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Unveiling: Your 2nd Birthday

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

On this day two years ago, I gave birth to our second baby boy. After 30 hours of labor, he was born at 8:07 PM, at dusk.

I had, in advance, queued up an email announcing his birth to an email list of friends and family, into which I had planned to just fill in the blanks, his date of birth, his birth weight/length stats, and information about when a bris would be held. (We didn't know "officially" that he'd be a boy, but I knew.) I feel like I jinxed it. Maybe superstitions exist for a reason.

In recent weeks, I've seen in person children who would have been in Ronen's class. He'd have been starting preschool next week with a group of two-year-olds, among whom he would have been one of the youngest, his birthday just before the cutoff. It takes so much energy to smile at these children and at their parents. I'll be able to hear them playing outside the window of my office every day – if I ever stop avoiding my office while they're there.

Instead of a party to celebrate the day two years ago this child was born, we are unveiling his tombstone (pictured). COVID delayed us from erecting the stone and visiting it sooner.

The text on the stone reads as follows:

The פ״נ stands for a Hebrew phrase meaning "Here is buried"

Ronen Eliezer

son of Reuven Aharon and Hinda Tzivia

died 29 Elul 5779

on the Eve of Rosh Ha-Shanah

Ronen Eliezer Labovitz

Always remembered in our hearts, minds, and toesies

Aug. 20 - Sept. 29, 2019

The epitaph on Ronen's stone, "Always remembered in our hearts, minds, and toesies" comes from D & J, shortly after Ronen died, when we were discussing with them how we can remember him. They did like playing with his toes, as they do now with their new baby sister.

The five letters as the bottom stand for the Hebrew phrase meaning "May his soul be bound up in the bonds of [eternal] life." These letters are found on all traditional Jewish tombstones.

I designed the artwork myself. The bear is similar to the logo of Children's National Hospital. The music is the beginning of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," and ends at the notes with the words "How I..." both because of a limitation on space, and also because we feel like his life was abruptly halted, like the unresolved, unsettling feeling of stopping mid-song.

There is a pot of painted rocks next to Ronen's grave. While Ronen was in the NICU at Children's National, I spent some time in the Healing Garden there, where others had deposited beautifully painted rocks to share. The rock painting reminds me of these moments, when he was still alive, and gives me a creative outlet layered on top of our tradition of leaving rocks at the cemetery. Mostly the painted ones allow me my own moments of continuity when I leave them there and find them again the next time.

In the days after Ronen’s death, D and J would find rocks and save them to bring to their brother. “I found this rock on the path and then I saw a frog. I will bring the rock to Ronen and tell him about the frog I saw.” Today, the children engaged with Ronen’s headstone by decorating it with the colored rocks.

Apparently while usually the cemetery takes out the name plate when the stone is erected, but they left Ronen's there because his siblings had shared Minnie Mouse stickers with him.

I wish I could know better how my twins are handling, but I get glimpses.

J has invented a whole life for Ronen; recently he asked me how big I thought Ronen had gotten "under the ground," and I had to explain to J that dead children don't grow.

And last summer as we visited Ronen's grave (before the stone was erected), J was so excited that where the grass had not yet grown there were anthills, "Because ants live under the ground so Ronen will have company and friends to play with!"

A year ago, five months into the COVID pandemic, my then-four-year-old twins wondered, "How should we celebrate Ronen's birthday?" and decided that we should make cupcakes in his honor.

"But who will blow out his candles for him?" J asks, sitting under our outdoor carport.

""Because of the pandemic maybe we shouldn't blow out candles," I answer. "But if you want to, you can each blow out one."

"But... who will make his wish for him?" D asks.

"Well, what do you think Ronen would wish for if he were here?"

Swinging around the trunk of the Japanese maple in front of our house, D replies, "I think he would wish to be alive."

Sigh."Do you know that that wish can't ever come true?"

Her eyes meet mine, sternly. "Ima, not all wishes are meant to come true."

Not all wishes are meant to come true.

Truer words have never been spoken. I hate that by four years old the world was no longer magical to my daughter, who already understood insufferable loss, observing and nursing her grieving parents.

It is surreal to be here with my three remaining children, two who remember him in their way – though at five (and a quarter, they'd insist) years old his birth was nearly half their lifetime ago – and one who, as of four days ago, exceeded the number of days Ronen was in this world in total.

Where my first two were distinctive, my 43-day-old youngest daughter bears an uncannily close resemblance to her deceased infant brother. I am grateful for the frilly clothes I can dress her in to remind me that she and Ronen are not one and the same, that she is not just a delayed decoy of the boy we once held in our arms.

In the silence today, Psalm 39 resonates. I find myself in it. In Ronen's memory, over the next days leading up to Rosh Ha-Shanah, take a moment to read it over, too, or to study something else. I would love to hear whatever you glean. May insights come into the world in memory of this boy, who never arrived himself in study.

D’s drawing of the unveiling

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