Five Years Without Her
By Fern Chasida Rabinovitz
Sunday, the 13th of Shvat, is five years since the awful and unreal day that my daughter, Liam, died – just two months short of her fourteenth birthday. Although I do not usually talk about it, I decided to share some thoughts.
In the days and months after your child dies, you don’t believe that you will survive. It hits you first thing in the morning and last thing at night… your child is dead. I remember there were times when I was out and I wanted to just stop on the street and yell, “How can you go on? Don’t you know that my daughter died?” The unfairness of life continuing and moving forward as though nothing happened was unbearable.
The question everyone wants to know is “does it get better?” Five years after Liam’s death I can honestly answer yes… and …no. The raw pain that is always with you in the beginning fades. It doesn’t assail you when you wake up. Flashbacks happen less frequently. And yet as time moves on, a dull pain stays with you. It is hard to believe that it has been five years since I’ve seen Liam. Since I’ve spoken to her, or heard her voice… Kissed her, touched her, hugged her, been exasperated by her, or yelled at her. The pain comes from watching her friends grow up and wondering what she would be like, not as a child of thirteen but as a young woman of eighteen. What she would look like, what decisions she would be making, how she would be changing and maturing. I am losing my frame of reference for things I measure by Liam’s age; it is getting too complicated to figure out. We left kibbutz the summer she finished third grade. My mother died the winter she was in fourth grade. We moved to Zufim the summer before she went into sixth grade. How old would she be now? So how long ago was that?
I wonder about her interactions with other people – how would she and Maor get along these days? How would she get along with my cousin’s daughter who is a bit younger than her? Or with my friend’s daughter who’s a bit older than her? And you realize that the questions will never stop. For as long as I live, I will be astounded that time continues to march on without her. One day I will be amazed to discover that Liam has been dead longer than she had been alive.
When Liam died, everyone in my circle knew that I had a daughter who died. As time moves on you meet new people, your circle expands, and you have to decide who to trust with this information. The simple basic question “How many kids do you have?” asked innocently and often, is a loaded question. If you don’t include her, you feel guilty. But you don’t always want to get into it. At least I don’t. I don’t want to explain my life story to people who are basically strangers. They inevitably ask what happened and I don’t have a simple answer. I don’t want to see the pity in their faces. I am quiet and I keep things inside and I don’t want to talk about it in every casual social encounter when some unsuspecting person asks what they believe is a mild straightforward question. By not disclosing this information, however, I lose the ability to share parts of my life with others. I made aliyah when I was pregnant with Liam. We went to Disneyworld when Liam was six and Maor was a baby. My parents came to Israel when Liam was one year old. There is a lot that I do not say without the context of Liam.
Losing a child creates a hole; a gap that cannot be filled. Yes, life goes on (because what choice do we have) but you always feel that someone is missing. Everything you do as a family, both the big celebrations and the small mundane activities, leave you thinking and wondering and just plain missing her.
“People imagine that missing a loved one works kind of like missing cigarettes. The first day is really hard but the next day is less hard and so forth. It gets easier and easier the longer you go on. But instead, it’s like missing water. Every day, you notice the person’s absence more.” —Back When We Were Grown Ups by Anne Tyler
Liam Chaya was almost fourteen when she died at home suddenly and unexpectedly in January 2003.
This article was printed in Our Tapestry Issue #4. Summer 2008. All rights reserved.