Rashi and I on Purim, circa 2001...Today on Rashi's Yortzeit, I felt compelled to put pen to paper...
It has been a whole year since my friend Rashi passed away. It's a cliché to say it but there is no other way to put it - it feels like yesterday. How could it be a whole year? A whole year ago I got the dreaded news? On March 11th, I had slammed my phone down at about a few minutes to midnight- annoyed with myself that I was still on the cursed thing. It was now March 12th, about 5 minutes later that I got the first text alerting me to something very wrong. Instead of seeing the text, I got four and a half hours of peaceful sleep. A type of sleep I wouldn't feel again for quite some time. No stranger to bad news, there's a certain shuffle and gasp that I have come accustomed to hearing when my husband is looking at his phone trying to process what he is reading, at 4:30 am that is what I heard. At 4:30 am groggy and exhausted it’s almost impossible to process information. What we thought we were hearing, actually seeing, or reading in text after text, missed call after missed call, really made no sense at all. How does your friend just die? Someone you communicate with almost daily, someone your own age, someone you spoke to just two days ago- it's simply too outrageous to process, especially in a dark room, shivering, while half your brain is still sleeping on the pillow beside you. We went through the motions. Another cliché, but that is what you do. As the kids wake up, you call each child into your room alone and tell them the news. You try to process how they might be handling this right now, while inside you know this short stilted conversation will affect them forever, and they will never, ever forget it. You get dressed, you drive the 45 minutes of a drive that fills you with memories and now forever will fill you with dread. Memories of happy times, the time you first met, and the times you felt comfortable enough to tell her zany things, and laugh about it. How perfectly frank we always were with each other. The time you were adventurous together, and drove 3 hours to somewhere North of GA, with three babies in the back seat to see a Moshe Yess concert, just us two as the adults. The times we had Shabbos sleepovers, bbq's, swam and went to the park together. So many memories and now so much pain instead. More than the events or times together it's the conversations. I hear my friend Rashi in my ear constantly. She is like a running commentary, how do I almost know what she would have to say about almost everything? Because that is where our friendship was most profound, it was in our conversations. (I really have no idea what she would say right now, on any given day, how could I?) So now I talk to myself and to her, inside myself, and imagine how she might respond.
Immediately consumed with pain, fear, horror, and emotion for Rashi's family, I really did not see her passing as a loss I could call my own. Her funeral was agonizing; to watch the people who loved her in so much pain was really more than one can bear. It was physically torturous to fathom how this could happen and what would be moving forward. I maintained that for me it was peripheral or a secondary blow, my loss was not like theirs.
The world it seemed was reeling, the shock and pain was too great. So much was said about Rashi, so many mitzvot taken on, Torah classes begun. I did my part, I spoke, I studied, I encouraged special women's mitzvot, and I taught Rashi's Torah and Tea class. But really, I did nothing concrete. I didn't join any bandwagons or make commitments. I made many excuses for myself, saying as a friend Rashi would best want to be honored without my being frantic or consumed with guilt. So I wasn’t; for the last year it feels like I just was, plain and simple. Missing Rashi daily, sometimes with low grade sadness, almost like a low-grade fever. Reflecting back though, it seems I learned a great deal. I don’t know if it is anything profound or different from what another might learn from the passing of a dear friend, but it is things that are now a part of what makes me who I am.
A few weeks after Rashi's passing a family friend told me that I should not be mistaken, losing her friend many years ago, was so stressful it almost made her lose her marriage, "don't make that mistake, Dena". That is when it hit me. That losing a friend is a tragedy and not just a happenstance, as in - well I was lucky to have her for the years I did- G-d gives and G-d takes. It's not so simple. I am thankful she gave me that early on reality check, it was most helpful. If that is where it almost took her, this is serious. I learned that yes, the emotional toll would drain me, would bring issues that were simmering, somewhere in the back of my wellbeing, right to the forefront. Losing a friend puts a lot into perspective. Ironically, now, like Rashi, I really won't deal with the pettiness of life. It's got to be real. And then we can deal. I learned that we have got to live in the here and now, really take each moment we have and be present, for the people we love. Don't push it off because like they say, tomorrow may not come. Not in a morbid way, but in a real way. Living Life. For Real. Not in an irresponsible frivolous way, but in a genuine authentic way. I learned that people are capable of so much more love and joy than you would imagine, watching the Minkowicz and Leiberman families from up close all year, has shown me this. I witnessed first-hand people rising to the occasion, even to be the most patient and loving Mother and Father all in one person, Rabbi Hirshy taught me that. I learned that as Shakespeare said "misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows," and "Misery loves company". But I now view these popular idioms in the most endearing of ways, because through this pain I have been opened to the most profound people. I have learned to be emotionally responsive, I work harder than ever to be so to myself, those I love and those I come in contact with. Our emotions are profound, and deep and don't need to be explained away, they just are, so treat ourselves and others kindly as such. Most of all I learned this; upon seeing the global impact that Rashi’s life has made on the Chabad communities is that you just have to be yourself. You can fool others, so what? But fooling yourself is damaging. You need to live your most true life. Rashi never set out to be a rock star or have her name on pages and pages of Torah literature, but there she is, with her name in lights. She was always just doing her thing. And there was never one day that she was trying to be someone other than herself. We heard it from our Dad, from inspirational posts, even learn about it in Chassidic thought, each of us has a mission here on this earth, and by fulfilling our mission we will be the most inspirational and leave behind the brightest legacy. So figure it out, what is my mission here- and go about fulfilling it, in the way that makes you, the unique person that you are.