For a bereaved family, dealing with bereavement is an inseparable part of everyday life. And yet, recalling the loss, talking about it, is never a trivial matter for me. But now I am choosing to tell my personal family story, since it is interwoven by an invisible thread with the optimism and hope that so typify my family and my creative work.
When I became part of my husband Ilan’s family about sixteen years ago (and even before, since we grew up together), his younger brother Maayan quickly became my little brother, and I became the sister he never had. We talked about the important things in life – relationships with girls, feelings, loves – we watched movies together, celebrated birthdays together, and sometimes even went out just the two of us (with Ilan’s approval, of course).
They were three brothers, Ilan and Danny the twins, and Maayan the youngest. They were raised on values of love of country and love of the land, helping others, and giving, and Maayan displayed these values from an early age. He always gave of himself and supported others. When he enlisted in the IDF (Armored Corps), it was important to him to do everything in the best possible way. He soon stood out with his persistence and professionalism, which gained him the title of his company’s Outstanding Soldier during basic training.
On the morning of 28 November 2007, Maayan had an exam as part of a tank training course. That evening he was supposed to have another exam. I’m writing, and it’s hard, my tears are choking me… That night, Ilan’s phone suddenly startled us out of sleep. His brother Danny was on the line. “Ilan, wake up and get dressed quickly. We have to go to Soroka Hospital. Maayan’s been injured!” Ilan immediately asks what happened, but Danny just urges him to get going. “Our parents are on their way”, he says, and his words do not bode well.
From that moment, all I remember is that I told Ilan he should go and be with his family, without me. I took a train the next morning, and joined them. The journey from the north to the hospital in Beer Sheva was the longest I’d ever traveled. The uncertainty concerning Maayan’s condition filled my head with thoughts. When I arrived at the hospital – they just continued echoing and intensifying. We were all deep inside an emotional vortex, swinging between hope and despair. Maayan had sustained a fatal head injury from a tank gun, and for two days he fought for his life. On the night between 29 and 30 November, Ilan and I went to sleep at a friend’s house in Beer Sheva, a ten-minute walk from the hospital. We asked the medical staff to inform us of any change in Maayan’s condition. At two a.m. the phone rings again. Ilan stares at it and doesn’t want to pick up. “Mamush, it’s important. Pick up…”, I whisper to him. “I don’t want to talk to them”, he looks at me pleadingly. “Whatever happens – we’ll face it”, I reassure him. On the line it’s the nurse treating Maayan. “I think you’d better come. His condition’s deteriorating”, she says.
We leapt out of bed, and within moments we were ready to go, knowing that every second counts. I remember us running through the streets as if they were familiar to us, and rushing into the ward out of breath. But it was too late. Maayan was no longer with us. We looked at him lying in bed, wanting to just yell at him to wake up. We stood frozen in front of him, and it was only the nurse’s voice that shook us out of the deathly silence enveloping the room. “Do you want to call your mother?”, she asked Ilan. “No”, he said, “let her sleep. I’ll call her in the morning”. “Would you like to rest in the meantime?”, she asked. “Yes”, Ilan said.
The staff arranged mattresses for us on the floor of the corridor, about five meters from Maayan’s room. We lay in an embrace. I caressed Ilan, and couldn’t fall asleep. Through the glass wall I watched the first rays of the morning sun begin flooding the corridor. At five a.m. Ilan called his mother, and she rushed to the hospital. “Mom, let’s go outside for a minute”, he said to her when she arrived. Mom, Elaine, looked at him silently, hollowly, and went out with him. A few minutes later they came back, their eyes filled with tears.
From that moment we went into automatic mode: messages, phone calls, conversations with doctors. Maayan’s father, Mark, and Danny went into Maayan’s room to say goodbye to him. In another conversation with the doctors we were asked if we’re prepared to donate Maayan’s organs (an ADI donor card was found on him). His father consented. Later, in the eulogy he delivered at the funeral, he said: “In his death he also bequeathed life”. And indeed, Maayan’s organs were transplanted into the bodies of seven people.
During the mourning period, I felt as though the world had come to an end. My body wouldn’t stop shaking with sobs. One day, as we all sat together, all the members of the Rothenberg family, we started thinking about how we wanted to commemorate Maayan. One of the ideas that came up was to award grants in his memory. We didn’t know exactly when, how, and where we would have the money to do it. Meanwhile, years have passed, and we built “Sergio Corner” in his memory, we held a race in his memory, and a soccer tournament, we made a film about him, but the thought of helping students never left us, especially since Ilan and I had been students ourselves, and knew how difficult and challenging a student’s life can be. In the time that has passed since Ilan’s father died, we have become parents and established AV Design Studio.
Life carried on.
One day, Ilan came to me and asked: “Remember we once talked about awarding grants in memory of Maayan?” “Sure”, I said, “of course I remember”. “I think it’s time”, he continued, “it means a lot to me. It’ll bring closure to a little corner in my heart”. I completely understood what he meant. “I’m with you”, I told him.
It’s been eleven years since Maayan died, and I still feel as though it happened yesterday. Dearest Maayan, my younger “brother”, the boy I celebrated birthdays with, I miss you so very much. You should know that at every gathering, every occasion, I think about you. About the amazing uncle you would have been to my children, about the wonderful father you yourself would have been. My thoughts wander between the past and the present. I grasp life and try to do everything I can to make things good here. Our Maayan, Ilan and I promised ourselves that we’d find a way to commemorate you. And we’ve found it. I love you and miss you, my forever young brother-in-law.