words spoken by Naomi at Omer's memorial service

A couple of hours after you were born you were brought to me and placed in my arms. I looked at you, swaddled in white, tiny garments, your eyes tightly closed against the light, and a flood of emotion washed over me. You were so perfect – ten fingers, ten toes… and so ordinary – ten fingers and ten toes, and this was my moment with you, the moment all mothers have with their newborn, the moment of bonding, the moment I knew I would love you always.

I didn’t know it then, but when I was looking at you with awe and joy at the realization that I am now a mother and you are my son, you were carrying in your body wonderful gifts from the combined gene pool of our families, and one terrible curse. Our families gave you a great sense of humor, a kind heart, the ability to make and keep loyal friends, and your unusual intellectual gift. But we also gave you the genetic pre-disposition to the disease that claimed you at the end.

Omer, you brought us so much joy, so much pride, so much laughter. But in the past 5 years, as the illness took hold of you, we also watched you suffer through terrible pain.

Your mind needed to rationalize everything, even emotions, and so you asked me one day why I love you. What was the source of that love other than a chance biological event - I gave birth to you? I listed many of the reasons – your charm, your humor, your intellect, and your loyalty to friends. And then I told you about that moment at the hospital. Of course you didn’t understand. I just hoped that one day you’d get better, you’d have a child of your own and you’d understand. I just needed for you to have more time, but you couldn’t stand the pain any longer.

Sometimes love is not enough. We tried to help you and we learned the most terrible lesson parents can learn, that sometimes our love is not enough to protect and save our children.

I want to talk about the illness that took Omer from us – mental illness.

There are, of course, not one but many mental illnesses, each slightly different in its symptoms, all equal in their devastating effects on the sufferers and their families. They are brain disorders, illnesses just like cancer, and every bit as dangerous and potentially fatal. But there is a wall of silence around these illnesses. There is still a stigma attached to people who confess they suffer from bi-polar disorder or depression, unlike breast cancer survivors – almost as if a depression sufferer has brought it upon himself. In the course of the past year and a half, when I started talking more about my family situation, so many told me: my brother has bi-polar, my aunt suffer from schizophrenia, I was hospitalized with depression as a teenager, my sister, my cousin…

Omer’s death is a tragedy, it is a terrible waste. I’d like to try and have some tiny good come out of it. We should all tear down the walls of silence surrounding mental illness. It is a biological disease, it is not something to be ashamed of, it is treatable in most cases and money for research is needed so better treatments can be developed. We need to write protest letters to our legislators because money for mental health resources is cut even before funds for education in a budget crisis. Get educated and help educate others about mental illness, and then you will help to make some sense of Omer’s death. Thank you.

Copyright 2004-2008, Mark & Naomi Shenker. All rights reserved.