Next-Stage Grief
It’s about me now
By Jayne Jacova Feld

Jayne Jacova Feld shares her deeply personal journey with SJ Mag readers, as she continues to cope with the loss of her 17-year-old son Ravi who tragically died in a car accident 3 years ago.

The day starts as most, when my son Cary and I leave on the later side of the morning drive. We’re in the long line of cars inching toward Cherry Hill East, both of us on autopilot. In the stillness of stalled time, a glance at the horizon breaks me from faraway thoughts. The sky is still streaking with textured clouds and tones of orange and red that will soon leave no trace. Such beauty, I think, is wasted when no one is paying attention.

And then Jon Bon Jovi on the radio implores me otherwise.
“It’s my life, it’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive”

As I turn up the volume, Cary offers me the top of his head for a quick touch kiss before he darts off. This is usually when I start the car back up and slip back into routine. 

Wait, pay attention. It’s the voice of my heavenly son Ravi. I’ve heard these blunt-force lyrics countless times, belted out as the anthem they’re meant to be, but they’ve never truly resonated as they do now. It has now been 3 years since Ravi died in a car crash that the rest of our family survived, and this is the kind of message I’ve been receiving from him lately, the urgency to reclaim the joy for life I’ve lost. It comes as I find myself in a new stage of grief that, given the passage of time, has caught me off guard. And yet it has been a long time coming. 

In the early days and months following the accident, when we all moved like shadows of our former selves, I asked Ravi for dinosaurs. We would see them in the most improbable, fun places: a child’s drawing of a T-Rex left on a highchair at a restaurant table, toys hidden in sight when we’d be thinking of him, and countless text photos from friends who continue to feel Ravi’s impact.

They felt like affirmations that we were moving in the right direction, allowing our community to help us move through the grief. This I believe brought to us what we needed at the time, from healers to opportunities to create memorials in Ravi’s name, including an outdoor stage at our beloved summer camp, to inspiration. Over the years I’ve published essays about how we’ve moved through our grief, including a chapter in a best-selling self-help book. More recently, I’ve been talking publicly about our story and the power of writing through grief.

But deep down, I knew there was more to face because I was holding back. Part of my restraint was practical. I leaned on my instinct to protect my family, like I always did, parenting to make sure my husband and children would not fall into the abyss that always seemed close at hand. But that instinct didn’t come out of nowhere. Through all the soul-searching, I’ve come to understand it is rooted in emotional blockages I developed in childhood as coping methods when I felt alone and afraid. And now, at a time when Ravi’s two brothers are flourishing in unexpectedly heartwarming ways, there is room for me to delve deeper into my grief. But I can’t say I’m navigating this space as gracefully as they are. 

Jayne during a sweat lodge healing ceremony


Confronting my sorrows has led me on a path towards addressing those long-neglected wounds and traumas, and to recognize that the emotional shields were fear-based and self-limiting. But they also served a crucial purpose. As a journalist, emotional distance was helpful. I was able to take on challenging assignments, such as writing about 9/11 and its aftermath earlier in my career as a New York-based journalist. But they now seem to be the very obstacles blocking my path to healing.

My desire to find healthier ways to fully process all these emotions led me in new directions, including on a spiritual pilgrimage to the pyramids of Teotihuacán, Mexico last December.  It was a leap of faith, traveling to a place steeped in ancient wisdom and mystic practices with others from across the United States. My experiences there were profound. Among them, I walked through fire, took part in a sweat lodge healing ceremony led by a shamanic elder and made solemn new vows of commitment – to myself. 

One of the most powerful experiences involved breathwork, a natural way of inducing an altered state of consciousness while maintaining full awareness. I was skeptical at first, thinking my brain would try every trick to resist feeling vulnerable. And yet I surrendered. Over a 2-hour session, I was transported back to the hospital room on the day of the accident to what was a horrific scene, frozen with shock. At the time, all I could do was hold Ravi’s hand and cry. And for so long, I’ve had flashbacks of this moment, regrets that I couldn’t do more to say goodbye to my sweet son, that I didn’t hold him. During breathwork, I finally got my chance. I felt myself crawl into his hospital bed, hug and caress him and stain him with my tears. I let him know it was ok to leave. It was the release I needed to begin letting go of some of the most jarring memories of the accident.

After this 10-day trip, I came home fired up and ready to take on the world. But the reality of change is that it is hard to do. I was far from “cured.” Despite all that I’ve learned on this healing journey, I find myself feeling more vulnerable than ever, as though my new, healthier strategies for managing emotions haven’t fully taken root yet. My brain is resisting, tricking itself into forgetting all I’ve accomplished in life and dwelling on the paths I didn’t take. This has depleted me of my usual high energy and caused me to doubt myself. 

When I’m paying attention to my Ravi messages, I remember how the rituals and ceremonies I brought back from Mexico were all about releasing shame and sorrow, and how my own spiritual practices are built around finding personal freedom. I want to embody the same courage Ravi showed in overcoming his self-doubt. It is front and center at this time of year. Pivotal to Ravi’s story was how, in 10th grade, he rose above his anxiety to audition for and land the starring role in our synagogue’s Shpiel, an annual musical that joyfully marks the holiday Purim, when the Jewish people’s bravery overcame the threat of annihilation. This year’s “Wizard of Oz”-themed Purim was like a double-dose message. Like Dorothy, the lion, scarecrow and tinman, I am called to face my fears and find the healing power that is inside of me.

Or as Jon Bon Jovi tells it, “I just want to live while I’m alive.” It’s now or never.



May 2024
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