Sandy Wolkoff Writes About Her Son Steven Nathaniel Wolkoff
After the Funeral
I couldn’t speak at the funeral. Besides, what could a mother say?
When sitting shiva, the name for the seven days of mourning proscribed in the Jewish religion, it is a ritual that evening prayers and mourner’s prayers are said during this time in the house of the mourner. I had just joined a new temple, had only recently moved into a new home but I felt
I needed the intimate group of people who would stand with me during the prayers at night. A rabbi from this new congregation asked if I wanted to say a few words before the prayers began, adding that it was customary. I looked around, stunned that so many people showed up, all crammed into my small living room. What I said to them then, what I still try to answer now, is how can I breathe when he can’t, how can I laugh when he can’t, how can I live when he doesn’t.
I still feel that every day. There is something unseemly, unnatural, about being on the earth when my son is not in it. While the pain does not seem to diminish, the shock, the stunned breathless horror does quiet down for moments at a time. In those spaces, I remember not only his death and the tragic change in our family, but I remember my son.
I remember his birth, and so quickly, the contagious elation of his first giggle. I remember the feel of his gum as his first teeth were coming in; seeing him crawling and reciting the alphabet song at the same time. I see him on the couch, our famous brown velvet couch, rubbing his little belly as he saw me rub my big one containing his new baby sister, saying solemnly, “I have a baby in my uterus, too”. I remember his soft flannel plaid shirts and corduroy jeans, his hands on the nape of my neck, his fingers in my hair, his body resting on my right hip. I remember the heat of his forehead when he ran a fever, the smile on his face when he moved up from big wheels to real wheels, the sound of his sneakers as he ran down the steps, always late for school car pools. I remember cutting his hair, reading stories together, and then sharing books, passing our favorites back and forth. I remember shoes, endless shoes, so few were just right, and even then, they were never just right long enough. I remember his words, his written words that he could produce with a clarity and parsimony that made me jealous. I remember dinners, homework, band practice and Little League games, surgeries, healing, worries and some terse arguments, and the secret joy of snow storms and school closings that were marked by fresh baked chocolate cookies and games in front of the fireplace.
I can, and do, in my hands, heart, mind, skin, stomach feel this child of mine, feel him all the time. I see and know the boy he was and the man he became. As a mother, I have suffered a loss that I can’t measure in words, but I know that I have been lucky enough to receive the incomparable gift of witnessing my son Steven loved by others, making a place, clearing his own way in this world and leaving a bit of himself behind in those he knew. There are now so many others who know his laugh, his words, his talent, his intelligence, his kindness, his tardiness. Many others loved him; from the woman who lived with him and was also in the car with him, his school friendships, the bands he made music with, and colleagues from work, in both real and virtual worlds. I know how lucky I am that Steven left behind so many memories for so many people. Although selfish love rages and begs for just one more minute, one more lunch, one more conversation, one more hug, one more smile, a mother could really ask for no more.
I find it hard to say goodbye to Steven today, or any day, and maybe I never will be able to. But I do say I remember, I thank you, and I love you.