HAIFA MOADON VISIT
The Women’s Mo’adon in Haifa, now in its 5th year, is the kind of club you don’t ever plan on joining. A monthly support group for bereaved mothers whose children were murdered in terror attacks, the mothers come from all over the North to meet for two hours of tears, laughter and solidarity. The Mo’adon is supervised by Ruth Anne Sadeh, a psychologist who is the group leader and staff person of the Koby Mandell Foundation.
Aside from serving as a support group, every month the club sponsors a different activity. Last month the niece of one of the bereaved mothers, a dance and movement instructor, gave a class on creative movement and managed to get some of the women up on their feet and dancing for the first time since their children had been killed. Many of the women thought they’d never be able to dance again and did so with tears rolling down their cheeks but also with laughter. A few months ago, one of the mothers who creates puppets and does creative puppet workshops for children and adults, did a puppet workshop with the mothers and had their puppets express their feelings to one another.
Some of the mothers have been coming to the Mo’adon since the support group first started while others have joined along the years after being struck with their own personal tragedies. They are a close-knit group of about 20-25 women, who stay in close contact with one another. They keep in touch with each other through visits, phone calls, and other joint activities for the bereaved. The mothers are so finely tuned in to one another that one mother can begin a sentence and the other will finish it while all the others will nod their heads in agreement. Though each individual has her own way of coping with her tragedy, the similarities and common ground they share is intimately familiar to all of them.
Sherri Mandell, co-president of the Koby Mandell Foundation, led this month’s session. Sherri started off the evening by saying how a short time ago, she had met with someone who was at the top of his field working with trauma victims and bereavement therapy. When she told him about the Mo’adon in Haifa where the women have been meeting regularly for close to 5 years, he stated that “it might not be good” to have support groups going on for more than a certain period of time. They could be using the support group as a crutch instead of “moving on,” he said. One of the mothers asked whether anyone had been murdered in the “expert’s family. Sherri said no, and the mother answered, “Then he is no ‘expert’! He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.” At that point other women jumped in saying how little ‘the experts’ know because they haven’t experienced bereavement first-hand so they could not possibly know what is good for them and shouldn’t determine for them what is best for them to do. One mother said: “Our own families don’t understand us. My own mother doesn’t understand me! So what kind of understanding can we expect from the “experts”?
The women were asked to describe where they are now in comparison to where they were when tragedy first struck. Here are a few examples of what some of the women said:
Mother: “It’s been seven years and it feels like it happened yesterday. Nothing has changed. I still feel the acute pain as if it had just happened.“
Mother: “My daughter is in the army now and every Chanukah there are a few soldiers selected to go to the homes of bereaved parents from the Yom Kipper War and light candles with them. Last year she was chosen to light the candles with one of the families. ‘You should see these parents’, my daughter said. ‘35 years have gone by and they are still in deep mourning!’ Look at us here. Only a few years have gone by – what can we say?!”
Mother: “We married off our daughter this summer. I couldn’t feel any joy. I felt bad for my daughter that I couldn’t be in the moment. Under the Chuppah, I couldn’t control the tears. I know that the people looking at me knew they weren’t tears of joy but I couldn’t control them”.
Mother: “I’m angry at God. My son was his messenger here on earth. He became religious on his own and was successful in getting others in his secular school to put on tefillin and come to synagogue services. It is written that the ‘messengers of a mitzvah are not harmed’ and my son, who was only 16 years old was blown up on a bus.”
Mother: “The passing of the years has given a kind of acceptance to the reality. In the beginning the pain is so terrible that you are in denial. You walk in the streets and you catch a glimpse of someone who resembles your child and you want to call out to him. You look at the door and expect him to walk in at any moment. Then slowly the reality sinks in and you reach a place that says this is it. This is the situation.”
Mother: “I don’t like to stand out and be different. I don’t want anyone treating me differently. Like we had a social function from my work and everyone was asked to bring something. No one asked me to bring anything because I’m the “bereaved mother.” I made a cake anyway so I can walk in like everyone else carrying something in my arms.”
Mother: “It’s so very hard. There’s not a day that I don’t surrender to tears.”
Mother: “3 generations of my family were murdered in the Maxime Restaurant suicide bombing. My daughter, her husband, her mother-in-law and my daughter’s 2 small children - my only grandchildren – a 4 year old boy and a 14 month old girl. The first few years after this terrible tragedy I was incapable of smiling. I didn’t go out to family or friends’ happy occasions. I arrived at my first meeting at the mo’adon dressed in black from head to toe. I looked and felt like a black balloon – ready to burst at any moment. I came to the mo’adon because I needed to meet others who have suffered loss and see how they were coping. Perhaps I could pick up some tips. Here we are all sisters. We laugh and cry together and we have such a strong bond with one another. Nowadays I can smile along with the pain and even laugh. My son and his wife, who had gotten married 40 days before the suicide bombing, are expecting their first children – twins! It gives me something to look forward to and I pray that all goes well.
One mother said that she feels that she lives in a house with 2 floors, one floor is beautifully designed, clean, orderly, wonderful to live in. And then downstairs there is a wreck, dirty, all the rooms disorderly with dust and cobwebs. She said that she felt that she was like that house, agreeable from the outside but inside she was falling apart. Another mother said: “Wow, I’ve been having a dream like that, a house with 2 floors, one beautiful and one a wreck.”
The mothers share the experience of living with traumatic bereavement which is a condition that doesn’t really leave them. That is why they need to be together, to be where they are understood. Because they want to show people the “downstairs” of their houses, and they often only feel safe showing that chaos to the other women in the group.