Sliced strawberries and lessons in mourning

A bowl of strawberries – a gift of love to friends celebrating their son's life.

There is no good way to lose a child. But there are many ways to mourn.

Our friends Jeff and Judith Green lived through two months of agonizing uncertainty until the body of their son Asher was found in Peru’s Colca Canyon, where he had fallen to his death while hiking. And though their pain is in no way diminished three years later, they have turned their mourning into a celebration of his life.

The invitation to join them on the third anniversary of Asher’s burial in Jerusalem, where he grew up and where they live, included an Emily Dickinson poem, the first stanza of which reads,

They say that “time assuages”,—

Time never did assuage;

An actual suffering strengthens,

As sinews do, with age.

And yet the invitation was to an informal gathering at their home with a tapas bar, prepared by Judith and their daughter Chana, according to Asher’s recipes. Asher, who died when he was 28, had many talents—he was a chef, a filmmaker and an actor—and he had worked at a tapas bar in New York’s Lower East Side. While in Peru he had loved visiting the colorful open-air markets and collecting new recipes.

When we arrived at the Greens’ last night bearing a bowl of sliced strawberries, their friends were busy eating the many tasty dishes Judith and Chana had prepared, including dates filled with slices of parmesan cheese.

“Thank you for eating so much,” Judith said when she spoke to the group. “Thank you for eating so much,” she said again. She was not being sarcastic. Feeding the friends who had been so supportive during the family’s ordeal and since, and seeing their enjoyment of Asher’s recipes, was a way of making his life tangible.

Jeff, who channeled his grief into writing a blog for a year after Asher’s death and, more surprisingly, into mastering the pottery wheel, spoke about Asher’s many talents and the ways in which he might have surprised his family in these last three years.

The evening included a screening of some of Asher’s films, as well as one of him presenting his vision for a pub/restaurant based on smoked foods, and a film made by his brother-in-law, Ofer Israeli, about the attempts to find Asher.

Ofer and Asher’s brother Boaz had joined the High Mountain Rescue Unit of Arequipa for ten days of the strenuous and dangerous search, which continued long after the two left Peru empty-handed.

They had distributed fliers bearing Asher’s image and offering a reward. By chance, a dirt-poor villager from Cabanaconde stumbled on Asher’s belongings. He knew from the flier that a hiker was missing and he notified the police. Again the members of the mountain rescue unit, knowing how important it was to Asher’s family to bring him home for burial, risked their lives to enter the steep ravine and retrieve his body.

Another family might have thanked everyone concerned and turned inward with their grief. Instead, the Greens turned to their friends to raise funds for the mountain rescue unit, which lacked the most basic equipment, even shoes that fit.

The family traveled to Peru in October 2008 and went shopping with the team for ropes, shoes, and other essential items. But there was another element that concerned them: the desperate poverty of the residents of Colca Canyon. In his three weeks in Peru, Asher “formed a warm and close friendship with these wonderful people,” Jeff and Judith wrote to their friends. “He would be so happy to be able to express this closeness.”

Teachers at the school in Cabanaconde had drawn up a detailed list of what they needed, from notebooks and markers to a computer, and the Greens went shopping with them to get everything on the list.

There was one final element that circled back to Asher and the potential of his life: The man in Cabanaconde who had found Asher’s belongings told the Greens he’d used part of the reward money for an operation for his wife, and part to send his son to culinary school.

Text and photo copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photo may be used without written permission of the author.


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3 Responses to “Sliced strawberries and lessons in mourning”

  1. marilyn bono Says:

    A beautifully written article, Esther, about a touching and inspirational family response to a tragedy. Turning this awful event into a testament to the clearly fine qualities of their son’s abbreviated life is remarkable.
    It reminds me of someone offering the organs of a loved one so that life can continue … and in his memory.

  2. Iris Chayet Says:

    Beautiful article, heartfelt and visual.

  3. jeff green Says:

    It was very kind of you to mention Asher and the memorial for him. The support of friends like you and Shraga undoubtedly helped us reach through the bereavement and try to remember Asher in a positive way.

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