Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mourning and Meaning: Friends

Grief is not exclusively “family property;” losing a friend whom we've loved is also a kind of bereavement. Although it’s not the same as the loss of a child or a sibling, a friend’s death presents us with similar questions: What does it mean that a person who was once very much present in our lives has left her own life? What does this say about our own mortality? And when our friend has died before her time, how can we draw meaning from that which seem so senseless?

Nehama Grenimann Bauch was Timora’s first friend; they first started playing when both were less than a year old. Our families live in the same neighborhood and belong to the same religious community, Kehillat Yedidya, and they were in the same class through eighth grade. Although they attended different high schools and drifted apart in adolescence, they became closer again during Timora’s last year. During Timora’s shiva, the first seven intensive days of family mourning, Nehama came and sat with us almost every day, some days for several hours. And not just to comfort us; she felt so bereft that she felt she needed to sit shiva herself.

Different people make meaning from traumatic loss in different ways. How we choose to do this depends, of course, on who we are, but also on the loved ones we've lost - who they were, and the special character of our connection. Nehama and Timora shared many things, prominent among them a creative and artistic nature. Timora was drawn mainly to writing, theater, and music, whereas Nehama excelled – and continues to excel – in the plastic arts, principally painting and sculpture. Both girls also inherited from their families a zeal for tikkun olam the imperative to make the world a better place.

So it shouldn’t surprise that Nehama chose to process her friend’s death by combining these two passions – by initiating, organizing, and carrying out a project that has produced art that is both esthetically beautiful and practically useful. Faraway Places has brought together ten artists – Judith Margolis, Sharon Binder, Chana Cromer, Ruth Cohn, Anat Yefet, Galina Blaikh, Julia Lagus, Mallory Serebrin, Zoe Pawlak and Yulia Polyakov – who painted and contributed works that now grace the walls of Hadassah Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. As I’ve written in my memoir, “patients who awaken [are] greeted not only by sterile white walls and ceilings, metallic IV stands, and cold machines, but also by warm, colorful scenes into which they can escape, in their minds at least, from the harsh reality of the ICU.” The staff has told Nehama that the art is making a tremendous difference both to them and to the patients and their families.

Nehama spent months and months dealing with and mediating among the artists, the hospital bureaucracy, the ICU staff, and the Young Hadassah branch of Hadassah International (through whom she organized the project) in order to get the paintings planned, finished, and onto the ICU walls. As if that weren’t enough, she spent many additional months working on the Young Hadassah Ball, which took place here in Jerusalem a week ago. Every year, the Ball brings hundreds of the organization’s members and supporters together for dinner and dancing, to raise funds for different departments in the hospital. This year – by chance but very fittingly – the money raised will be used to renovate and expand the Pediatric Department.

At the small ceremony that was held right before the finished paintings were hung in the ICU, Nehama spoke at some length about Timora. She said that she chose this way to perpetuate Timora’s memory not because she’s no longer alive, but because of who and what she was for Nehama during her life – an intensely creative soul who actively encouraged her friend (from the time they were four years old!) to become an artist.

Timora would have been very proud indeed to have her name attached to the lovely works that these generous artists have created, and to a project that is directly benefiting the two Hadassah departments in which she was cared for so long, so professionally, and with such dedication. And even prouder to be Nehama's friend than she already was when the two were together in this life.

When I think about it, though, perhaps I can say that she is proud, as she follows her friend's fortunes from wherever her spirit has finally come to rest.


Deborah Greniman said...

Thanks for sharing this. It really brought tears to my eyes.
I often think of Timora -- what would she have been doing now? But isn't it her spirit, too, on those hospital walls?

Love, Debbie

Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...

That's a lovely way of putting it, Debbie. Thanks.

Travelography said...

Thank you I feel honored to be in your blog.
I'm so happy you think she'd be proud, and really really appreciate your understanding of what was behind all of this.
It's interesting, you know, the Shiva'a period seems so blurry to me, and of course there are times in my (and Timora's) childhood you remember much better than me, it really teaches me a lot to read it from your point of view.
I hope I really did convey Timora's creative and giving spirit.... And am so happy to know the project does good to others.

Love and big hugs,

laur0902 said...

WOW - Nehama has done something so incredible, I'm almost speechless. If I ever have the fortune to meet her she will be thinking, "Why is this crazy stranger hugging me so dearly?!"