The First Yahrzeit: Missing Saadya
No one heals from a loss of a child.
One year ago, my son, Saadya, was still in this world. On April 28, 2020, at 2:30 PM, his heart stopped; a blood clot traveled to his heart, a not-uncommon result of Covid-19. I was out buying an ice cream cake for his nephew’s birthday and waiting for the hospital staff to turn on the video screen in Saadya’s room so we could Facetime and I could say hello.
He was scheduled to be released to a rehab center to wean him off the tracheostomy and ventilator that he still needed in order to breathe. His lungs were compromised from the five-week battle with Covid and he had been intubated for four weeks.
At 2:35 PM that day, I was picking up a blue pot I had ordered from a local store. That’s when I missed the hospital's phone call. They left a message, “Please call back, there is an emergency.”
“I’m sorry, your son went into cardiac arrest and we could not resuscitate.” The doctor's words made no sense to me.
Twenty minutes later I was entering my home with the ice cream cake and the new blue pot when my phone rang. I couldn’t understand what the young doctor was saying. “I’m sorry, your son went into cardiac arrest and we could not resuscitate.”
Her words made no sense to me. “Just a minute," I said to her. “Would you mind telling my daughter what you just told me?”
In a sort of zombie state, I knocked on my daughter’s door and said, “The doctor is on the phone. Can you understand what she is saying?”
My daughter calmly took the phone, listened to the doctor, and said, “Okay,” and then hung up. Neither of us spoke.
Saadya had come out of the medically induced coma of the previous five weeks; he was going to a rehab unit in a hospital that specializes in weaning patients off their ventilators. We had had only one real “visit” through a video tablet. I still had to speak to him to say “Goodbye,” and “I love you.”
Instead, I was plunged into a topsy-turvy world of mourning where nothing made sense.
In non-Covid times, our home during shiva would have been filled with visitors providing our meals, expressing their wish to comfort us. Shiva is usually a physically draining period as the sharing of tears, laughter, and memories offer little time for the mourners to really reflect and fully comprehend the reality of their loss. Covid cruelly deprived us of the emotional shield that shiva creates. The emptiness of sitting alone, quite literally, without even the comfort of other mourning family members, precluded even the mourners sharing the same venue.
There was no daily minyan, no reciting of Kaddish; meals were delivered and left at the door. Zooming shiva visits and endless phone calls could not possibly all be answered, even briefly. WhatsApp or texts must be the devil's idea of bringing wishes of comfort.
I light a yahrzeit candle to mark the date. I will no longer measure the time in weeks or months. Now I will make his absence in the measurement of years. Does that mean I will not check my phone for his WhatsApp? “Hi Best Mom Ever…Great Day! How is Best Sister, Dr. Kiki doing?”
His last voicemail, which I somehow missed and did not hear until after his passing, is timestamped March 8, 2020, is in response to pictures I sent him while I was on a trip to Florida to visit my sister. “So great Mom! Best time ever. Seeing my Aunt Judy, your best sister ever!”
Saadya's driving force was for everyone to feel joy and happiness.
The family WhatsApp group (just one of his active worldwide social media life) was replete with “Happy Birthday best Brother in law” or “Big Nephew Ten Years Old Today!” or “Happy Mother’s day” or “GOOD LUCK, writing a new story!”
Saadya's driving force was for everyone to feel joy and happiness. He reached for the stars for himself and for anyone who crossed his path. He exuded positivity and perhaps that is why as he forged new paths, in America and Israel, where he won friends at Darkaynu, a program in Israel for young men with special needs affiliated with Yeshivat Har Etzion, and here in programs in America.
He mastered the subways of New York to travel from Brooklyn to the other side of Manhattan to fulfill his dream of attending Yeshiva University. “That’s what the other guys in Yeshivat Har Etzion do…so of course, I will also!” A visionary psychologist on faculty at Yeshiva University and Makor Disability Services created a program for young men with special needs to be a part of Yeshiva University. He was scheduled to graduate with Yeshiva University’s class of 2020, as a member of the Makor College Experience.
Two years ago he moved from the Makor Program Dormitory at Yeshiva University to a supervised apartment in Brooklyn and commuted to YU every day. Living with three other young men, he was filled with pride at living on his own. “I can’t come home this weekend, Mom, the guys need me to set the table for Shabbos and make Kiddush for everyone!” “Sunday, I have to go shopping and we are going out for Dovid’s birthday. Okay with you?”
“Of course, Saadya, you have to take care of things. You can come and visit us whenever you have time” – which he didn’t have too frequently. But what greater joy for a parent than knowing that he was enjoying a fulfilled, independent life. The dire predictions by the “specialists” of his infancy, of a life with no possibility for any degree of self-sufficiency, were a total fallacy.
No one “heals” from the loss of a child, any more than one can “move on” from the loss of a limb. It is more that one becomes familiar with the absence. One learns that we are actually quite capable of experiencing seemingly opposing emotional states. One learns to dance with a prosthetic leg. In fact, one can feel immense joy, without “healing.”
Saadya’s robe hangs on the back of the door of his room, which looks quite similar to the day he left for his apartment. When walking down the street, the walk of someone ahead of me seems familiar but I remind myself that it is not, can’t possibly be Saadya. Still, I pick up my pace just to make sure.
I used words to hold on to him, completing a book that is a tribute to his accomplishments and also gives voice to parents of special needs children. More Than Special, I call it. Because that is what Saadya was…that is what can be.
I am told that his neshama (soul) is now settled in the Heavenly Court. I am reassured by many that his pure soul immediately ascended to the highest heights and he was personally greeted by God, where he is sitting under the Throne of our Creator, together with the souls of his father and brother.