Becoming a Widow at 34
By Lara Leavitt
Overview: In this moving article Lara takes us on a journey through the pain of grieving a young husband and the loss of all the hopes and dreams they shared. She gives comfort by sharing the things that helped her through those first few years, how her son gives her strength and how her continuous journey through life is evolving as she holds on to the emunah she feels and with her son returns to live in Israel.

Everybody has a story and I’m hoping mine might give some strength and comfort. There isn’t an ‘end’ to grief because it is a continuous journey but one where with time you can also find the strength to move forward, making decisions while keeping your loved one’s memory alive. I’m hoping that this too, will help others be a support to those who know someone dealing with losing a loved one, but the truth is grief is inevitable at some point, a guaranteed human experience.

There is no grief rule book. I grew up with significant people in my inner circle who had died. My sister who had died 3 years before I was born, at just 7 and half years old. I lived through loosing grandparents at different stages of my life and in 2017, my husband, Scott (he was 35 years old, I was 34 years old and our son was almost 15 months old at the time) and then 20 months later my father died. Every loss was different and unique. My relationship to the deceased and stage of my life was different. I do think, however painful as it was, to lose a parent (especially with it being so close to losing Scott) was something that was painful but one I could find peace with since my father had lived a full life. Loosing Scott and (indirectly) my sister
before their ‘time’ (as we know it) is something I don’t think I’ll ever find peace with.

The loss of Scott was absolutely devastating and one that I think has forever changed me. Initially I thought I’d keel over from the pain, it was so intense. The first year was much of a blur. Often it was hard to get up and function. I was still in tremendous shock. I barely left the house during that year, I couldn’t have meaningless conversations with people, I somehow felt like I was living in a surreal world and could only really muster up the energy for Shaya. Mundane chores that were once straightforward seemed super demanding, my brain felt frazzled and overwhelmed. I found it impossible to focus on and absorb things, so I’ve needed a LOT of help from friends and family both emotionally and practically. I feel very lucky to have so many wonderful friends and family.

Every relationship is so different but losing a spouse is much more than just a loss of companionship. A lot of my grief now is about the loss of hopes and dreams of extending our family and growing old together and the expectations of the way we thought life was going to be.
Of course, I find it hard to think that it won’t be with Scott but pray that it will be with someone else just as special.

They say time is a healer and I really didn’t believe it, but the truth is grief does change. Six years on and I have hard days, I don’t think it’s realistic to be otherwise, but they don’t come as often, and I am more in control of the fits of hysteria. Certain things definitely trigger it, sometimes you might know what these things are, which can be helpful to avoid but other times, you simply can’t do anything to prevent these (such as the current War here in Israel). I often write/document how I’m feeling to channel this. I miss Scott, I think I always will. He will always be part of our lives, but things feel different to what they did. I think the struggle is that time moving forward heals but on the other hand, the opposite is true because naturally you’re moving further and further away, like the connection/memories are weaker and that is tough to comprehend. Some days I want to be in the past and other days not.

Some days my heart feels as heavy as an elephant. There’s a dark cloud over my head, and tears fall like rain. This is when my heart is sad. BUT MY HEART DOESN’T STAY SAD. LIKE SPRINGTIME AFTER WINTER, THE SUN COMES OUT AGAIN. MY HEART GROWS TALL, LIKE A PLANT REACHING TOWARD THE SKY. THIS IS WHEN MY HEART IS HOPEFUL.’ This children’s book called ‘In my Heart. A book of feelings’ by Jo Witek sums it all up for me.

I think what really gave me the strength to continue was my sweet boy. I am beyond grateful for the gift Scott left me, the most precious thing in my world, Aryeh Yeshaya. Bli ayin hara.

He gave me a reason to wake up in the morning when often I just didn’t want to get out of bed! Shaya helped me to focus on all the many things I could be grateful for.

I think a big thing that carried me through also, was the belief in G-d. Having purpose and meaning. Sometimes I felt and still feel super angry but knowing that this isn’t it gave me strength. It hasn’t always been easy; I’ve struggled with my emunah too and I think that’s ok.

Just like grief, its ok to have ups and downs. I think that’s actually quite healthy and we shouldn’t feel guilty for it, everything is so personal.

One of the only things I was proactive with when Scott passed was doing learning in in his merit. Every day during the shloshim (30 days of mourning) I shared some Torah online so others could also learn in his merit. I have been told that when you experience loss, its common, to do something to feel in control of, and this for me was that. A big motivation was believing that I could help Scott’s neshama keep climbing, learning in his memory. It gave me great comfort when little else did.

Scott was very sincere and his emunah was so apparent. He taught me that everything comes from Hashem, both good and bad. I miss Scott with intense pain, with every fibre of my being, but his truly inspiring example has helped and is still helping me to have the strength to deal with his loss and the difficulties our son Shaya and I now face. I believe nothing is by chance and everything is tailor made in this world just for us. Even when it’s not always easy to see.

Scott would always say he’d never swap his struggles for another and despite the struggles, we have to focus on the gifts we have been given. I know I’m seeing one piece of life’s huge puzzle and I’m so grateful for having had Scott as part of that puzzle, as I am an enriched person for it, and I wouldn’t have changed having him in my life. The resurrection of the dead, however morbid, gives me the hope that one day we will be united.

I have reached a point in my life where my focus is not only of grief but also to seek out a more fulfilling and meaningful life for us both and G-d willing to find love again. I know Scott would have wanted this for us. For me, I often feel like I live a contradiction. On the one hand I grieve
for Scott and on the other, I so desperately want to meet another man, to love again. I think people find this hard to make sense of and I feel like I often have to supress my grieving to prove almost my desire to meet someone else is sincere. I know that new special someone will not ever want me to forget Scott. He is part of us and always will be. I just have to do me, perhaps people will not understand this (luckily, it’s hard to put yourself in another’s shoes) and I’ve learnt to find peace with this most of the time.

I have learnt to help challenge my pain through creativity. I have realised I love to write and find it very cathartic. I set up ‘matanah’ a gift business selling handmade personalised gifts. More recently I’ve joined a glass mosaic class where you take broken pieces of stained glass creating a piece which is no longer broken, which in itself, I find very therapeutic. I also go to the gym several times a week. I think it’s very important to find things that you enjoy and you can do for yourself, giving you some time to unwind. I also think it’s helpful to join a support group or find others who have experienced loss to feel less alone, even if just through literature, since there is definitely a communal experience. Connecting yourself to other people who are grieving is useful. This creates a bond when able to step into other people’s pain and hence healing for both parties.

I find the yartzeit itself is very healing. I often get so entangled by our current situation and our pain and lose focus on Scott himself and how he impacted our lives in such an incredibly special way. Time that was so precious. Time that I was privileged to have had. That’s why I have the need to record as many memories as possible for Shaya, who sadly won’t really know his father for himself. I appreciate others helping me to do this, with learning in his merit, sharing memories for our memory book and so on. I also have a ‘memory box’ where I keep a few special belongings of Scott’s for Shaya when he’s older. We made a ‘memory bear’ of his clothes and I made a chair covered in photos of Scott which takes pride of place in Shaya’s
bedroom to this day. I also think it’s helpful to ‘celebrate’ the yartzeit, birthdays etc for me and Shaya. Each year I think its important for healing to reflect on the year and personal growth. I think it’s good to acknowledge how far you’ve come. Each year I normally surprise myself by how far I’ve come from the previous. For Shaya I think it’s important to celebrate Scott and reinforce his sense of identity. Scott inspires me so much and continues to do so. I miss his sweet energy, his thirst for life, his optimism, his laugh, his smile. He’ll be in my heart forever. In his death, he’s helped me grow enormously. He’s challenged me to move out of my comfort zone and get on with life, pushing myself to be here for Shaya when often I’ve just wanted to curl up in a ball. I feel like he’s in the background cheering me on and giving me strength. I know he’ll be proud of us moving back to Israel and he’ll want for us to build our lives again.

The challenges of managing Shaya deal with his own grief is a newer challenge, which I guess will present itself differently at different stages of his development. As he gets older, I often don’t feel equipped to answer his questions to manage his turmoil and very often I just cry with him which I think is ok. I think he’s got to an age where he’s really started grieving himself, He’s reached a real awareness of being different and feeling a void of not having a daddy. A curiosity of who his daddy was. Scott is very much part of our lives at home, I feel this is fundamental for Shaya’s sense of belonging. Shaya is grappling with things and making sense of his world, which unfortunately has had to excel itself more than it should do for his years. He regularly speaks about death, he tells me it’s not fair that Hashem took his daddy. He told me the other day that we’re not a proper family because he doesn’t have a daddy and siblings. A friend told him that when Moshiach comes his daddy will come back to be with us so he asks me
regularly when this will happen.

Of course there is the piece of Scott in my heart who carries me, giving me the inner strength I need to continue. I thank those from the bottom of my heart that were such loyal friends, persistent yet patient, sensitively pushing me when necessary to make baby steps, which were incredibly hard but crucial for my wellbeing. I have felt like I’ve been carried, because some days the world just looks so foggy and unmanageable. The love and support I’ve received means the world to me and helps me get through life with this huge part missing. On Tisha b’av, the darkest day of the Jewish calendar, which marks the catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people, Moshiach will be born. So, I know I must believe blessings will come our way. As Jews we learn to hold the reality of pain and simcha in both hands. Perhaps in conclusion, I can share the following that I found very comforting from the Avnei Nazer; “He says we eat honey because it come from bees that cause pain. Bees sting and we tend to run away from them and the pain it could afflict, but why? If we want a sweet year eat a piece of kokosh cake or some sugar. Why specifically honey? To teach us that the pain of the past will become the sweetness of the future.”

Lara Leavitt
Lara is originally from London and was living in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband Scott a"h and their son Shaya. After Scotts sudden tragic death Lara moved back to London where she suffered more loss with the passing of her father. Since then Lara and Shaya have moved back to Jerusalem where she teaches art in a gan (kindergarten) and has set up a business creating and selling bespoke, handmade gifts.