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October 16, 2007

The Kenny Goldman Basketball League began its 24th year on October 14, 2007. The league has nearly run itself for the last decade with guidance from Bruce Wineman of the Jewish Community Center who is the league’s director. My parents and I check in periodically and donate but we don’t have to worry much about the legacy the league carries. My brother’s name has become imbedded in the Jewish Center and its gymnasium.

            The passage of time makes unspeakable loss bearable. On the same day as the start of the league, Miles Levin’s mom, Nancy, wrote on of the loss of her son and its everyday markers:


This one is going to be challenging to put words to, but that seems to be my strength. I've had this feeling (actually, in grief, "feeling" doesn't fully capture it, sensation, wave, something) many times in recent weeks. When I feel something many times, when something persists, I tend to believe it has truth in it; and if it has truth in it for me, it probably has truth in it for others struggling to cope with this (un)reality. I'm beginning to define my own mission as that: putting words to the unspeakable.

Periodically, I venture into Miles' room. The object that destabilized me last time was a very small desk – miniature – that I had purchased for Miles when he was about three or four. I had seen it at an antique show. It's made of wood, kind of cherry in color, has a small swivel chair with slats at the back; there's a ridge for pencils on the top, and a board that pulls out – just above the two small drawers on the right side – for writing. The desk never really worked well for him because he was left-handed and the desk is designed for the assumed right-handed child. He had planned on giving it to his child.

I opened one of the drawers and discovered his collection of balls – all sizes, materials, and times in his life. The other drawer held his collection of colored pencils, the mainstay of his Waldorf education. I felt awash with sadness, fond memories, and a weak smile. That's when I realized this: When we lose a child, we don't lose (in Miles' case) only an 18 year old, I lost my 16 year old who just got his license; I lost my 13 year old who is disciplining himself for his Bar Mitzvah; I lost my 10 year old who was so spacey I wondered if he'd make it in this world; I lost my 5 year old who used that little desk; I lost my 2 year old who tripped on a bucket and put a permanent scar on his nose; and I lost my baby who was completely reliant on us for food and care. I lost many children. I realized, when I walked out of his room, that his childhood is in that room. That's a lot to say good-by to.

I thought that was a lot to grieve until I also realized that although there was no evidence of his future in that room, I felt the loss of what could have been. In another one of my forays into this territory, I discovered all the materials related to Miles' college pursuit: application essay, SAT scores, books of course listings from various colleges, and his acceptance letters. I had a strange sensation when I read the letters: did "life" know then that he would never go? Did Miles know then that he would never go? Was it a tease? Or, was it life's way of keeping hope alive.

Hope. That's what our children carry. They are OUR hope for the future. We invest in them. We care for them. We feed them. We believe in them. We love them. All the while, hoping and planning on an adult to emerge from our efforts, ready to leave the nest and begin their own life. Hope dies when our child dies; we're left with memory. But, it is not pure memory, it's filled with, what could have been, unrealized potential. The now vacuum has elements of purposelessness in it since our job has been terminated.

Living in the moment seems to be the watchword of New Age thinking. That's a tough order for bereaved parents because the feelings in the moment are a jumble of memory, impossible future, and confusing pain. Why would a bereaved parent WANT to live in the present: it hurts. Mentally, we escape to the past because that's where our child lives. The present reveals the truth that our child no longer lives, in the physical world. It is an enormous shift in consciousness to create a relationship in the present with someone who doesn't have a body. Yet, this is what we must do. Or die – if only spiritually – ourselves. This is the task, this is the requirement, this is our growth edge. I've not yet figured out how to do it, but I'll be sure to let you know if and when I do.


            I cannot write as beautifully about “unspeakable” loss as Nancy Levin does. Her words are a testament not only to Miles but to all parents of children who die. I can’t think of a better way to honor my parents and their son on the anniversary of a basketball league for kids, named in my brother’s memory. Nancy says that we must “create a relationship in the present with someone who doesn’t have a body.” For us, the league allows us a little bit of time to ponder that tenuous spiritual relationship.

Let it go at that.


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