Yesterday was especially hard for us because one week ago we buried our son. When I close my eyes, it’s like I am back inside his grave, gently laying him on the dirt. The clouds surround us as a light drizzle starts to come down from the sky. All is gray. All is blurry through my tears. My wife and I hold on to each other, because in this deluge of pain and sorrow we are both grasping for a rock to steady us, a rock that will keep us from drowning.
Hugging us, our Rabbi asks if it is ok if we begin the service for Bennett. I want to scream at him. I want to hit him. I want to kill him. I want to cry in his arms and be told that God is taking care of our little boy.
I murmur, “Yes.”
His name being Bennett, the closest Hebrew name is Baruch. So his name was Benjamin Jack Baruch Lawton. Learning that his Hebrew name is Baruch, which means “blessed”, felt like both an evil joke and a request from God to believe in him. Who was Bennett blessing? How were we being blessed by him? Why would God do this to family that he was blessing? All of this runs through my mind and my heart as tears course down my checks.
As my mind and heart seeth with remorse and anger, I can’t hear what the Rabbi is saying. I know that they good good words. I know that they are compassionate. But I can’t comprehend them, until he says, “Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba b’alma di-v’ra.” He is beginning the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer that Jews have said for over 2,000 years to honor and commemorate loved ones.
Not being able to speak or read Hebrew, my eyes look to the transliteration. Yet, as I my mouth murmurs in Hebrew, my eyes are reading the English translation, “Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name.” Ending the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Rabbi looks up and tells everyone gathered that it is Jewish custom to not to leave the grave while the deceased lie there unburied.
Picking up one of the shovels nearby, I lift dirt and sift it down over Bennett. Others in attendance are supposed to take part. One person shovels some dirt and then the next person takes the shovel and shovels some dirt. But that is my baby boy lying there. I’m his father and I don’t want his cloth wrapped body to be exposed. So I keep on shoveling dirt into his grave.
Even after I cover his body, I continue to shovel. I stop gently sifting the dirt into his grave and begin to vigorously strike the shovel through the dirt and toss it into his grave. I begin to slip on the dirt and grass more and more as I become tired; my black leather soled dress shoes unable to find traction. No other person has yet touched the dirt of a shovel. All are watching me, waiting for me to give up. Waiting for me to admit that I need help. But I can’t do either of them. I’m not willing to bow out. My soul is willing, but my body fails my soul. Sweating, dirty, back aching, and out of breath, I’m able to shovel less and less dirt as the Rabbi comes up to me and gently puts his hand on my shoulder. My boy’s grave, like my grief, is too big and too deep for me to handle on my own.
I write, like I shoveled, because that is the only way I know how to bury my grief.