Mourning a toddler

Mourning a toddler

Last Shabbat, Chana Tova Poupko, the daughter of Dr. Shoshana and Rabbi Chaim Poupko, died. She was 2 ½ years old.

We can write obituaries about people who died after long lives. We can celebrate their accomplishments, link them to their ancestors, name their descendants, and describe their place in our world.

Often we finish such assignments feeling the hole in the world left by the absence of someone we had never known.

And then we are confronted with the death of a child, and everything goes black.

A child has young parents and no descendents, no accomplishments beyond walking, talking, the first smile, the first tooth, the way she pronounced her words, hugged her friends, played with her toys, petted her cat. Her world was supposed to lay open in front of her. Her path should have been long.

It is neither our place nor our inclination to consider the theological implications of a child’s death. We know that Rabbi Poupko, the associate rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood for the last decade, comes from a prominent Chicago rabbinic family. We hope that he and Dr. Poupko find comfort in their faith. We know that ever since Chana was diagnosed with cancer, at 13 months, the family has been supported by their community’s fierce love.

We also know that the death of a child can put her parents and the rest of her family at the bottom of a black hole, a slimy, airless, light-less place. While there is not much anyone can do, either for Chana’s family or for the families of other children who have suffered through the death of their own beloved children, we must do whatever we can.

Sometimes, standing close to mourners, being there, being present, can hold them up when their own strength fails. We hope that the community will continue to provide comfort to the Poupkos, and to everyone else in their situation.

Hamakom yenachem otam b’toch she’ar aveilei Tzion v’Yerushalayim. May God comfort them among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.