With all of his projects and passions, hugs and laughs, it was hard to reconcile Doni’s desire to get off the planet. From the age of five he told me that “he never asked to come and he didn’t want to stay”. It was difficult raising a child who didn’t want to wake up the next morning. For years I tipped toed downstairs each morning and peered with trepidation around his door to see if he was breathing or not.
Doni had bi-polar disorder as well as Asperger’s syndrome. He was brilliant and quirky and often unpredictable. School often got in the way of his education, especially in the early years. He carried a lot of scars from being misunderstood by teachers and classmates alike. Those frustrations were part of his leaving Jewish practice and thought behind before he reached bar-mitzvah. Switching to Denver Academy, a private secular school for kids with learning differences, gave him a new lease on life. He blossomed there, and his talk of life not being worth living became just a background note in a symphony of other conversations and interests while he was there.
He graduated high school last spring and the note became louder. He and I talked about it often, throughout his life, and certainly lately. We were very close and very open. He shared almost everything with me. He told me that had done a cost benefit analysis and saw that there was more pain than pleasure in the world and that it just wasn’t worth it to stay. Since Doni was Atheist, there was no Jewish insight I could share with him that would make a difference. We read together about “reasons to live” online. None of them persuaded him. He was not in a moment of despair; he was living in a lifelong pain from which he was desperate to find relief. Of course we had seen many doctors and tried many drugs, but none seemed to be effective over the long term.
Although I knew the threat was real, I lived with a measure of denial as I was ever hopeful that he would grow up and grow out of it, at least enough to grow into a productive and meaningful adulthood. Doni had so much potential, it was hard for me to understand that each opportunity felt like a burden to him and that the more potential he had the less he wanted to actualize it.
I am not sure why he chose to leave the day that our “adopted” son Avraham was getting married, but that was the day he chose. I stayed up late Saturday night getting ready to leave to Monsey NY for his wedding early in the morning on Sunday. As I was sending emails at 1:30 am, Doni asked me why I was up so late and told me that I really should go to bed, that I needed my sleep. We smiled because he was right and said good night. I went to bed at 2 am and at about 2:10 I heard a loud noise. Ever worried, I flew downstairs to see what it was and there was Doni, unconscious, and breathing belaboredly. I knew he had poison in his possession, and instantly I understood what he had done.
I woke up Ephraim and called 911. The operator told me to begin mouth to mouth resuscitation. I told her I couldn’t because he had likely swallowed poison and I didn’t know how lethal it was or if there were traces on his mouth. She yelled at me and told me that I might be able to save his life. I told her that I just couldn’t risk my own to do that. I knew how serious he was… by then Ephraim was there and he started chest compressions until the paramedics arrived.
I felt relieved when I saw the lights, the uniforms and the medical kits of the paramedics. They must be able to make it better; it couldn’t really be that this was the day I dreaded for 14 years. They took him to the hospital and a whole team worked on him for hours. I said tehillim, but I didn’t know what to ask for. I knew how much Doni wanted to go and I knew how much I wanted him to stay. I just davened and left it up to Hashem to decide.
Avi and Gitty met us in the emergency room and Uri drove down from Boulder. He told the doctors what kind of poison Doni had and they tried an antidote to that. They had been trying for 2 hours with little luck to get Doni’s blood pressure back up into a normal range, but he did respond a bit to the antidote. They gave him another round and then another when finally his blood pressure responded and they decided to put him in the pediatric ICU. That was a welcome sign of hope. On the way upstairs, they did and MRI of his head.
We waited for them in the PICU. Aviva arrived. After the MRI, the doctors came to us and explained that there had been so much brain damage in the rescue attempt (long term low blood pressure equals diminished brain function, restoring normal blood pressure equals bleeding into the brain) that there really was nothing left to save. We called Elisheva and she came to the hospital as well (I so didn’t want to call her until I knew more, she had been through enough sorrow this year). They kept him on the machines until the rabbi arrived to give the final ruling that they did not have to try further. We hugged him and kissed him and said our goodbyes and sobbed on each other’s shoulders.
We called Sahra in Detroit and our parents and we sat there in disbelief as we planned a funeral for our 19 year old.