben and died afterwards. My sister and her husband, caught in the limbo of having a dead child to mourn but no prescription in a regimented world, must be able to depend on each other. Yet they cannot. The hugs both of them need to give each other, the tears they need to share in the dark, are prohibited by haloche. Prohibited by archaic laws which deny both of them the right to grieve. They are denied mourning, denied the grief they both need to work through.
I believe my sister will be irreparably damaged by this. I believe the system of the velt will drive her away, and that she is not equipped to deal with life outside.
And my heart breaks for everyone, weeping for my baby sister who should never have to know of such exquisitely excruciating loss.