A Bird in the Garage:
This is the third eulogy I’ve given in my young adult life.
It’s the second I’ve given for a family member, the first being my Bubbie, Carol. Perhaps even more poignant is that this is also the second time I’ve given a eulogy for someone my age who has taken their own life, the first being my long-time friend, Kyle, two years ago. But this is the first time I’ve given a eulogy that stood for both family, and the tragic circumstances of suicide. Needless to say, in all the eulogies I might end up writing in my time on Earth, this is one I had neither expected, nor prepared myself to give so soon.
When our family met with the Rabbi to discuss who would be giving the eulogies, there were many happy memories shared, and many stories that we knew everyone would enjoy hearing. But when the subject of Samantha’s dark side came up, it was determined that someone among us must talk about it. We couldn’t let something so integral to her character go unsaid. I volunteered to write this particular eulogy. I spent an entire sleepless night working on these words, drafting and redrafting, because I never knew exactly what to say. As such, I have to warn you all that this will be quite a bit longer than the other eulogies, and there will be some hard topics covered in this speech; some words said that may be upsetting. But I think it is important that we talk of them, as friends and family, so that we may not dishonor her memory in relation to the battle she fought within herself.
Samantha suffered exponentially from clinical depression, with every year taking its toll more than the last, until she saw no other option but to grant herself what she felt would be her freedom. No matter how many souls she had touched so positively, she could not understand or feel the happiness she provided. To state it differently, or to sugar coat her condition, would be a great disservice to not only her memory, but to the generation that she, her sisters, myself, and all others in this audience in our age group come from. Depression, both clinical and temporary, runs without control or credence among our peers, and the act of taking one’s own life has become a terrible epidemic in the world of young adults. It is an unseen sickness that binds us, keeps us locked away in our own heads, until we cannot see the light in the darkness anymore, letting it fade into a vague memory a warmth we once felt. There are countless theories as to why this is a growing situation; but none of that truly matters. What matters is that we know that it is a very real thing. Yet, sometimes it’s still so hard to remember that something as tragic as this is a reality until it hits so close to our homes and hearts, as it has done for all of us here in this chapel today. Even then, in this present when we know that it has left its mark on our lives, many of us still don’t understand it. How can we? How can one comprehend a formless shadow like Clinical Depression and the wake it leaves behind when many of us don’t experience it? What signs can we discover, or be given, to lead us to a better understanding of those like Samantha, who are tormented so deeply, yet are still able to leave us with so much joy in our own lives?
For days I couldn’t think of an answer as I was plagued by this question. But the world has a funny way of giving us natural, spiritual signs at the exact right time to better cope and understand such unnatural tragedies like the act of one taking their own life. There was one such sign I believe was granted to my mother and I two nights ago, and I want to share it to all the people here who might be able to find some solace in it. It was an odd occurrence, one that has never happened before, and it just so happened to be on the night after Samantha’s passing. My mother had walked into the garage to retrieve something when a small little creature zipped by her face. In the wake of her own startling, she spotted a panicking Hummingbird flitting about, here and there, bouncing off of walls in great distress. In response to the appearance of this little spirited bird, my mother opened the garage door to let it out into the night. But it did not leave. It continued to be lost in our garage, unable to find the big door out. When the wall opened, the Hummingbird would barrel towards the ceiling and stay up at the top. My mother eventually decided to just keep the garage door open and come back inside, hoping it would find its way out during the night.
When she told me about the Hummingbird, I laughed, thinking how strange it was for such a random and stubborn animal to just fly into our garage from the pitch black and rainy night, and get stuck with such an obvious exit. We mused over how odd it was, then went to bed. The next morning, I awoke to run a few errands before meeting with the family for the day. Little did I expect, as I entered the garage to get to my car, I would look upwards to find the small bird, fast asleep on one of the door-cords near the ceiling. I found it fascinating. I had never seen a Hummingbird sleep before, and even in sleep it still snoozed with an energy that matched its flight; rapidly shivering with all its concentrated chutzpah. I watched it for a time before opening the garage door. As the sunlight and open air flooded in, the Hummingbird remained asleep, as if nothing had changed. I kept it open for the little animal; hoping it would find its way out during my errands.
But I grew more and more curious as the day went on. The more I thought on it, the more something about the frantic spirit of that animal reminded me of Samantha. After all, it made sense. Of all the people in this large family, Samantha was the only one who harbored the uncanny ability to enter a single room with open and obvious exits, and immediately become lost.
So I did some research. I looked into possible Judaic symbolism, to see if there were any symbols of the Hummingbird within our own traditions. I didn’t find anything of note, so when that wasn’t enough, I walked off the Jewish path and found myself visiting the territory of Native American spirituality, of animal and worldly representations of the soul. What I found there gave me extreme pause, and moved me to immediately drive back to my mother’s home in the country at the first chance I was able. You see what I had discovered, in researching the totem of the Hummingbird, was the surreal and beautiful representation of Samantha.
Hummingbirds are bringers of life, appearing suddenly, without warning or schedule, to nurture and pollinate entire gardens of various flowers, allowing them to grow and flourish later in life. Samantha, too, took care to nurture each of the small flowers she took under her wing, from randomly showing up at doorsteps unannounced to babysit the little ones, to caring for the growth of every child she came into contact with at The JCC and Camp Sabre. Hummingbirds are beings of unprecedented and startling bursts energy and productivity, sometimes losing their train of thought and knocking themselves out in all their commotion. Samantha, too, would expend great energy in her studies, spending long nights to reach perfectionist grades, or would randomly produce the vibrant energy to party the entire night, before all of this expense would confuse her and knock her back down to that all too familiar dark corner of exhaustion. In fact, her energy spurts were so uncontrolled and explosive that I once entered a bar to meet her, and when she went to punch me in the shoulder, she full on socked me in the face. The bruise lasted for several days.
Hummingbirds are carriers of the souls of warriors, fighting against all who approach their nest. Samantha too, was a competitive and bratty spirit, always looking for a competition to best all opponents in, whether in outdoor sports, money bets, or board games on Sunday, and would rather die before being beaten by any who challenged her. And like the small creature, Samantha was also a speed demon: a thrill seeker who was driven to ride slopes, snowmobiles, and jetskis faster than the wind could ever take her. This comfort in movement also made Hummingbirds the swift liaisons between the mortal realm and the heavens. Samantha too, was the member of the eldest four cousins, “The Fab 4”, who was most in tune with her Judaism. She knew what the traditions meant on a personal level to her family and friends, old and young alike, to the point that many of us thought she had the potential future of a Rabbi.
But perhaps the most important and telling aspect the Hummingbird represents, is the brevity of joy and the feeling of resurrection it brings on its appearance. It always seems to have fun and be full of life when it arrives, but appears to wither and be catatonic when it hides away in shelter, until it resurrects the next day to bring brief joy once more. Whenever Samantha left her emotional and mental darkness, leaving the shelter of her room to grace her family or friends with her appearance in an almost resurrection like state, she brought with her a real joy to pass on to anyone she encountered. No matter how brief the time, or forced her smile was, her only goal was to make sure every other person around her felt a little more nurtured than before, even if she had to expend all her energy and retreat back into her shelter to do it. And in this fast and fleeting delight she brought to every man, woman, and child sitting here today, the brevity of Samantha’s twenty-five years on God’s Earth accents this nurturing love she left behind in the garden that I see here before me.
On my drive home, I realized then, just how to understand the clinical depression that gripped Samantha’s heart so fiercely. Depression is like a bird trapped in a dark garage at night. In all its energy to escape, crashing over and over into walls it cannot see, it cannot find the exit out of the darkness. It will try and try, until it peters out and lays prone inside of the pitch, in a restless and uncomfortable sleep as an effort to let the darkness pass. Opening the garage door now only leads into the black night, where fear and anxiety of the unknown await. The bird is stuck and unable to see the way out. But like the day, Normal Depression passes, and though you cannot force the bird out, you can help guide it where to go. You can open the garage door and let the sunlight in, allowing them to see the outside relief and make their own decision to exit. Beating Normal Depression takes timely care from friends, encouragement without force, and a will to let the darkness be present for how long it needs to be, until that door can be opened, the light be restored, and the bird’s wings allowed to unfold.
But Clinical Depression is not like that. Clinical Depression is a whole other kind of beast. With Clinical Depression, when you press the button, the garage door does not open. It instead lurches violently as a reminder of the exit that can never appear. Sometimes the darkness in the garage is pitch during the night. Sometimes it’s a bit lighter during the day, but it still casts shadows. The bird crashes into walls desperately to reach the warmth outside, but the longer it is trapped, the more it forgets what the sun feels like. So how does a family support this specific bird trapped in this specific garage? How do family and friends help someone with Clinical Depression? Sure, you can show love by changing the lightbulb in the garage, always adding a better one that provides warmth similar to the sun; but these will always burn out. You can give them new experiences, put out a new food every day for them to taste; but that bowl will always empty. You can show solidarity, by joining them and sitting in the darkness for a time, to calm their nerves and keep them from crashing around; but you cannot stay in the garage forever. But sometimes this can be enough. Some birds will stay calm, and live out their full lives with these temporary but welcome comforts. But not all of these wayward spirits are the same, and some birds will continue to crash harder and harder until they lose themselves in their desperate attempts to finally find that escape, and in the process, leave their broken mortal body for their friends and family as they take their own lives away.
Some of you may be wondering, “How can this be? How could I have done anything differently? Did I cause this? Did she not feel loved enough? How much am I to blame?” Unfortunately, these questions will haunt us all for the rest of our waking lives. But my friends, in the case of Clinical Depression, we must all remember this: No one here is at fault for that garage door not being able to open. No one here is at fault for not showing enough love and care. There is no fault to give. This is nobody’s blame. Samantha had a terrible sickness, one that was tormenting her no matter how much light we provided her, or food we gave her, or times we sat there comforting her in the worst of the darkness. But what is important for all of us here to remember, are those times we lit her prison just a little brighter. Or the times we calmed her nerves so she could smile without crashing against the walls. Or the experiences we gave her, in caring for all the little ones, to bring her out of hiding. This is what we can do for those who suffer from the kind of permanence that Samantha was all too familiar with. Sometimes it is enough. But many times it is not. And in those cases, all we can do is remember the love we shared with such a brief life, to make it as memorable as possible for our own years to come.
And for those of you here today who have made your home in that same sadness, in that same garage that cannot open its doors, heed my words and know what I am about to say. Know that there is always love to be shared with you. Know to always have each other in support and kindness, even if you feel like your own time is limited. Know that there is always help reaching out to hold you, even if you feel like it’s the last time. Know that there are always sources of comfort: running fountains of familial love and caring from all people who surround you, even if you feel like you don’t deserve to bathe in them. Know that you matter, and there is always someone who is very proud of you, even if you feel like you are alone.
When I got home, the Hummingbird was nowhere to be found. I can only hope that it found its very own sunlight to guide it out of the distress that had afflicted it the night before. All in all, I felt honored to be graced with its brief but memorable presence. I just only wish, and will wish for the rest of my life, that I could have opened that door for Samantha, and let her see the light of the life she built around her and left for us to tend. I don’t know the way of the world, or God’s will, or what power the forces of nature have in store for any of us here, but I do know that wherever Samantha is now, she has probably found the perfect spot to unfold her small wings, and flit about in the way only a Hummingbird can. And in her arrival, I’m sure she found that Bubbie was waiting for her on the other side, with an unimaginable garden daycare for her to tend to, and a large crayon-drawn map to make sure she doesn’t get lost in the Beyond, like she was lost on Earth.
I hope to see you all when the sunlight shines again, God bless, and I’m so proud of every single one of you.