That old tired saying about not knowing what you have until you've lost it applied to Shira and my relationship to her. We were juniors in college when she died, but I had known her since freshman year. We didn't really travel in the exact same social circles, but I knew her from Hillel and some mutual friends and spoke with her when I saw her. We were assigned to the same dorm sophomore year, so we got to see more of each other that way. During our junior year, we were assigned to the same floor in the same dorm, so I saw even more of her. That fall, we had some interesting conversations about egalitarianism and Judaism. As anyone who knew her can attest, she was a staunch and fierce proponent of egalitarian Judaism, and I was a somewhat jaded Orthodox Jew. One morning on the shuttle between our far-flung dorm and the main campus, we spoke about selichot, and the difficulty of going to them in the mornings preceding Rosh Hashanah. We sometimes shared a meal in the dining hall and spoke about papers we were writing. She once performed a miraculous feat and edited a paper for me sometime between 2 am and 9 am. I sometimes ran into her in the computer lab, when we were both working feverishly. The last conversation I had with Shira was in the computer lab, a day or so before the accident, commiserating over work and the sloped dormer ceilings we both had--she had accidentally scraped her hand on the rough plaster. When she died, I was deep into the process of becoming friends with her. Loss of the past, present, and future of my growing friendship with Shira intermingled in my mind.
I don't know what to do, what to do with this old, tired pain, and with the anger, too. Grief. It's so damned unpredictable. One minute you're calmly reflecting on the life of someone you've lost, and the next minute, the cruel heartless unpredictability of her life hits you hard. Does the grief and anger ever go away? Why do 20 year olds die? Ever? Why are 20 year olds struck in the street by a driver who is not drunk, just briefly distracted?
The first year, the year of her death, was horrific, but numbing. It's all a mess in my head--the latke bash at Hillel, a rainy night, the news in the morning, disbelief, visiting her and holding her hand and telling her I loved her and willing wishing hoping life into her in the intensive care unit, seeing her grief-stricken strong loving crushed parents and sister, seeing my friends walking around shocked and empty, being utterly alone in the dorm at the beginning of winter break and seeing no one except the security guard and Shira's ever-present friends and relatives at the hospital, going to my grandmother in New York not knowing what was happening to Shira, hearing of her death the first day of Chanukah, going to the funeral, seeing hundreds and hundreds of people there, hearing people's memories of Shira before we had even really grasped the finality of her death, going to the grave, seeing dirt being put onto the coffin by Shira's grandmother and parents and thinking that no grandmother should ever have to bury her granddaughter, going to the shiva house, the long silent drive back from New Jersey to Cambridge, and the shock and disbelief and incredulity at the horror of the world in all of those 20 and 21-year-old faces.
It was Chanukah and I wanted to yell at God. I didn't want to sing God's praises in the form of Hallel for almost a week following her funeral. Such a thought was absurd. I love Hallel, but that Chanukah, Hallel seemed like one cosmic joke gone horribly awry. How do you sing the praises of One who let a 20 year old die?
The day after the funeral, I flew to California to spend the end of Chanukah with my other grandparents, because I had already made plans and the alternative was spending a week alone in the dorm where Shira and I had both lived. I was so sad and empty and lonely. Going back to school and try to finish up the fall semester with all of its attendant finals and papers was hell on multiple levels.
That was Shira's death to me. Everyone had their own experience of it.
Shira's first yahrzeit, we were all seniors in college, and it was the first anniversary of her death. It was the first time we were remembering her death--not experiencing it as bystanders. We were removed from her death by a year, and from her life by a year. There was a memorial service at Hillel, and we learned beautiful texts in her memory. It also signified the end of a very painful year. After this, it would no longer, in any way, be "the year Shira died." A year during which whenever I turned around on campus, I saw Shira standing there. I shook my head and she would be gone, replaced by some other petite, beautiful, smiling student. I had a very powerful dream about Shira during that first year after her death. We had an important conversation and it was as real to me as any conversation I've had with anyone in life, and it helped me move on in many ways.
What does one do with the memories of Shira, the memories of the pain of her death, and the residual grief? What do you do with grief? It sometimes seems, as the years go by, that the grief recedes. I would hope that there might come a time when I would be less angry and more accepting of all of the gifts that Shira bestowed upon us: smiles, happiness, music, dance...the list, of course, goes on... I sit here on the first night of Chanukah listening to the soundtrack from Guys & Dolls in Shira's memory, and it seems right and appropriate. But sometimes I worry that I am not sad enough, not grief-stricken enough. Or else I worry that I am too sad, too grief-stricken, and have not moved on or gained enough appreciation for all of the good things of Shira's life that live on through us, her friends. And I worry that I have not done enough to remember her.
What does it all mean, five years later?
I'm really not sure.
I miss you, Shira. I miss you so much.
Labels: In Memoriam
A heavy storm and a careless moment. i think about that when I'm in the car and it rains. It takes so very little.