Reuben Mitrani's Journal
moments of grief
Written Dec 4, 2012 10:13pm by donna orbachSo many moments of grief gone. So many more to be endured. So many firsts to experience. This week was the first time I got the question, you know, the one every mother of a dead child dreads, “So, how many children do you have? Is Adam your only child or your youngest child?” I stared, as if I didn't understand the question. Again and again, I feel like I am living in a movie. Sometimes it seems like a small independent film filled with soft, quiet moments of reflection where the cinematographer pans in close with a hand held camera and it looks so real that you think , “That's what it must be like.” Sometimes it feels overacted like when I can't catch my breath or when I'm screaming in primal pain as I drive down Linglestown Road. It must be dangerous and I'm sure I should pull over, but I'm screaming so loud and the tears are streaming and blurring and I'm afraid to do anything but continue driving and screaming because if I stop, I'm afraid I either won't be able to go on or I won't be able to stop screaming. And I do not want to be comforted.When Adam was little and we were out and about, he would often turn to me and beg, “I want to go home.” It was a lament and a plea. Often I would listen and take him home. But then I noticed that sometimes at home , he would turn to me with the same pathos in his voice, “I want to go home,” he would cry. After a while I understood that it was a code for him. What he was really telling me was that he was uncomfortable in the world and couldn't find a safe place for the moment. In these last few weeks, the plea returned and he mutters again, “ I just want to go home.” And I hold him in my arms, but I can't take him home again. There is no safe place to run from the pain. There is no comfort.Poor Reuben. Dead. At twenty. That heady age of exploration and independence. He didn't need to keep secrets from me, but he wanted to have a life that was his alone. He wanted to be the one to decide what to share and what to protect as his very own. But now, he is dead. And I am an excavator, mining his life for every precious gem. Trying to possess his experiences and regain his memories. I want to touch every person he touched. Know every intimacy he shared. I never believed my children were mine. I believed they came fully formed and knowing, but not yet cognizant of the secrets of their own souls. They were/are independent creatures and that it was/is my job to help them uncover who they were/are.But now I have to discover and imagine who Reuben was going to be. Or else what his life meant while he was here. Who he touched and why it matters. His life has to matter. And I believe it did. So, I am not digging through through the muck and wonder pointlessly or aimlessly; defining and redefining his complicated essence. I will not forget him and I will not let you forget him either. REMember. How odd that his initials would have this built in ability to command what needs to be done next.
a weeping willow
Written Nov 20, 2012 9:21am by donna orbachMany of you have asked me about Switzerland. Did we find what we were looking for?The answer will always be yes and no. I will be looking for pieces of Reuben forever.Returning to Switzerland was too difficult to describe. Images swirl in my mind as if I have just come out of a dark dark theater where I watched the heaviest movie ever made. I see myself sometimes as an actor being given direction to personify grief, sorrow, and brokenness. And it comes. And I am not acting.There were moments of celebration. I am like a girl at a frat party forever drinking to Reuben. To Reuben, and we clink glasses all around. Again and again.I laughed, a really truly laugh, thinking of how much Reuben would hate that I was drinking out of the giant alcoholic fishbowl with all of his new friends, gathering up the pieces of his life. But like I said to them, "If you don't want your mom hanging out and questioning your friends, don't die." And we all laughed. And then I went back to my hotel room and stared into space -rocking back and forth - and knew again that there was no comfort anywhere.Following are the words that I shared with Reuben's SIT Geneva program at the beautiful tree planting/memorial service they organized at the Jewish Cemetery in Veyrier, Switzerland;
I wonder how to address you.
We have lost a child. I don't know most of you, for you this might be a loss of innocence or of a faith that the universe functions in a certain way. It is a traumatic loss.
I don't know what Reuben really meant to any of you. Or how well you knew him. Or whether you liked him or loved him or had a crush on him. Whatever he meant to you in life, his death has impacted each of you. He was twenty. Most of you are twenty or twenty one. Most of you are Americans who understand what it means to turn twenty one. Finally legal. ( and now in Colorado and Washington state , even more legal - and that would make Reuben happy) Twenty one is also the age when most parents can let go and stop worrying about those pesky underage drinking laws. For so many parents that is the call you fear and brace yourself for – either your child has been arrested or has been in a car accident. Mostly that is what parents of minors worry about. Ask your parents, I doubt any of them ever wondered before if their child's brain was going to explode.
I bet none of you ever wondered if today was going to be the last day of your life. For real. Beyond the cliché.
What would you do if you knew ahead of time that these were your last few days on the planet? How would you live out a lifetime in just a few days? Would you climb a mountain and look around you and think, “Aah, this is good,” and challenge your friends with an endearing facebook jab, “Okay, so my life is cooler than yours!” Would you start a new book the night before you died and be so engaged that you couldn't fall asleep? Would you text most of the people you know a brief message that was part of an ongoing conversation? Would you facetime with your mom and go hug your homestay family and just hang out ? Get intellectually curious about the lecture you heard on humanitarian law? Would you go for a run even though you hated running but staying in shape was really important to you ?
Would you just live as if it wasn't your very last time to be alive?
And then in some odd premonition like way, would your very last tweet be a retweet of Jay Z's “ I dropped the same day as the twin towers.” And then would you drop? On 9/11?
I am here in Switzerland like a spy or a detective. I am collecting pieces of Reuben's life and putting them in my evidence bag. I want to know everything he saw and try to see it from his perspective. I want to eavesdrop on his conversations and thoughts. I want to count just how many places that boy could still go shirtless even in uptight and staid Switzerland! I need every piece of him that I can discover because that bag of Reuben is all that I will have left to parse out for the rest of my life. I will have to take memories that weren't mine and assemble them into the man that Reuben was becoming. Because that is what has been happening to all of you here, you are turning into your adult selves. You have been off on a grand adventure that will teach you both great and small things about who you are and how you want to live in the world. Some of those lessons might not hit you for thirty years, but they are part of how you see the world now.
And Reuben's death is one of those lessons.
Most of you will carry only a vague yet powerful image of the time when you were young and one of your own died. It may hit you at odd times and you will sometimes stumble to remember , “I knew a guy who died when I was in Switzerland , what was his name... nice guy. What a shame. Scary” You will stumble because most of you will live long fruitful lives filled with work and service and children and grandchildren and Reuben will be a footnote.
Reuben will never be a footnote in our lives. He was the rock center. And so I ask you, I beg you as the years go by and a Reuben image sneaks in or a story that you completely forgot is recalled or a picture shows up , get me that thought or story or photo. You might remember a conversation that you had with Reuben and only years later realize that it was an important one. I collect dreams as well. Any sighting. Any memory.
I need to put it in my bag of Reuben that I will always carry.
I will be a long time without my Reuben
I am a little stuck now. Do I enthuse? Do I eulogize? Perhaps a little.
Was my Reuben going to change the world? Who knows? He was bright enough if that's what he decided to do. Was he going to be a politician? I sort of hope not, but he could have been. Was he going to get excited by a million more different ideas and than get equally as frustrated by the bureaucracy and the inane rules that stop people from doing good? Probably. Was he going to be someone's dad and husband and little league coach? Absolutely. Was his intent to always be kind to all those around him. I believe it was. We don't know what this marvelous creature was going to accomplish. We just don't know who he was going to continue to touch as his life evolved. And now we have his death . And we are equally uncertain of what his legacy will be. We don't know how many ripples of connectedness there will be between him and what you all do with your lives.
We don't know.
But here in Geneva, a weeping willow will grace a beautiful cemetery and Reuben will be REMembered.
( Right now, we are pretty sure that Reuben is being remembered by Knick Fans everywhere. They see his hand in this remarkable run of wins. And it would be just like Reuben to waste whatever grace he has been offered on a winning Knicks season! Because that would make his brother so happy! And Reuben loved being a fan! He was a complicated young soul)
Interlaken, November 2012
Written Nov 14, 2012 3:57am by donna orbach
I wander through the mountains at the top of Europe like a detective looking for clues. I want to pull out my packet of pictures of Reuben and stop strangers that he may have walked past and ask them , “Did you see this young man? “ “Do you remember him?” He had had a drink at this bar, he slept at this hostel, he walked down this street, he swayed drunkenly as he chivalrously accompanied his female companions safely back to their room. “Don't you remember him?” I'll beseech. I'll scream. He was so alive then.
Again, like a dog with the scent in his nostrils, I walk purposefully down the street or along the path that Reuben must have taken. I think to myself, “This is the very air he was breathing.” And I try to inhale but my lungs are filled with too much longing. Every fiber of my being is consumed with longing for him. Some sign of him. How can he be dead when he was so very alive in this very place such a short time ago? How can he be dead? There must be something of him here. There has to be a molecule of his breath hanging in the air that I can inhale and feel him alive.
My tears have a different weight here. They are so heavy, yet they pour down my face faster and more fluidly then before. They are there, unbidden, all the time. Soon there will be crevices that mark their path and I won't have to tell my story, the grief will be etched on my face forever.
I look out the window as the train glides past the foothills. Did Reuben ride that train?
This is the last place he was alive. I have come to think of Reuben's life as having ended on September 11th. He was gone already. What remained was a body that I could touch and kiss and talk to, warmed by fever; kept alive by machines; and attached to tubes. Perhaps his spirit remained in the room with us. It has been said that he was hovering, watching us, waiting for his release from his damaged body.
Is there another story that lives side by side with this story? Is there the story of the boy who returned, but was never the healthy boy who went out for a run just minutes before his brain exploded? We lived with that story for a little while. We tried to make peace with that story as we bargained and pleaded and hoped and prayed for Reuben to just be alive. That story did not have a happy ending either. There was no good turn for this tale to take. None. Everything good that was going to happen to Reuben had already happened.
And so I am back here. Looking for his footprints in the dirt. Racing up a path as I nearly lose my footing; wearing the completely wrong shoes for even so short an alpine trek, I yell to Albert, “He was here, on this footpath. Alive. Living his life. “ And then I cry, “ How is he dead? How?”
I am on the mountaintop and I want to scream his name to the wind , but instead I walk around all day and find myself suddenly just saying his name aloud. Like the tears, unbidden, his name just glides out and I say, “Reuben” and it is just like crying .