‘Now you know my Miri’
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‘Now you know my Miri’

A mother remembers her 9-year-old hug-loving, life-challenged daughter

Miri Farkovits, left, looks directly at the camera as her family hugs her.
Miri Farkovits, left, looks directly at the camera as her family hugs her.

On August 24, 2019, I began my alternate reality.

Until that point, I would always say that I had everything I needed — a wonderful husband, three amazing kids, a loving family and friends, and a successful career.

But at 7:15 p.m. I lost my youngest daughter, and a gaping hole opened in my heart. I finally knew what it was like to really need something. The unthinkable happened.

My 9-year-old daughter, after one of the many small arguments that we had over the years, tragically took her life accidentally.

She was 9!

She was not depressed and had never tried to harm herself before. This was a complete shock to all of us. While she was knowledgeable enough to know what suicide was, she was not mature enough to understand it was permanent.

Many people have shared their perceptions of what happened to Miri with me, or they have asked me what they can do in her memory. I am writing this article to try and clear up misconceptions about Miri and describe how we are honoring her.

Contrary to some rumors, Miri was not depressed. She was loving, outgoing, highly social, intelligent, and beautiful. She looked like she had everything going for her, but on the inside she struggled with impulse control caused by what was classified as severe ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). She always needed to be active, doing something, running somewhere, taking something apart. This also was why she was asked to leave two schools. Her impulsive behavior was too great a distraction in a traditional school.

We were conscientious parents; working with a psychiatrist and a behavioral therapist, we researched the best medications and behavior plans for her. The goal was to suppress her impulsivity without taking the light out of her personality.

Her impulsivity made her special in many ways. She was never shy around people. She would try to get to know strangers, pet every dog she passed, and hug people spontaneously. We tried to encourage her not to do these things, and her concession was to run up to people, give them a hug, then remember to ask “hugs?”… and hug them again once they said yes.

She was impulsively happy 95 percent of the time, and the other 5 percent of the time she was like a tornado — ripping apart my bedroom, running out of the house in the middle of the night, unbuckling her seatbelt while I was driving. Once she even opened the car door while my husband was driving.

Over the years, we saw a lot of improvement, and she was proud of her progress as well. While she frequently would remind us how hard it was for her to stay in control, we would just as frequently compliment her on how far she had come — the speed with which she turned it around and the decreased frequency of her outbursts and aggressive behaviors. We would say, “You are moving up the hill! While we may have some dips in the middle, the overall trajectory is great!”

She was very proud of her progress, and we even were talking about sending her for a short stay at a sleep-away camp. This improvement was as a result of her maturing, our parental support, medication, and the intensive therapy that consumed much of her and our time — behavioral and occupational support at school and a private behavioral therapist and a psychiatrist outside of it.

Miri didn’t like being different, and she wanted to be in a mainstream Jewish school. She wasn’t comfortable being in Sunday school. She was asked not to come back in second grade, took that very hard, and hadn’t been in a Jewish school since. Though we found an amazing school for children with behavioral challenges, Miri wasn’t around kids with a range of social and behavioral skills to learn from. Most of the children in her school had challenges similar to those she was facing. She thrived at the school and became the school mascot, helping everyone she could and volunteering to show prospective students around the school. She was loved there, as she was everywhere else. Every year, though, she asked us if she was ready to go to a Jewish school, and every year we would tell her that she was doing great but needed at least another year.

Now you know my Miri and the challenges she faced, particularly when she was having a difficult moment. We loved her — we always will — and we would have done anything to have prevented her last impulsive act.

My husband, Doni, and I keep on reviewing Miri’s last day, wondering if there was anything we should have done differently. We’ve concluded that there was nothing we hadn’t done many times before, and that we behaved logically throughout that day. We keep on telling ourselves that we were good parents, who did the best we could for Miri up until the last minute of her life. But we can’t suppress the nagging thoughts in the corner of our minds that tell us that we could have done more. That is something that we will try to overcome with time, though we may never completely get past those feelings, and we have to try to accept that.

Then there is the hole. The aching vacuum in our hearts that will never heal. We try to patch it, but then the next morning comes after dreams of Miri coming into the room to give us a hug. We feel raw in the morning, but as the day progresses, we keep busy, and the ache dulls until the cycle begins again. Dr. Norman Blumenthal from Ohel told us that it will take five years for the real grief to end. We can’t think that far in the future, but we can’t imagine this pain ending. I hope he is right, and the scar tissue develops over the hole in my heart, even if my heart will never look or feel the same as it did before.

The question I asked myself the day after Miri died was, “What do I do now?” My prior purpose — being a mother of three living children — had ended. How could I be a mother to two living children and one soul? I’m determined to continue to be strong and supportive to my two surviving children, but what can you do for a soul? I’ve decided I need to nurture Miri’s soul, since I can no longer give her anything physical. I need to kick off a chain of good deeds, kindness, and love to inspire people to make the world a better place in her honor, and I’ve been inspired by others who have lost children and have created meaning from their loss.

In general, Doni’s and my goal is to find or encourage others to find good deeds they can do in Miri’s honor. We’ve settled on two things:

We are asking people to hug someone they love in Miri’s honor.

We are encouraging people to donate to the Idea School. We helped found this high school, whose focus is project-based learning in Jewish education, to provide students with an opportunity to make meaning and purpose from their own learning and to gain skills for today’s workplace. The model has the additional benefit of allowing a wider range of students with different behavioral, social, emotional, and academic challenges to receive a Jewish education.

Miri had hoped that she would be able to go to the Idea School. She was there to hug all the board members at our meetings, and she loved the way the school is educating its students. To kick off our efforts, Doni and my families seeded the Miri Maker Makom at the Idea School. It’s the first venture of the Miri Farkovits Educational Fund. Our goal is to raise $2 million to name the school in Miri’s memory. (I urge you to go to www.theideaschool.org to learn more and to the donation page there to make a donation in honor of Miri, www.theideaschool.org/in-memory-of-miri-farkovits).

If we can raise in excess of our goal, I would like to work with the staff and board members of the Idea School to bring this model to elementary and middle schools in Bergen County and other communities that want project-based learning in Jewish education. We want to bring more children into mainstream Jewish educational environments and to break down the boxes we put our children in.

Doni and I want to thank our family, friends, community, and co-workers for their incredible support of our family and of our efforts to honor Miri’s memory.

Lisa Rosenberg Farkovits lives in Englewood with her family. She is on the board of the Idea School and is a senior risk professional at Barclays.

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