It’s here again, that time of year, those 15 days between Lag Ba-‘Omer and Shavuot. I know this will sound crazy, but I always kind of hope that it won’t come around this year, like I’ll wake up the morning of Lag ba-’Omer and find that it is, in fact, the middle of Sivan. To date, by the way, it hasn’t happened. Lag ba-’Omer always comes, and while for most people Lag ba-‘Omer is a joyous occasion, for the past few years it has evoked very different sentiments in my home.
I remember the sequence of events vividly. I remember where everyone was sitting that Friday night when he suddenly got very tired and my mom took him up to bed. I remember coming downstairs the next morning, and she was holding him on the couch, and she said he was lethargic but had no fever, that he had been up a lot the night before. I remember the day progressing, him not seeming to get any better, and my parents taking him to the pediatrician who told them to call hatzolah. And all I can think of when I picture her walking out the door holding him wrapped in my blanket because he was shivering on that day in June is that I never dreamed that the next time he came home it would be for his funeral. It never occurred to me to kiss him good bye so that he could respond to my touch one more time. We were so sure, those initial few hours, that it was nothing, that they’d be home later that night. I remember waiting for them to call after Shabbos, hardly anxious at all, to tell us that Aaron was fine, that they were on their way home. Instead, they called to say that he went into respiratory arrest minutes after they got there, how the doctors determined the cause to be an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in his brain, how he should have regained consciousness after they drained it, how he didn’t . . .
And so began the longest 15 days of my life. They called the following Monday and told us to come see him, and though I knew he was in in very bad shape, I wasn’t prepared to see him there, my beautiful little brother, hooked up to more machines than there are words in a dictionary and looking, as they say, like he could have been asleep. It was then that I was first introduced to a feeling I would come to know intimately over the next few months, a feeling I had never quite experienced before, though I was sure I had, a feeling that comes back this time of year, every year, an unwelcome guest: raw, primal pain.
This time of year, these images and so many others go through my head again and again, like a really bad movie I can’t stop watching. Then I begin to feel it, that warm, consuming pain that seeps out from somewhere deep inside and spreads over your body, wiping your strength away until you can’t stand anymore, so you sink to the floor and curl up on it and cry so hard that every breath is an ordeal and wish like you’ve never wished for anything that it would go away so you could just have your life back and knowing as you do that it won’t.
People say you have to take these things slowly. If you think of feeling like this for the next ten years you’ll never make it through. So you set small goals. Today I will handle today. I’m gonna try to make through today without losing it, and then maybe tomorrow. But I can’t think about that now. One day at a time. Bite size pieces. Baby steps.