A year ago I was at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvahs are the hardest, because you can’t stop thinking But we did this, we also got all those brachos, he was so happy to lein as well, and all those other unhelpful things we think. My nephew is named for my father, and my grandmother, a Holocaust survivor of strong faith and stronger spirit, got teary-eyed as she sat down next to me for the leining of my adorable nephew.

I was teary-eyed too, for a number of reasons. One, my father’s presence is always felt strongly at family simchahs, and two, my own dear son, whose bar mitzvah I couldn’t help but recall, was not present — by his choice. As my grandmother sat down heavily next to me, I saw her pain.

I squeezed her hand and said nothing. My siddur shifted in my lap. A breeze blew through the window. Someone sniffed; leining continued unabated. I tried to cry as silently as possible — I’m good at it. My grandmother turned to me and whispered: “We don’t get to choose.”

She was so tormented by my father’s absence at this simchah. I was so tormented by my son’s absence. Two mothers feeling sadness over their sons. Two women who have chosen to accept the nisyonos Hashem has given them. Two women sitting at the leining trying to cry as quietly as possible. Two women trying their best to feel simchah at a simchah. Two women internalizing that we don’t get to choose which struggles Hashem puts in our path.

So many times I’ve wondered: What happened? How did my delightful, spiritual, motivated young man become so anti-yeshivah? How did the boy with the puff-paint yarmulke stop wearing a yarmulke? Where did the light in his eyes go? How can one person sleep so much?

We were good parents. We had enough money, but not too much. We went on trips on Sundays and laughed and hugged. We made brachos out loud with smiles. We put on Uncle Moishy and everyone sang along. Where did those days go, those years? Like a passing dream; like a withered flower. Who even were we in those years?

Every now and then when I look at my boy, I see a spark of that little child with the puff-paint yarmulke jumping up to kiss a mezuzah. I squint a teeny-tiny bit and see faint hints of that little-boy nose, those impossibly long eyelashes sweeping across his face. I just want to gather all six feet of this angular man into my lap and rock him: it’ll be okay it’ll be okay it’ll be okay.

When we ordered the tefillin bag for his bar mitzvah, the company made a mistake and sent a tallis bag instead. Ha-ha! Too funny! Let’s save it for the chasunah. It’s so pretty! But styles will change; his kallah will want to buy him one as a gift…

One Sunday afternoon about a year ago I was cleaning out the attic and lo! The tallis bag, menacing, bared its teeth. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 552)