Karen writes in her Shabbos note: I feel like I’ve been in a protective bubble all year. More recently, perhaps because I’m less distracted by work, or perhaps I’ve been protected because I needed to be gradually eased into the pain. But I am actually beginning to miss Ariel. Before, I felt his presence as an abstraction, now I miss every physical part of him, his voice, his look, his steps. Will the shudder that overtakes my body diminish when I make contact with the pain? Will the physical manifestation of grief fade as the barrier dissolves? I don’t know. I just feel that Ariel’s death is finally being incorporated into my reality, a bridge is being formed between my old life and my new life. I guess that’s what’s called “working through” or “integration.” Again, the real feeling approaches. Our Shabbos table is very quiet. Karen and I are alone. Our girls are both away. Karen and I chat. Karen shows me the latest kashrus guide from Trader Joes. We analyze the various kashrus logos. I’m fixated on the graphic element; what works and what doesn’t? Karen wonders which hechsher our community accepts. The politics of kosher certification is Byzantine. Sometimes, downright ugly. We clear off the table. In the living room, Karen and I sit in our chairs and read. I’m in the middle of eight or nine different books. I read a chapter in one book, put it down, move on to the next. ADD, anyone? Actually, I prefer to think of myself as a restless intellect. My high school rebbeim had another word for it: undisciplined. My reading on Shabbos night is never productive. My body is set to go to sleep as quickly as possible. So I sit in the chair and read the same sentences over and over again. My head droops like a flower after the sun goes down. Shabbos is hard. It is Shabbos without my son, Ariel. The quiet penetrates. I feel Ariel’s absence as a physical ache that never lets up. The reality of his non-being becomes more real with each passing day. I keep asking: Where has all his learning gone? All that Torah, all that knowledge? I know, I know, he’s in yeshiva shel ma’alah; he’s learning with the gedolim. But I’m sorry. That does not make me feel much better. I want him here. I want his flesh, warm against me as I hug him. I want him, not the idea of him, not the memory of him, not his spirit. No words of consolation can fill the void. No abstract angelic images convince. Perhaps I’m not religious enough. One of my best friends in the community is an alcoholic. He’s observant, with wife and children, but if he did not go to AA, he would sink into a life of alcoholic debauchery. A few weeks ago I told him that if I could I think I’d like to become an alcoholic, just to drown myself and forget everything. What’s stopping you? he said with a smile. I’m allergic to alcohol, I explained sheepishly. I get migraines just smelling liquor. My friend laughed and told me that a real alcoholic drinks no matter what. Maybe a drug addict, I suggested. Anything to get away from this awful reality. My friend, let’s call him, Gabriel, took me with him to an AA meeting. It was an astonishing cross section of men: no women at this meeting; this was a AA shteibl. There were business executives, blue collar workers, one genuine rock star, a famous actor. I sat and listened as one after the other they described all the awful things they did because of their addictions. The tales were harrowing. Lies to spouses. Adulteries. Theft. One man, a Russian Jew with the delivery of Henny Youngman, spoke of taking his infant child to a crack house. Buying drugs instead of formula. These men all rely on the support of their fellow AA members. It is touching to see the genuine care and love extended to the most fallen of the group. Several men introduce themselves to me. They assume that I’m another alcoholic. I feel like saying: I’m actually the father of a dead child. But can I stay anyway? IN AA they keep referring to a Higher Power. Higher Power? It’s like something from a science fiction movie: Higher Power Battles Godzilla. What the heck is that? Soon, I realized that they were talking about HaShem. I thought to myself, why don’t they say, God? That is His name. And after the meeting is over, the men rise, join hands and intone a prayer. Some have tears in their eyes. Others smile with the release of a burden too heavy to bear. Gabriel explained that calling HaShem the Higher Power is AA’s way of including everybody, even atheists. Okay, I get it. And I realized that these men have are just another break-a-way minyan. The shul they were going to failed them. The medical establishment, the psychologists, clergy, all failed to understand them. And so, they built their shul. But certain truths follow; and it becomes increasingly clear to me that no matter where you go, no matter what the society, it always comes back to HaShem. Man eventually has to come to grips with his finitude. The world, it is too large. The world, it is too dangerous. The world, it is too overwhelming for us to cope with no other reference outside of ourselves. So, my plans for addiction (never serious, merely the ravings of a bereaved father who has never even tasted beer) are dashed, and I’m back where I started. The AA people speak of a Higher Power. Karen and I believe in HaShem and so we must extend that belief into the final realm. The place where Ariel’s spirit now resides. I must go on without him. I can’t. I will go on. I don’t want to. I write one word after another. Take one breath and then another. I see him. I can touch him. But he is not what he was. And somehow I have to live with that.