The Hardest Year
Getting through the holidays – and every other day – without Ravi
By Jayne Feld

Above: Ravi and his brother Lee during Hanukkah last year

(Ed. Note: Earlier this year, the SJ Magazine family experienced a devastating tragedy. Exec. Editor Jayne Feld lost her 17-year-old son in a horrible car accident. Jayne is sharing some personal thoughts for SJ Mag readers.)

The future looked so bright in late March. As flowers poked out in the garden and songbirds announced their return, I paused a few minutes from intense holiday prepping to take it all in ­– and allow myself to envision a return to the activities we missed at the height of the pandemic.

When the world shut down in 2020, Passover was the first major holiday to go to Zoom. A year later, it was the first in-door gathering we returned to as vaccinations became more available. After being out of the practice of playing host and cooking for a crowd, I admit I stressed that something would go wrong. Maybe the oven would break or the toilet would flood or – God forbid! – I’d make too little food.

But sure enough, muscle memory kicked in and the evening was wonderful. The food cooked perfectly, conversation was warm and lively and everyone seemed to really connect with the retelling of the Exodus story. After dinner, our 3 teenaged boys eagerly showed off their pandemic-acquired piano talents before all the kids made a break for the outdoors. The adults lingered longer than usual around the table, savoring face-to-face conversations and too-sweet wine. I didn’t even mind the mountains of dishes we had to finish cleaning that night to get on the road to Virginia the next morning.

I now think of that Passover as special for a different reason. It was the last family gathering that Ravi, our firstborn son, would ever share with us. Later that week, on the last day of our Spring Break vacation, Ravi died from injuries sustained in a horrible car accident.

Approaching the holiday season, I now know to be extra aware and sensitive. The grief will come, even if I don’t know exactly when or what will trigger it. Winter was Ravi’s favorite time of year. Our family has always hosted multiple Hanukkah dinners over the 8-night festival to include family and friends of different faiths. He relished decorating cookies (and eating lots of them), lighting the menorah and organizing ultra-competitive dreidel games with chocolate coins as the ante. Ravi also loved going to the home of our friends for tree trimming. There’s always the obligatory picture of the Jewish kids in front of the Christmas tree. Then there’s New Year’s Eve. Since the boys were little, we’ve had neighborhood celebrations that went late because of the tradition of midnight soccer. After the ball drops, the game begins – no matter how cold, rainy or snowy the evening turns out to be.

Ravi liked the gift aspect of holidays as much as anyone. Between the main course and dessert, my family gathers around our living room to open presents. It’s the usual fun chaos. I still can picture Ravi’s loving smile last year when he pulled out the pajama pants that I found randomly at T.J. Maxx. The design pattern is Bob Ross painting Christmas trees. I can’t even explain why we both thought this modest gift was among the best. He was always wearing them from that day forward.

I already know that getting the house prepped for this year’s Hanukkah will be hard. The sadness may hit me when I’m making dishes that Ravi loved, getting out the decorations, many of which he and his brothers made in preschool, or displaying the menorahs caked with layers of wax from years of happy celebrations. Then again, I never know what’s going to trigger sorrow. Sometimes it’s an expression that Ravi would say or seeing his brothers wearing his hand-me-down favorite shirts.

There is no choice but to go on. Gathering with family and friends, making new memories for Ravi’s younger brothers, that’s the best way I know to honor my beautiful son. So slowly and deliberately we’re finding our way back to everyday living. We’re also figuring out how to continue traditions to both carry his memory forward and bring joy and meaning to our lives. For Ravi’s birthday in August, we honored what would have been his 18th birthday with a family outing to Valley Forge. I know he would have loved to walk the path of Revolutionary War history. In September, when we gathered for the Jewish New Year, we lit a candle and shared happy memories.

I’m not sure yet how our traditions will change for these upcoming holidays. Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights. One of the stories we tell is how a tiny bit of oil, which should have only lasted a day, stayed lit for 8 nights as my ancestors restored the sacred temple in Jerusalem. It was a miracle. I’m not expecting miracles, but I choose to see Ravi’s impact as enduring. As long as we live our lives to honor him, his bright light will never be extinguished.

December 2021
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