Tomorrow, Wednesday, Yud Zayin Av, August 17th is Shalom's 6th yartzheit. It's hard to believe that it's been 6 years since I saw him last. It's hard.
People say it gets easier with time, which may be true but there are times when the pain comes back with an intensity that cannot be described.
In the beginning, the pain is so raw, the family thinks about the person so, so much. The first shabbos, the next shabbos, every shabbos...it just hurts so much and the feelings are there so strongly. Shalom is supposed to be sitting in that chair, it was his seat every week...he said his own kiddush in a very unique tune...and we miss hearing it.
The first yom tov after reminds the family of what last yom tov was like, with that person there as part of the family...
Every yom tov was special to Shalom and he had his own unique way of showing that it meant a lot to him.
On Rosh Hashana he would take out a whole bag of simanim which his friend prepared for him (more than the regular ones our family does) and together with our older brother Mordechai, he would say each yehi ratzon with such simcha, such joy, and try to get the siblings to join in too.
Before Succos, he would spend time looking for a beautiful lulav and esrog. Since my brother Mordechai would sell lulavim and esrogim, he had an "in" and would be able to find a really nice one. His face would shine with excitement when he came home with his own set of arbah minim. And he took such good care of it, wrapping the lulav, hadasim and aravos in wet paper towels and then silver foil to make sure it stayed fresh. He took good care of all his things. He was always so neat, organized and put together.
On succos itself, if one of us would ask to use his lulav and esrog to bench that day, his face would light up with joy as he would unwrap it with care and set it up so we could make a bracha.
Simchas Torah is always a happy time for everyone. Just watching the little kids go around in circles with mini torahs and lots of candy will bring a smile to anyones face. Shalom was no different. As a kid, he would hold his own little torah and dance around in a circle smiling and happy while singing the simchas torah songs...Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu...
After that, he would come home and play "shul" together with my little brother and our neighbor. He'd call up one person at a time for an aliya while saying "ya'amod" in the real tune and then he'd read from the torah - imitating the trop and trying to be just like the ba'al koray. Then, the bracha would be said "asher bachar banu..." and the kids would all be so proud to be acting just like their fathers do!
Chanukah was always a beautiful yom tov and Shalom had his way of showing how important the chanukah lights are. Although it is not our family's minhag, he would sit by the candles for a full half hour after lighting them and say special perakim of tehillim, tefillos and sing songs in his sweet voice.
Of course, Purim is a yom tov full of fun and opportunities for kids to collect tzeddakah for their yeshivas and schools. The last Purim he was with us, Shalom did the cutest thing. Besides for dressing up with a group of kids from school to go collecting for his yeshiva, he had additional "props". He had saved his lulav and esrog from succos - with a plan. He let his esrog shrink until it was a really small size (I think it's done by leaving it in a box for a while) and spent a long time with his lulav figuring out the exact measurements and size the smallest kosher lulav can be. Shalom took out seforim and checked it up until he knew for sure just how many tefochim was the minimum size for a lulav. Then, he pulled off the leaves of the lulav until he got it right. By the time it was done, it was seriously too cute! He had a mini lulav-which was 100% kosher and then a mini esrog - all saved from succos! Which means that he planned this in advance - he was thinking about this succos time already! We have pictures of him with his "costume" and these are all great memories to look back at!
When it came to cleaning the house and getting ready for Pesach, Shalom did so much to help out. He was available for anything the family needed and would run and do errands as quickly as he could-with his bike. My mother would give him a list of things that she needed to get done, sometimes a few items from one store and a stop at another and then a third stop to drop something off or pick something up - and he would do it all with a smile. Whenever he went shopping, he would come home with the receipt in hand and explain how much everything costs and he'd bring home the exact change-to the penny, counting it up and never keeping any of it for himself.
I remember Shalom going through boxes of matzah together with my older brother Mordechai to find the nicest ones to be used for the sedarim. They would then separate the broken ones and use some of them to make matzah meal. It took quite a while to crush it all up in the blender and was such a big help. It was so nice to see the two of them work together as a team.
Counting sefira in preparation for Shavuos was a very big thing in our house. We all tried - and succeeded - in counting with a bracha every single night. When we were much younger and our bedtime was before we were able to count, during the time between Pesach and Shavuos we were allowed to hop out of bed for those few minutes to count sefira.
Once we were a little older, Shalom put an alarm on his watch that would beep at nine o'clock for one full minute (remember those days when kids set alarms on their watches instead of on cell phones?!) and he would run find me and together we would count with a bracha. We were all so proud when we counted the 49th day and were able to say sheheim sheva shavuos la'omer because that meant that we did it again!
Although there are all these special memories we have of Shalom, I don't want you to come away from this thinking that he was an unusually holy person. He was normal. We remember the regular things that he loved to do and the things we did together as a family. Shalom was very musical and great at drums. In fact, we used to play a game on shabbos where he would drum his fingers to a song and we would be able to figure out, based on the beats, which song he was drumming to!
When I was in elementary school, we learned how to play the flute. We learned the notes and a few easy-to-play songs. When I first came home with my flute, Shalom was so excited about it and asked if I could get him one. The next time we had this class, I asked the music teacher if I would be able to buy another one. When I brought home that flute for Shalom, he was ecstatic! I taught him the notes and some of the songs I had learned and then slowly, he started teaching himself other songs. I still remember him lying on the bed in his room in his pajamas figuring out the notes to one song he particularly liked - doing it over and over again until he finally got the entire song right.
On the long Friday nights after the meal, he would play a real good chess game with my mother and I would sit on the side and watch. It was such fun!
There is so much more to say, so much more to write. We are lucky that we have such wonderful memories to look back at. It's so comforting to our family that Hashem gave us close to 16 years to enjoy and spend time with my brother. He was a gift. Every child is a gift.
When you go home today, take an extra minute to appreciate your family, your siblings and your parents. No matter what little things they may do that annoy you, because no one is perfect, appreciate the fact that they are alive. I'd give anything to spend another day, even another hour together with my brother but I can't. So when you spend time with your siblings, think of me and think of my brother who I miss so much and am davening to see once again. Say a positive word, encourage others and take advantage of the time you have together.
May this post be a zechus l'ilui nishmas Shalom ben Chaim Nosson.
If you would like to do something small as a zechus for his neshama to go higher, please let me know. You can send me an email or leave a comment with what you are doing. Remember, Shalom cannot do ONE mitzvah anymore! But we all can.