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Ronen [would be] 3

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

"... and I had a son who [would be] 3." This is the painful edit each bereaved parent needs to make every time someone asks us the seemingly-innocuous question, "How many children do you have?" — "I have twin six-year-olds, a one-year-old, and a child who would have been 3. He died when he was an infant." Ronen would be 3. I can't believe how these three years have all at once sped by and lasted forever.

I have to confess: I hate the following phrase: "Happy Birthing Day."

I think the people who say this mean to acknowledge the anniversary of a day of great change in a woman's life, and to make a woman feel seen on the day of her child's birthday. That's fine if it works for you. It doesn't work for me.

The first of my three births was a C-section in which my twins were extracted from my body 36 minutes after I walked myself into the OR. The other two of my birthing days were so traumatic that I don't want to be reminded of them, and I don't want to relive them.

Every day is a balancing act between wanting to be grateful for what I have, and wanting to rage at God and at the world. Some days I still feel my breath catching, or fight tears, when I recite Psalms 13:6 as part of the daily morning service:

וַאֲנִ֤י ׀ בְּחַסְדְּךָ֣ בָטַחְתִּי֮ יָ֤גֵ֥ל לִבִּ֗י בִּֽישׁוּעָ֫תֶ֥ךָ אָשִׁ֥ירָה לַיהוָ֑ה כִּ֖י גָמַ֣ל עָלָֽי׃
I trust in Your faithfulness, my heart will exult in Your deliverance. I will sing to the LORD, for God has been good to me.

I wonder about being able to authentically recite words that extol God's goodness. And sometimes I really am able to appreciate the goodness that God has granted me and my family since.

Some days I am able to take consolation in the version of God referenced in Psalm 147:3, also recited as part of the daily morning service:

הָ֭רֹפֵא לִשְׁב֣וּרֵי לֵ֑ב וּ֝מְחַבֵּ֗שׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָֽם׃
God heals broken hearts, and binds up their wounds.

(Worth hearing Shir Yaakov Feit's beautiful melody of this verse.)

Perhaps God is there so that when we experience senseless loss, and there's nowhere to focus our anger, we can rage at God. God can handle it. (This is how I was feeling when I wrote my Un'taneh Tokef in memory of Ronen in 2020.)

I thank God for the three beautiful children I have the privilege to be raising, for the husband and co-parent who is my partner in life, that we have our basic needs met, and that we live a comfortable life.

And —

The hardest part of complicated grief is that ... I used to be an unbounded optimist, a person of unconditional faith. Proverbial "glass half full." After three years, I still feel the probably-irreversible personality change. As an optimist in perpetual grief, the cup is still full but cracked so, no matter how many times I fill it, the liquid keeps escaping. Over time the leak has stopped gushing, but as long as I live it'll still slowly leak.

I keep coming back to the Søren Kierkegaard quote I posted a while ago: "The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you'll never have."

Is it accurate to say that I miss Ronen? I'm not sure — he really was only in the world for 39 days, and with me for the 39 weeks I carried him. Grieving for a baby means I've been robbed of the opportunity to miss anything about him; he never lived long enough to give me anything to hold onto. "Missing" my baby can't mean holding onto memories of him, images of his smile, or musing about things he once said. Instead, it means that I am left imagining who he might have been, noting his absence in places and spaces he might have occupied, feeling excluded from milestone moments he would have had.

The stretch from Ronen's birthday (this year his Hebrew birthday fell four days sooner than his secular one) to his yahrzeit (erev Rosh haShanah) and his secular date of death is an annual struggle. And it was already the hardest time of year because I'm a cantor in the lead-up to High Holy Days. And the beginning of the school year for our whole family, students and educators. I love my work, but doing it with the underlying buzz of grief, the intermittent brain-fog, and unpredictable tears is really hard. Asking for a little rachmonus these next six weeks. And gratitude for those of you who will check in and help me through it.

In the meantime, my twins want to celebrate Ronen's birthday by making cupcakes and singing. Glad my sister (i.e. the one with a degree in making desserts) will be here so everyone will be spared my attempt at Duncan Hines and store-bought icing. D & J's continuing bond with Ronen's memory is so special, I'm glad they want to celebrate his birthday and make wishes in his memory, even if I'm not sure how much they actually remember being with him.

So happy Ronen's birthday to us. May his memory be a blessing to us on the journey.

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