One thing all bereaved parents have in common is a need to memorialize the child we've lost. In both my original blog and my memoir, I tried to commemorate the Timora who lived for eighteen short but full years, and who left so much of herself behind. This past Thursday evening I had the opportunity, together with many others, to join my close friends Judith and Jeff Green in doing this for their son Asher, who was killed three years ago in a tragic hiking accident in Peru, at the age of twenty-eight. I found the evening a deeply meaningful way to celebrate Asher’s life while at the same time mourning his passing.
Asher was an extremely lively, inventive, and curious young man with an artist’s soul and more than his share of talent. He painted and drew, spent time in film school, and earned a certificate in theater design before settling on culinary arts as his calling. Like Timora, he left – in addition to memories of his unique self – an artistic and creative legacy.
The evening started with one of the gastronomic delights that Asher most enjoyed, a tapas bar – a wide assortment of light foods – which the guests sampled while circulating and socializing. (It was, I believe, no accident that Asher was attracted to tapas; the dishes’ variety reflects the multiplicity of his own interests and gifts.) The Greens served dishes Asher loved to make, in the warm and friendly atmosphere he'd dreamed of creating in the restaurant he hoped to open.
After we filled up on the twenty or so different offerings, we retired to the living room, where we watched several clips and short films relating to Asher, including a television interview in which he participated when he was sixteen; a film he made about Miriam Render, a friend of his who hasn’t let cerebral palsy prevent her from living a full and creative life; and his chef school presentation of his planned restaurant. We enjoyed his sharp intelligence, wit, and self-assurance, which made us laugh at more than one point during the viewing.
Our mood turned somber, though, as we watched the evening’s last film, which was made by Asher’s brother-in-law Ofer. It documented the several days that he and Asher’s brother Boaz spent searching for him, to no avail, together with a team from the Peruvian police’s high-mountain rescue unit (a villager later found Asher’s body, several weeks after he’d disappeared). One of the ways the Greens later memorialized their son was by returning to the village to present the rescue unit, whose members had risked their lives to retrieve Asher’s body, with modern climbing equipment. They also thanked the villagers, who'd been open, caring, and forthcoming with whatever assistance they could provide, by purchasing equipment for the village children’s schools. Like the evening itself, the Greens’ generous gifts were a singularly appropriate tribute to their openhearted son.
I was left thinking how the evening reflected the two faces of mourning. We keenly felt Asher’s absence even as we enjoyed the tapas that he so loved to make and serve. And, later, sadness overcame us when Ofer’s film showed us the wrapped bundle that had been Asher, as the rescue team pulled it up the mountainside. But at the same time, we took comfort in feeling the echo of his full-to-brimming vitality in his art, his films, his food, and – most of all – the love of his family and friends.
To me, Jeff and Judith’s ability to create such an evening expresses our human capacity for resilience even in the face of unfathomable grief. Without denying the emotional devastation that the death of their child has brought them, they have chosen to embrace his life. I believe that in doing so, they are also embracing their own.
Dedicated to Asher Green: May His Memory Be a Blessing