December 16, 2018

Craving Silence

My father passed away this morning.

As I grieve quietly on an Air Canada nonstop to Montreal, there’s a part of me that can’t help but dread the next seven days. My parents’ house will be inundated with visitors, many of whom will bend over backward trying to make me and my family feel better.

I don’t begrudge them. I’d do the same thing. In fact, eight months ago when my father’s identical twin brother passed away, I found myself caught up in that familiar whirlwind of chatty sympathy that often visits the solemn days of shiva.

Now I will be on the other side. How will I react? What will I say when well-intentioned friends and relatives tell me things like, “He had a good life,” “At least he didn’t suffer” or “Be strong, brother”?

To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like being strong. I feel like being really weak and really nonchatty. I feel like crying quietly with my immediate family, and meditating on my father’s life. I feel like silence.

At the same time, though, I am conflicted. I have seen how noisy, boisterous shivas can serve to bring friends and families closer together. We love to talk. We need to talk, even when there is nothing to say. Talking validates the moment and

numbs our pain. It’s the comfort food of shiva.

Silence is scary. It just sits there like a heavy boulder. It’s stressful. It feels unproductive, like nothing is happening. It’s hard to see how silence can bring us closer, or make someone feel better.

On the surface, that makes perfect sense. How can silence help us catch up with the lives of distant relatives we haven’t seen in years? How can it help us bond and reconnect through humor and wit? And most of all, how can it help us reminisce on the life of the person we are mourning?

No, silence cannot do these things. So why do I still crave it? Why am I looking for a quiet hole to crawl into, a vacuum to settle in? Could it be that I desperately want to get close to my father at this very moment, and that only silence can connect me to him in that peaceful, quiet place where he is right now? Could it be that the deepest way to honor the dead is through the raw pain of silence?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that my father’s shiva will be anything but silent. And I know that I will politely indulge all the visitors’ needs to pay their respects with words, words and more words. I am ready for that. I am actually pretty good at it. I’m used to having a big smile on my face, and giving things a positive spin. It makes for a happier life. It’s who I am.

But now that I am feeling so incredibly sad, I just don’t feel like being me. I just feel like crying and being alone with my father.

Maybe I will have to wait until everyone goes home and I go to bed, me and my silence, me and my father.

David Suissa is founder and editor of OLAM Magazine, and founder of Jews for Truth Now.