Three days after my ninth birthday, my mom collapsed in the backyard. My dad did CPR and told my sister to call 911. I could hear her swearing under her breath. We lived in a rural area, and my mom was the only doctor nearby, so it took a long time for the ambulance to arrive and get her to a hospital. I thought everything would be okay. A few days later, I was marched into the doctor's office, and I calmly asked what her chances were. I was told she didn't have any. I cried.
My understanding of the world broke. That's what a religious experience is, right? And that's what religion is for? To help us put the pieces back together when the world breaks. That's probably the only time in my life I turned to religion looking for answers.
* * *
I think that was the first time I sat in on a full Jewish service. We said the prayers, but they didn't mean anything to me. When I asked people there about her death, they gave answers like "she's in a better place." But Judaism doesn't really have heaven or hell, and when I was looking them in the eyes, it didn't seem like they believed it even as they were saying it.
* * *
"Why do bad things happen to good people?" asks the Book of Job. My mom was a doctor -- she helped people! And she was my mother, and I needed her. I think someone said that God had a plan and needed her somewhere else.
I never read the Book of Job until college, and I was surprised that in that story, bad things happen to good people because God was trying to win a bet.
* * *
I wanted to see her again. Talk to her. I remember someone said that if I meditated, I might be able to see her, but I don't think I ever tried it. To this day, I don't think I've ever really meditated, even though now we call basically any moment of silent thought "meditation."
* * *
My sister is Japanese, and there's a Japanese legend that if you fold 1000 origami cranes, the gods will grant you a wish. I asked my sister if we were going to wish for our mom back. She said no. I'm not sure whether or not we ever did make it to 1000.
* * *
We tried a grief group, once, for kids who had a parent die. They gave us colored pencils and had us draw our emotions. I guess it might have helped some people.
* * *
So, my world broke. I got advice from 4 religions and the secular community, but none of them really believed what they were saying. None of it helped. I think the only useful advice I got was that I could focus on my school work instead of thinking about it, but most people seemed to want to take that away from me and let me stay home from school to give me some unwanted time to mourn.
No one told me that sometimes the world sucks and there's nothing we can do about it, and so it goes.
No one was callous enough to tell me the truth that time would heal all wounds, even this one.
When I was searching for truth and meaning, no one told me that there wasn't a ready made answer for me and I would have to figure it out for myself, and that it would be hard work, but also good work.
No one told me that we are part of an interconnected web of existence and that that is still true even when part of that web is ungraciously cut.
No one told me that we each can bring our sparks of joy and life and dignity into the world and help those around us and fight the suffering, and that my mom did that in her life, and that when I figured out my purpose, I would too.
To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, no one told me that there's nothing intelligent to say about death, that everything is supposed to be quiet, and it always is, except for the birds. And the birds say all there is to say about death, things like "poo-tee-weet?"