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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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From The Greatest Heights (Chapter I)


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I have been promising myself that I would write about the death of my twins when I was ready. Ever since that fateful day more than 11 years ago, I have tried to write, dozens of times, but my attempts have drawn many tears and very few words. I tried again very recently, but didn’t get very far. And then the school shooting in Newtown changed everything.

While we all pray that nothing like this ever happens again, these events affect me in a very profound way. My wife could see it coming. From the moment the news broke until Shabbos started, I was glued to the television. Visions of children suffering and dying were my first thoughts. Those were quickly followed by a profound sense of sorrow and empathy. While the immediate pain is the most intense, long after the news cameras are gone and people start to view the massacre as just another tragic day, the parents of 20 children will be left with unimaginable pain.

I feel that pain. As guilty as I may feel that the intensity of the pain has subsided over the years, and I have allowed other things to occupy my thoughts, it doesn’t take much to bring me back to those horrific moments. I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep, and I prepared to welcome the return of my nightmares that Friday night. They aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but it never takes much to bring them back in full force.

No matter how many years pass, when uncovered, the wounds are still fresh and deep. We all feel their pain now, but understand that long after people start to forget what the name of that school in New England was called, the parents will have to keep on living without the most vital part of their lives.

Many parents who have lost children feel that loss most intensely at every should-have-been milestone. A deep sense of longing, isolation and loss accompany every would-have-been birthday, siddur play and lost tooth. Why was this taken from me? Was there anything I could have done? Did they die knowing how much I love them? Am I being punished? What could we possibly have done to deserve this? Unexpected loss raises so many questions and there are no answers.

The parents in Newtown are asking the same questions. What if we decided to take the day off? What if I hadn’t asked that he be switched to another class? Am I a failure as a parent because I couldn’t protect my child?

We had a future that will no longer be. All the visions, the birthdays, the flu, the weddings, the scraped knees, the grandchildren, the failures and the triumphs are gone – unexpectedly, in an instant. There is never a sense of understanding and there cannot be acceptance, and without understanding and acceptance it is nearly impossible to move on.

I know the situations and circumstances for my children are very different. I am not a fan of people’s desire to determine which situation is worse. Suffice it to say, there is no pain in this world comparable to that of a parent who loses a child.

In addition to the cruel reality of a lifetime without my children, I have been told that my children never really existed by more people than I can count. You see, my children passed away an hour after their birth. I have been told to get over it. I have been told how the death of children was an everyday part of life in Europe. I have been told that I couldn’t possibly have bonded with them, and I have no memories of happy times to haunt me. I have even been asked if I regret my decision to see them struggling before they died.

I usually ignore such comments, but on occasion I will ask if I was or was not a father for the hour I held my children while they died, desperately trying to find some way to express how much I loved them and how sorry I was that I couldn’t save them.

I tell them that I would have given anything in the world for the opportunity to watch them grow and truly express my love for them in a way that I know they could understand. The truth will always be that if given the choice, I would still give my life in an instant so that they could live.

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About the Author: Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed is a freelance writer, public speaker and social media consultant. He is currently working on a book about his collegiate experience. He welcomes comments and feedback at chaimshapiro@aol.com or on his website: http://chaimshapiro.com/


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8 Responses to “From The Greatest Heights (Chapter I)”

  1. Ilana Schwarcz says:

    I'm so very sorry for your loss. May Hashem comfort you.

  2. Chaim, thank you so much for summoning the strength and courage to share this. I cannot imagine the extent of the loss you feel, and have felt, but I am overwhelmed by the power of your words; and I am proud of you for helping others to begin to deal with their own pain (and begin to grasp the hope that can be generated via 'acceptance.') Stay well, old friend, stay strong, and think good thoughts…

  3. Sherree Belsky says:

    Isn't it amazing that Hashem who created the universe, who gave us the Torah, who guides us in everything we do, who gave us common sense, intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, chessed and sympathy aslo created human beings who have the ability to say the stupidest and most uncouth comments at the most unfortunate times? Why is that they don't understand that Hashem gave us both lips and teeth to guard our tongues from letting these stupid comments slip out?

    No one can judge another person's pain, the only thing one can do is validate it and show compassion for the loss and pain another experiences. Chaim, I am so sorry for your loss, and never heard your story before. Of course you and your wife suffered a devastating blow. You suffered the deaths of two children, two babies that you were excited to welcome into your family, excited to see grow up with siblings and be a part and parcel of your family and life. You expected to see their first smiles, their first steps, their first words as all parents expect of their children. The hopes and dreams that you had as you went through the pregnancy or the hopes and dreams that any parent has throughout a pregnancy is normal, along with the fears. How can anyone tell you that what you felt or experienced didn't happen or you were not a parent to the babies your wife carried? As soon as a pregnancy was confirmed the two of your were expectant "parents".

    As you held your babies in your arms you infused them with the love only a parent can give. Only Hashem can decide who lives and who dies, but a parent has the power of love and your babies without a doubt felt the love of both their parents. WE are only human, we don't know what Hashem's plans are, or what these tiny neshoma's tafkidim were and why they were only meant to be born but not stay on this earth. Maybe their pure innocent neshomas could not bare the evil of what this world and especially our own Frum world has become. Maybe they were sent here to be kaporos for all of us. We can't know, but we do know that there was a reason why you and they were chosen for this tafkid.

    We all know that Hashem does NOT give any of us more than we can handle. You carry your pekel and I carry mine. Neither of us would choose to switch. Of course I would not want to be in your shoes and if you were to learn my story, you would choose to keep your own pekel. My mother A"H used to say, if everyone would gather in a big room and put their pekelech on a big table they would all choose to leave with their own pekel.

    I have no doubt that your little angels are looking out for you and your family. Maybe that is why they were sent to you. Maybe that was their tafkid, to be yours and to be connected to you. Only Hashem knows. But you were definitely blessed by them in some way because every child brings with them a special brocha and mazal. Even though they did not survive they brought something to your life. I understand that the loss is painful but if you can also accept that there was a purpose for them being born and even surviving for just one hour. For just one hour you felt there sweet breath as shallow as it was, for just one hour you felt their heart beating. For just one hour you smelled their baby smell. For just one hour you felt their soft baby skin, and that one hour will last you your entire lifetime, because you felt their life in your hands. Hashem had that much rachmonus on you, he allowed you to feel them, smell them, experience them if only for that one hour. Your wife did not miscarry, they were not stillborn! There are those who were NOT that lucky. Yes I am saying that because it is true. There are those who are NOT that lucky, so if only for one hour, you held life in your hands, and that life even for one hour, is always a promise for the future.

    So always remember your little angels, but do not remember them with too much anger or sadness. YOU did nothing wrong. YOU were NOT in control. YOU are NOT G-D. Hashem is in charge and WE as Yiddin MUST look upon these things as gifts. We MUST look at things in the positive. Hashem did give you the gift of life through other children B"H. He did keep his promise towards you. But he also gave you these little angels, just for a little while, just to hold for a precious few minutes because he knew that you could appreciate and value life as precious as it is and YOU do not take it for granted.

  4. Thank you for this gift to us, this sharing of your loss of Asher and Devorah. We who have lost children cast about in our grief, never knowing when to cry, when to hold the tears back, when to talk about it, and when stay silent to give our friends and family a break from our grief.

    I can hardly stand to think about Newtown. It is like trying to magnify the loss of my daughter times 20. Unbearable. Unthinkable.

    It took courage for you to go to that place of pain and let it out. Your gift is appreciated.

  5. Inmemoryof Yossi says:

    I am very, very sorry for your loss.

    If you need, or want, I have a Jewish support group online. It is a listserve. You can send me a PM, or you can look for JP Net on Yahoo groups.

    I hope that Moshiach will come quickly and our kids will come back. I hope you will hold Devorah and Asher in your arms very soon.

  6. Inmemoryof Yossi says:

    I am very, very sorry for your loss.

    If you need, or want, I have a Jewish support group online. It is a listserve. You can send me a PM, or you can look for JP Net on Yahoo groups.

    I hope that Moshiach will come quickly and our kids will come back. I hope you will hold Devorah and Asher in your arms very soon.

  7. I am sorry for your loss.

  8. Glen Holman says:

    Beautifully written.

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