Editor’s Note: Michele Stiefel is a member of Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA.
Our son has severe intellectual disabilities, autism, tuberous sclerosis, is non-verbal, survived a malignancy at 21 and will always need 24/7 care. He lived with us until he was 24 when he moved into a 2 person autism/IDD group home near us. By that point, I was exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally. I was 25 pounds heavier and felt like I was 80 instead of 58. His dad and I had worked hard all those years being an advocate for our son and his peers. We worked hard to be sure he was going to have as close to a “normal” future as possible. He had a Bar Mitzvah, thanks to support from our rabbi. We wanted our son to move out and live “independently” (with total support) just like his older brother did after college. All of this had been my life for a long 24 years. I felt that I needed some way to let go of the heaviness of those 24 years and move into both his and our new lives.
I’d always like the ritual of tashlicht down by the local river. I envisioned myself throwing something into the river to symbolize getting rid of the old and embracing the new. So I went to my rabbi. He asked me to find writings that touched me and he added some of his own. I also listed the feelings from the past 24 years and the hopes I had for this change in our lives. I had always had the veneer of being a strong woman and being positive so when my rabbi read my list for the past 24 years, he was surprised. I could tell by the look on his face. This ritual was going to allow me to let go of those feelings that I kept under wraps and make me free to look forward.
My rabbi and I met at the river. I carried a bouquet of flowers with me. We read together from the readings and then I went to my own spot on the riverbank. There I read my list and threw a flower in the river each time I read one of my feelings. This is what I read:
“Letting Go and Washing Away:
Unfairness Guilt DUTIES 24/7 Restrictions-Barriers-Walls Always Shrinking World Anger Resentment
Allowing In and Flowing Over:
Quiet Peace Slowness Choices Freedom Fun Mellowness Possibilities Friends HOPE
May I allow myself to feel the change and to move forward as his ‘guardian angel’ instead of the First Battalion and to allow myself the freedom to experience the new journey and chapter of my life
I went back up to the rabbi and we hugged. I went home feeling lighter than I had in years. I needed that ritual to move forward. It’s been 10 years and I still smile at the memory.
By the way, our son is thriving and happy in his home. We enjoy spending time together but he’s always ready to go home to his house. It’s been good for all of us.