Yahrzeits are a time to contemplate where we were, what we lost and perhaps what we have done since the loss. My son Yitzchak Meir was born during Sukkos 17 years ago, and he was brain damaged from birth. 6 years ago on the 30th of Cheshvan, his body could no longer sustain itself, and he returned his soul to his maker.
I do not know if I will ever understand exactly why Hashem decreed that he come into the world the way that he did. But given that this already happened, perhaps it is wise to take something positive out of it.
This year, as I thought about my son, I remembered how little he could do. He did not have the use of his body – certainly not the way we use our bodies. He could not walk, talk or see. He could not make sure to use the toilet when necessary. He could not help clean up for Shabbos. He could not earn a living, enjoy a good book or a movie, or even sit and learn Torah. One could ask “What kind of life is that?” – and in fact there were people who asked me such a question.
But the value of my son’s life is not what I want to discuss now.
I want to ask “What kind of a father was I to such a son?” I couldn’t teach him to ride a bicycle, make chocolate lollipops with him, learn about the parsha, or sit around the Shabbos table and just shmooze. I could not give him advice on what to wear, where to go to school, or which phone to buy.
What use did my son have for me, his natural father? He was cared for 24/7 by nurses and doctors!
I learned that my job was not to judge him, but to simply give him love – even though he was not able to physically respond to it. I spent visiting time during the last three years of his life sitting by his side, holding and caressing his hand, and reading tehillim. When he made a #2 while I was in the middle of tehillim, I didn’t yell at him, or say “I expect better from you.” Yelling would not accomplish anything, as he would remain lying in the bed, staring into space. When he failed to help assemble or disassemble the sukkah; set the Shabbos table; clean his room; tuck himself in; there were no words for him – all these tasks were simply things he could not do. My job was not to make him feel bad. On the contrary, my job was to let him know that he was loved regardless of his abilities – or lack thereof.
Now that Yitzchak Meir is gone, what can I take out from that 11-year experience.
The answer this year is for me to give unconditional love to my other children.
When they don’t do what I expect – whether that is to not clean the table after dinner; or not setup the sukkah; or clean their room; or not get a 100 on their test – my job is to just love them. Perhaps encourage them at times to reach their potential, but otherwise just offer them constant, unconditional love.
During the past few years I have sometimes wondered if I can even do that. Offering unconditional love is something I might expect from Hashem, but for me to turn it around and give it to another person sometimes seems unattainable.
But this year, as I remember how I was able to give my son Yitzchak Meir unconditional love – never blaming him; never shaming him; just offering acceptance and love – I can then take that forward to today when I am faced with a challenge from my other children. Then I can remember how I did have the capability to offer unconditional love to a different child, and then do the same to the child in front of me.
There are other lessons that I learned from my son Yitzchak Meir – and other lessons yet to be learned. But this year, this particular lesson of unconditional love resonated with me, and I thank you all for letting me share it with you.
Thank you all for joining me in this event today.
May the neshama of my son Yitzchak Meir have an Aliyah.