Thread of Blue:
The journey of a Jewish psychologist following her only son's death: A book of loss & Jewish faith highlighting the Jewish response to tragedy.
We form a winding trail of cars on the way to the burial of my son, my only son, who is dead at sixteen. We are a ribbon. The gaps between us are an optical illusion. We are connected, a string of hearts sent together on a mission.
The way is slow and time is gently warped. Is the journey one of hours, minutes, or an eternity? There is no fair measure for this experience by the usual means. This weaving ribbon of humanity exists above time. We are connected to each other and to our source.
To bury the dead is called the Kindness of Truth, “true” because it is free of ulteriority. We can expect no like response from the recipient of our benevolence, since he is dead. In the Kindness of Truth, we move beyond reciprocity, and thus beyond time and space.
The dead send us a ribbon of sheer mitzvah in the purest form we can know in this finite world...they reveal to us a glimpse of Beyond.
We wind slowly, we make many stops and starts in order to remain together along the highway. I notice that we are proceeding to New Jersey. I hear the names of Woodbridge and Floral Park pass between my husband and the driver, our friend. I sense consternation in my husband over these names, but I allow it to fall away. For I am beyond weakness and beyond strength. My usual control converts to surrender. Let the Ribbono shel Olam direct us.
To our left, other traffic passes us as we stall and start along the way in our effort to remain together. On the left, first beside us, then behind us, then beside us again weaves a green truck. I glance at the driver. A chassidic Jew in shirtsleeves winding in and out of our ribbon. I guess that he must belong to this group; otherwise why does he keep reappearing along the way? And yet he is not dressed in the usual manner for a burial. It teases my mind for a moment. I muse that he is a friend of my son. Yosef loved people and people were drawn to him. He had a circle of friends who varied widely in age and walks of life. Yosef was not confused by the disguises people wear.
I muse that this unknown chassid in shirtsleeves is a friend of my son who heard about the funeral only in time to rush away from his work in work clothes.
We arrive at the cemetery. When I see the chassid park his truck and join us, I am satisfied that my theory fits - the parentheses close as I turn away.
My husband’s cousins, who are kohanim, of priestly descent, cushion our arrival as they stand apart at the edges of the burial place. Because they personify holiness, infinite gradations of holiness send their echoes down to me. They escort my son, they bridge his leave-taking from this world and his entry to the next.
Now the opening for the grave is before us. We are shocked by its lonely setting. There are no other graves nearby. My son’s grave site appears solitary on the side of the road. There are no words for this sadness. I see my husband stand aside for a few minutes with his brother who had taken responsibility for the arrangements…
Again, I hear the names of Woodbridge and Floral Park. Whatever the gist of these words, I know I must not listen. It is too late, whatever it is. I must give up my son, and this lonely grave site adds an extra weight to our burdened hearts and minds. I don’t dare test the limits of strength now. Let it go, let it go, I tell myself.
On the second day of the shivah my husband tells me that he has learned from his brother about the mistake over the burial site. “I made the choice to bury our son in Woodbridge,” he says, “because it is an older cemetery and somehow less desolate.” This message was misunderstood, and the arrangements were made for Floral Park.
“Do you remember the man in the green truck?” We compare notes now on our memory of him. “He had human cargo, an old man who had died in a nursing home without family or friends to bury him.”
The caretaker, the man in shirtsleeves, was to take his body to Floral Park where the old man’s grave was ready. In the hopes of providing a proper ceremony, the caretaker called the chapel in Brooklyn and was told that a procession had indeed left for Floral Park. But, they told him, it was too late for him to meet our group, too much time had already gone by. The caretaker decided to try, and he overtook us.
As soon as Yosef’s burial was over, just after the family members left, he stated his request to the group that remained. The old man was then buried properly with kavod by the same group who had buried our son and with the same kavod that our son had consistently shown to old people. Since the old man’s plot was at Floral Park, this meeting could not have happened unless our message to have Yosef buried in Woodbridge had been misread.
I remember now my sense of curiosity about the driver, my fantasy that he was a kindred spirit of my son... I remember the sense of timelessness I experienced on the journey, the ribbon tying the group together, the ribbon that comes down that ties us to Heaven. I consider the juxtaposition of zeal in performing a mitzvah with physical odds that deem it unlikely.
Against an entire backdrop of the seemingly absurd contingencies of time and space hangs in stark relief the realization of Potential, the mitzvah. My son’s life reverberated with acts of kindness; in death his presence was creative. It was as if he reached down for one more mitzvah, a mitzvah of beauty and incalculable magnitude as an old man was escorted from this world.
The usual ribbons that tie us together and give us identity and comfort are torn apart. But now, something of a different texture steals into our broken hearts and offers to begin to heal and knit them together. We are broken but we glimpse Eternity. In the awful disruption of our usual pattern, we see beyond the pattern of finite relationships. We see beyond ourselves.
As I sense the dimensions of time and space that Yosef has transcended, as I grapple with the meaning of Beyond that my son leads me to, I recall that he has always led me. I recall his Birth poem, the one I wrote on the day of his brit milah. I speak to him now in the language of the first poem.