Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

When a Child Dies: Emotional Grief at Christmas Time…by Robert M. Katzman

by Robert M. Katzman © Sunday, December 22, 2019 (Revised 12/26/22…This may continue)

Written in response to Peggy’s letter of pain on Facebook: No, Peggy, I don’t know you, but I felt compelled to respond. Perhaps it will give you some possible way to cope and find peace.

I have not lost a child, but seem blessed or cursed with empathy, with absorbing others’ pain so intensely, it is like having a massive unpredictable Empath Serpent coiled within me, sometimes rearing up and piercing my heart with its fangs. I have no shield to stop me from caring.

I am Jewish without excuses, not into endless ritual, but deeply spiritual, and now old enough to have experienced the loss of so many people that I have forgotten some of their names.

A village of dead friends and relatives scattered across many towns, this country and other countries. I see their faces, can hear their voices in my mind, some of them locked in an endless loop of a certain holiday scene where I was less, to them, then whatever I might ever aspire to be. Yes, I can hear their voices. No volume control to the–endlessly anticipated–onslaught of the daggers they pierced me with when I wasn’t allowed to respond:

“Bobby! Respect your Elders and be quiet!!”

But the good ones remain, as well, Peggy. Always so quiet, with their dark eyes still so bright across a century. Their lips don’t move and silence surrounds them.

But they talk to me, Peggy. Not in words, but in helping me navigate morally ambiguous situations over my nearly seventy years. They seem to nudge me. No one screams at me any longer. No one can. I have become the Eldest of the Elders. The gift of revenge? Such a thought reinforces my sense of the existance of God, of balance and justice. Maybe God is actually…fair?

I don’t know.

Maybe not in many other’s lives, but in my life of irrational violence, it rings true.

The worst of my family have evaporated, freeing me from their seemingly endless holiday tyranny. Not smart enough. Not successful enough. Not religious enough, and on, and on. I am certain any Christian or Muslim or someone of many other faiths and creeds understands this situation. Cruelty has no ethnicity, no saints, no prophets…and when it happened, no Divine intervention, either. Or so it seemed to me at the time, when I was small and with no defenders.

But Peggy, the good ones, the kind ones, the ones who held and hugged me, transmitted love without words; perhaps because of their own fears of retribution, they remain. I can feel them. Especially when alone and in my kitchen. Perhaps cooking invokes their spirits. Perhaps they miss the wonder, the delectable fragrance of the old recipes from Europe.

Who knows?

My warm kitchen seems to expand to accommodate the body-less crowds. I see Celia from Poland, her father Moshe, her sister Shirley who hid behind the barn with her when their father was beheaded in a Pogrom. Maybe because I am the last namesake. Nathan from Byelorussia who was halfway across the Atlantic in 1914 when World War One began, and who was alone among his family of twelve to survive, because they all were too timid to emigrate.

I see my mother, Anne, my father, Israel, my sister, Bonnie. They came from different paragraphs already written above. A vast thorned-thicket of anger here, but I’m deciding not to enter it. I can choose. I am not compelled to slash myself to express complex emotions in my letter to you, Peggy.

I see Mollie, and Milton, and Sylvia and Foster and the other Milton and Herman — the first of the immigrants to die — and Adele and Ziggy and Diana and, and…? Oh, I am so sorry. But there are so many and I am older now.

I see orphan Rose from Lithuania who was sent off alone to America by cruel relatives because they told her she was too plain to marry off. I see skinny Jacob, the carpenter from Megilev-on-the-Dnieper River who escaped from Poland in a hay-wagon, as family legend has it, because when the border guards pierced the hay with their bayonets, he was too slim a target to kill. One of five brothers and not handsome, he made it to America, too.

The richer established German Jews in New York City didn’t want illiterate, stinking, impoverished, unsophisticated and Yiddish–speaking Jews from Eastern Europe to diminish their centuries of hard-won social standing in America. So, under the illusion of giving charity (to themselves, perhaps) they sent off these masses of ragged rabble across the United States to tiny Christian towns, far far away from New York City. Thus were these two souls, Jacob and Rose, destined to meet and marry in the cosmopolitan center of Yiddishkite-culture, of Newport, Kentucky.

Those who believe that their superior educations, accumulated wealth and secure social status bolsters their illusions of their sophistication and makes them imagine that they are more valuable in the Eyes of God than lesser others. I believe that my own antagonism toward such people who think this way has been firmly and genetically transmitted across Time, space, oceans.

Grandma and Grampa, your fierce spirit survives in me; and I believe, it also lives on in the kindness and decency of my children.

I see Agnes and Jim, my Irish immigrant neighbors in a ramshackle shanty next door who kindly gave me their dog, Smokey, to play with in their house when no pet was allowed in mine. Because of them whom I met at age five, Gaelic voices and music endure as rich poetry within me, from 1955 on. Yes, I can still hear you, Mrs. Gelin, remember your clouds of cigarette smoke and see your dimly lit shanty. And I prized the shiny silver dime you gave me to go shopping for food for you, because you were unable to walk.

The pets? Oh, the pets. The canaries and parakeets and dogs and cats and newts and mice and turtles and…ok, mostly the dozen dogs I slept with across my life and theirs…well, they are everywhere in my kitchen, on the walls, on the ceiling and snuggling up to me when I need them. Oh, man, I think God gave us furry dogs so we could withstand all of the insanity among our families, Peggy!

Can any of you reading this understand me?

The good intermingling with the bad?

To say this as essentially as I can; my kitchen, that warm embracing glow of my kitchen…my kitchen is Joyce in another form. During our 42 years together, she made me kinder, better, more accepting of the monsters within and without my/our families, because whatever was wrong with me, she needed me in hers. Together, we kept our Legions of Demons at bay. If I was, maybe, a hero to her, she was my shield and sword. She looks after me, still.

And, well, not so silently, either. Her own blue eyes have drawn more blue eyes into my quiet orbit. Funny, how they both look so…Blu-ish.

Advice from the Eldest, Peggy?

Imagine that now missing child who is gone from your life, is still present, lingering around you, forever young, listening to whatever you want to say, wordlessly, just a message from your mind, your heart to the child.

I have done this many times, sometimes once, sometimes frequently, depending on who it is and what I need to say.

When your family meets, pick someone with warm eyes and arms who’s not judgmental to sit with, who has a giving heart and wants attention from you, too. I hope perhaps that comfort of community helps get you through another difficult Christmas while still thinking about the invisible and forever empty chair filled with the child who will never grow up.

No, Peggy, for me there is no Santa Claus; unless, perhaps, Kindness is another name for him.

Merry Christmas to all of you, whether visible or not.


Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: http://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.


Comment by Lynda Rosemark

December 22, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

Great story…yes, surround yourself with love and kindness

Comment by Bob

December 22, 2019 @ 3:03 pm

Herb Berman
2:38 PM (1 hour ago)

(to me)

Hi Bob,

This was a moving recollection of good and bad times, good and bad people. You and I are alike in some ways, far different in others. I’m also a child of eastern European Jews who came to America because life in the old country, Lithuania, to be precise, was so intolerable they had to flee from everything they knew and once loved. My grandparents made their way in their new world, and their children, among them my parents, prospered and were happy. My many relatives treated me with kindness and respect, some even with love. The pioneers, grandchildren, me, my sister, my many cousins did well, financially and otherwise.

Most would say my life has been easy, a happy marriage, happy and successful kids, happy and successful grandkids so far. I’m prosperous, and did well in my chosen profession. I also experienced minimal antisemitism, and knew how to deal with it when I did encounter it. For example, I left a corporate executive position after three months when it became clear that I was the “smart Jew” who’d never quite fit in. The VP who hired me was a good guy who’d chosen me to ultimately (quickly actually) replace my immediate supervisor. It was untenable. I quit, and joined a Chicago law firm, the best move I’ve ever made.

Your life has been so difficult, so fraught, so tragic that it’s difficult for someone who’s been fortunate, very lucky actually, to understand how you’ve managed to navigate through and around all your many obstacles.

Your piece brought tears to my eyes, especially this cri de coeur:

I believe that my own antagonism toward those who believe that their superior educations, accumulated wealth and secure social status has been firmly and genetically transmitted across Time, space, oceans, and the illusion of their sophistication makes some people more valuable in the Eyes of God than others. Grandma and Grampa, your spirit survives in me, and I believe, also lives on in the kindness and decency of my children.

Despite being a Jew from a background probably much like yours, I haven’t had to envy goyim, or anyone,their superior educations, accumulated wealth and secure social status. I too have a good education and I’ve accumulated some wealth to pass on to heirs. I’ve always believed in the “American Dream”that education and hard work lead to material success. In my case, at least, the American Dream became reality. I realize that there are those who’ll never “fit in” because of race or other irrelevant considerations. I’m surely not naive enough to believe there aren’t social boundaries I’ll never breach. Fortunately, I don’t care, and, as far as I know, these limitations at the upper income level haven’t hindered me professionally or socially.

All my best,

Comment by Brad Dechter

December 23, 2019 @ 6:39 am

Well said and done Bob.The only thing I would add to in your advice to Peggy is that she needs to be grateful for the good in her life. The brain is wired so you can’t be both grateful and sad at the same time, so find her reasons to be grateful.
Great story- thank you. Entertaining yet thought-provoking and filled with interesting thoughts.
I enjoyed it much- thank you!
Happy Hannukah!

Comment by brad dechter

December 23, 2020 @ 6:58 am

As I too age, a trip down memory lane. Thanks for being my guide!
Happy Holidays!

Comment by Bob

December 23, 2020 @ 7:22 am

B, I rewrote the story last night, dropped some unnecessary words and added the new paragraph ending the story, in hopes of better connecting with very sad people perhaps not willing to express out loud what they were feeling within themselves.
I also posted on various other sites that deal with depression. I’ll be curious if there is any response from them.
I bring up my Jewishness right away so that people understand it’s an outsider addressing them.
As is no surprise, you tend to be the first to write a comment. Your prize is that I write back to you.
Perhaps a mixed blessing, my friend.
Hope your health is at least tolerable–I wouldn’t trade places with you–and wish you could be more comfortable.
Sorry you’re so far away. It would be very nice to see you again when it is safe to travel.
To me, good friends are like fresh air, people who make it easier for my soul to breathe and to tell the truth to.
love Bob

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