I cried on Tisha B’Av. Not for the destroyed Temple we were mourning, to which most of us have trouble relating, but because of a book that served as my primary Tisha B’Av reading. R. Jeffrey Saks’ and Dr. Joel Wolowelsky’s To Mourn A Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death (published by OU Press, with which I am closely connected) is haunting, terrifying but comforting.
The collection of essays, primarily by parents who have lost children, touches on every parent’s worst nightmare. How do you recover from losing the child in whom you invested so much time and emotion, to whom you have dedicated not only effort but hope and dream and the deepest kind of love? As each parent (and a brother and a few professionals) tells his story, the answer becomes clear. Everyone copes differently. Each child is unique; each parent is different. There is no single road to recovery.
However, reading the different stories, you sense that there is hope. There is a path for returning to life, for continuing despite the irreplaceable loss. Everyone’s story is different but learning that alone is crucial. Misery loves company, not out of masochism or role reversal but because it relieves the loneliness and confusion that compound the pain. The recognition that others understand your loss, not just abstract knowledge that other people have felt the pain but concrete realization of their similar experiences, creates a bridge out of your darkness.
Most of these stories are heart breaking–a mother and daughter both write about losing a child! Only read this book if you are willing to enter a world of emotional pain. This is a difficult book for the average reader but indispensable for someone enveloped in tragedy. I imagine that someone suffering from such a loss will find not comfort but commiseration in these personal tales. Reading other people’s lessons from despair might help one find his own lessons, his own bridge out of the darkness.