Dear friends, family and community: When our daughter Maya took her life on October 2, our collective hearts shattered into enough pieces to fill the ocean. Each piece reflects memories and questions. Memories we will hold dear; questions that will remain unanswered. We will never make sense of it all, yet while deep in our grief, we are aware that as a community of youth and caring adults, we have the opportunity to make change.
Maya made a mistake. A mistake from which there is no retreat, no undoing, no return to a time before what has been done. That is where we begin to make sense of this. Maya taught us about joy, about fun, about love. She brought kindness and compassion to all she met, and for that we are grateful. And now Maya has taught us about grief, about despair, about loss, in a way we never imagined. From all of this, the grief to the joy, the despair to the hope, we can only hope to find a middle way, a way of loving kindness, acceptance and compassion.
We have invited Rabbi Jonathan Kligler to share his powerful eulogy for Maya. It addresses our youth and our community in a moving and touching way. It speaks to a way forward, a way to honor Maya’s life by cherishing our own lives and families, by listening and connecting with each other and by supporting each other. Please read it, share it and find your way in the web of receiving and offering support. The outpouring of love has kept us and our family afloat.
With gratitude and love,
A eulogy for Maya Gold
Your eyes. Your eyes glowed with the light of awareness: pure, clear. I drew sustenance and joy from the light shining from your eyes. I communed with the sublime mystery, with your searching intellect — a portal into the infinite — as I blessed my good fortune at having met you. You were a gift to all of us who had the good fortune to know you, providing us a window into the endless sea of light from which we all spring and that sustains us. Now, dear Maya, the portal into the infinite that was your gaze is closed to us. You shone so bright, but so briefly. Our hearts are broken. As my wife was telling me, we are all walking on a dark path right now. We weep. Words fail. And yet we must speak — for the sake of each other, for the sake of our love for you, for the sake of your family.
I am trusting, praying, urging that your precious being is now immersed in the oceans of love that you showed us through your eyes. And we here in this land of the living, in our broken-yet-beautiful Earth, we must continue to reveal that light through our eyes, our hearts, our gestures. We must be brave and tender and true, together despite our confusion and grief, and keep our hearts open and not shrink back from one another — especially from Maya’s family: Maya’s amazing parents Mathew and Elise, her big brother Adin, her sister Sasha and her husband Anders, who despite their devastation have so generously allowed us to share our grief with them today. We extend our hearts to Maya’s extended family as well.
Today we will speak our love. In the days and months and years to come we will show it, with the light from our eyes and with our loving presence.
Elise was telling me that Maya was the most empathic person she had ever met. Even from earliest childhood, Maya was always putting the needs of others above her own. Most moms have to tell their kids, “Stop being so selfish!” Elise found herself saying to Maya, “Maya, stop being so selfless!” Maya’s innate compassion knew no bounds. She had compassion for all creatures. She would absorb the feelings of others: a challenging gift to try to manage for one so young.
Mathew was reminding me how deeply inquisitive Maya was, with a fierce and searching intelligence. Maya was brilliant, with a capacity for complex analysis. Her social and global consciousness and conscientiousness were far beyond her years. Mathew, along with many of us, shared so many deep talks with Maya about her life, the world, politics, religion. Adults often felt as if they were speaking with a peer, not a child. Maya was so troubled by the problems of the world, and she so deeply wanted to understand. It pained her so much to perceive the brokenness and suffering of the world, and she yearned to help repair it.
It was no surprise that Maya chose to become a vegan in recent years. After a visit to the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary and a visit with the rescued animals, Maya began to volunteer at the Sanctuary (she wasn’t legally old enough, so Mathew had to chaperone). Maya wanted as always to alleviate suffering, and decided that veganism was a path to minimizing the suffering of animals.
But of course, anyone who knew Maya knew how fun — and funny — she was. Maya had a gloriously goofy streak. She was quirky, whimsical, one-of-a-kind. In the family, I get the impression that Mathew was her special partner in unbridled goofiness. I heard some great funny stories. Her friends certainly encountered that part of her. Maya knew joy. Her sister Sasha was remembering Maya’s visit to her in Seattle last spring. They came to a dock by the bay with a diving board, and all Maya wanted to do was jump off the diving board again and again. Sasha wasn’t in a jumping mood, and Maya kept saying to her, “Don’t you want to jump? Come on, don’t you want to experience this?”
Maya wanted to fly. She wanted to soar above the din of the world and experience the freedom of flight and the bird’s-eye view. When she was three, she was climbing the bookshelves and cabinets. When Maya discovered trapeze, she couldn’t get enough of it. And Maya had a ferocious will. If she wanted to, she would. She watched her big brother riding a bike, and at age three Maya learned to ride hers. Maya idolized her big brother Adin. More recently, Maya had been actively trying to knock Adin off that pedestal; but Adin told me that he had looked forward to becoming friends with her again in the future. It would have happened, for certain.
Maya loved and needed her alone time. I know this about sensitive, empathic souls: They need time to recuperate, to regroup, to let the Earth hold them and comfort them. They need a good book as a companion, a retreat; Maya was this kind of person.
In recent times, what gave Maya the most joy were her friendships. Her friends sustained her — friends of Maya, you know who you are! You made a difference, even if it does not possibly seem that way right at this moment.
But what happened? Why is Maya dead? How could a person of her caliber, her potential, her depth and character have become so despairing that she would think it better if she were not alive?
We are going to be asking these questions for the rest of our lives, and will never know exactly what Maya was thinking because she was not able to reach out to us from her darkness. One’s greatest gift is also usually one’s greatest challenge. Perhaps in Maya’s desire not to cause pain to others, she mostly kept her own pain to herself. She did that as conscientiously as everything else she undertook. Maya was so successful at not wanting to burden others with her suffering that none of us truly understood the depth of her pain. But as we piece together this tragedy, we can understand some things and we can learn together. So I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the young people who are with us today.
Life is hard. It is filled with challenges. That is the nature of life. To become a responsible — and happy — person, we need to accept this fact and know that life will often be testing us, and that we will need to struggle and be brave and wrestle with what it means to do right and to love well. We adults are still working on becoming the best people we can be. We will be working on this the rest of our lives, and that is as it should be.
As teenagers, you are at the beginning of learning how to take full responsibility for yourselves. It takes a lot of practice and a tremendous amount of trial-and-error. And it is often very painful. We adults who want to support you to grow into your own adulthood also need to get out of your way; and let’s face it, it’s a messy process!
Being 15 is hard, and never harder than for a sensitive soul like Maya. She — and you, her peers — are past your childhood, when the big world and all of its problems could stay at edge of your consciousness, while you are busy playing and reading and doing the work of being a kid. Now your awareness has grown, and you know that the world is broken in many ways. You are child/adults. Maya felt the pain of the world, but she was yet to develop the armor we all need to face that brokenness. And we need that armor: The world is often a demanding and difficult place, and if we care about the world and want to make a difference in it, as Maya did, we need to learn how to protect ourselves from all that suffering that is out there. Being 15 is a dangerously vulnerable time of life because you care so deeply, like the adults you are becoming, but are still wide open, like the children you still are. It is so easy to become overwhelmed. I remember, even though it was long ago for me.
In the face of this pain and the lack of emotional protection many teens try to numb the pain by harming yourselves. Some of you cut yourselves. Some of you starve yourselves. Some of you use drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and temporarily quiet the chaos that seems to be everywhere, within and without. Some of you even think about killing yourselves, just so that it will be over. You are young, and life can be so overwhelming.
When you feel overwhelmed is when you feel most alone. I’m telling you, it’s a trap! At the very moment when you need the most help, your crazy mind is telling you that you are all alone, that you are a miserable human being and that you don’t deserve to be helped, since it is all your fault anyway. I’m here to tell you that those thoughts are a load of crap. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, that everyone has experienced those awful, isolating feelings. Never assume that you are the only one who ever felt this way; it’s not true. I’m here to tell you that, at precisely the moment when you feel most alone, you need to be your most courageous and reach out for help.