Kaddish for Joshy
Three months ago today I found my son Joshua dead in his room.
The second I saw him I knew he was gone, but I tried desperately to revive him anyway. My heart wouldn’t accept what my brain was telling me. He had been dead for hours.
He was on his knees, face down on the floor. There were two piles of vomit. One next to him. One where his mouth was. There were a few drops of blood as well.
I see this scene at least a dozen times a day. In my mind I call it, “the terror.”
I feel his cold skin while doing chest compressions through my tears. I can barely hold back my own vomit. I’m screaming at him to wake up. I’m trying to make a deal with God. My life for his.
The awful finality of his death sits on my chest and in my head. It makes me sick every day.
Joshua lost a war neither my wife nor I knew he was fighting.
How it came to this seems incredible. It isn’t.
While Josh was in graduate school in Texas he hit a wild hog while driving on a backroad.
His car was damaged, and so was Joshua’s back.
Going through his room, I found dozens of prescriptions for pain-killers.
He was a pack-rat. He kept everything.
There’s so much to deal with here I’m going to do it in small pieces.
I’ll be writing about this, and other things, more regularly because that’s what Josh would have wanted.
“Why don’t you write anymore?”
“Why did you stop playing the guitar?”
I had no answers.
But before I go too far you need to know who Joshua was.
Rabbi Jonah Layman knew Joshua since childhood. Here is his eulogy.
I’ll be back with more.
שרה וחיה קלמן בן רפאל פנחס
August 31, 2018
Words cannot adequately express our sorrow and our pain today. We want to wake up from this nightmare. We want to make Rikki & Carl and Adam and Martha feel better and we want to ease their pain. But tragically there is nothing we can say and nothing we can do to make this go away. All we have left are our memories and it is our task to remember Josh. By sharing stories about him and by being reminded of who he was we know that we can keep his memory alive.
Rikki and Carl and I essentially share a backyard here in Olney. But back in the day we lived across the street from each other in Silver Spring. Rikki worked at the preschool at my synagogue and at least one of my children was in her class. Since I haven’t seen Josh in a long time we talked on Wednesday about who he was and the adult he became.
As they said, Josh was a wonderful son. He was sweet, kind and compassionate to family and friends alike. He was devoting his life to helping others. First as a grad student in psychology he focused his research on addiction. He published articles in the top journals of the field that reflected his findings that would help understand the cause of addiction that could lead to appropriate methods of therapy. Recently he decided to switch career paths and become a paramedic. Rather than working in an office he wanted to be out in the field, helping people hands on. He had passed some preliminary tests and was hoping to be accepted full time.
While in grad school he met Martha. They shared a love of life and a love of animals. His dog actually was named Ovi after Alexander Ovechkin of his beloved Washington Capitals. They’ve been together for a few years and they became engaged a year and a half ago.
Josh also loved Israel. During grad school he spent 4 months at Tel Aviv University and before he met Martha he strongly considered moving there.
17 years ago – on September 8, 2001 Josh became Bar mitzvah. The Shabbat morning service was held at Shaare Tefila Congregation and of course Josh participated beautifully. Among the words I shared with him I said, “I’ve watched you in Religious school and across the street these past few years. I’ve seen the goodness of your character. You are a diligent student and you care about your classmates and friends. We only hope Josh that as you begin your life as an adult Jew that you nurture that element of goodness. By being kind you will continue to be a blessing to your family and community.” I was stunned when I read those words the other day. I was surprised that I was able to discern his character and understand his essential goodness. But I guess his goodness shined through. Even back then it was clear for all to see how much of a “mensch” he really was.
Three days after Josh became Bar Mitzvah the attacks of 9/11 occurred. The world as we know it changed forever. The joy and celebration of that milestone event was overcome by the national tragedy unfolding in NY, in DC and in PA. Our world turned upside down.
17 years later our world has changed again. The boy about whom I prayed should be a blessing to his family and community has done so but is no more. We only pray today that Rikki and Carl and the entire family find some peace. May they feel comforted by our presence. May our hugs and our tears help them realize that we are here for you. We want to help you, we want to ease your burden, we want to help you live today and tomorrow and the next day. May Josh’s soul be a constant presence for you. May his sweetness and goodness carry you through the days and weeks ahead. May Josh inspire us to lead lives of compassion and goodness too.
החיים בצרור צרורה נשמתו תהי – May Josh’s soul be bound in the bond of eternal life. Amen.