On Wednesday night, I watched CNN’s Jake Tapper interview Sheryl Sandberg about her new book “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.” Ms. Sandberg lost her husband at a young age when he died suddenly two years ago, leaving her to raise their two children on her own. Ms. Sandberg’s story inspired me to want to share a recent experience I had with my family.
On the Sunday before hearing Ms. Sandberg’s story, our family gathered at our son David’s grave, sixteen years after his death, to dedicate a new gravestone. My husband, Leonard, and I chose to have this rededication ritual and we asked our daughter-in-law, who is also a rabbi, to officiate. Rabbi Lori Shapiro and I invited everyone present to participate. We only invited our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and we all shared the memory of David’s life. It was a very meaningful and moving ritual.
David’s children are now adults pursuing their live’s journeys. He would have been so proud to see how his kids, now adults, made life-affirming choices for themselves. I will never forget the vision of all of them standing there – standing beside their spouses with babies running around the greenery: Of David’s widow; brother, Joel, and sister, Lisi, who had each donated their kidney, which extended David’s life for a few more years; the vision of our expanded family, living across the globe, but always coming home. And as each of David’s five children placed stones from Jerusalem on their father’s grave, it was moving to know that one of them would be returning to his home in Tel Aviv after the service.
This is the time of year that we, as Jews, remember. From Yom HaShoah to Yom HaZikaron, L’ag B’Omer, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, we are asked to look back at our history in order to draw strength from it as we move forward. Our rededication ritual was moving to all of us, and reminded us that David’s life was a blessing. This gathering reflected that we will never forget what he gave us.
Even now, over a decade and a half later, we continue to celebrate life as a family, laugh, reflect and weep; and our tears, while still filled with sadness, are also a moving inspiration for all that David gave us and continues to give us. As we all stood there as one family – which doubled since David died – we all felt as close to him as when he stood amongst us. I am not a mystical woman; and yet, the entire time, I felt that David was talking to us, saying: “Thanks for this visit; now, go on your way to a life that will make you proud of yourselves.” Our short service ended with the family walking across the way and visiting our parents, grandparents and great-great grandparents who are also buried there.
We share this story about our family ritual to remind others, as does Ms. Sandberg in her new book, that there are ways to work through our losses. Our sadness is a placeholder for so much, and while it never disappears, we can convert our loss into rich moments of family, intimacy and fertile ways for families to move forward. It was a reminder to us of the words on our son’s gravestone:
David Alan Shapiro: 1951-2001
David’s life was a gift to our family and to the world.
Annette Shapiro is a volunteer, activist and philanthropist in Los Angeles.