On September 10, 2014 at 5:15 a.m. my third son came into this world.
Two hours later, my father left it.
It was like something out of a movie. Or an episode of Grey’s. Or that Live song, “Lightning Crashes.” Not real life.
And yet there I was, two hours postpartum, watching my normally stoic husband crumble in the corner as he got the news.
I knew that my dad wasn’t well–that he might be dying–for the month leading up to the baby’s birth, when I wasn’t supposed to travel. He had been battling cancers and winning for over 15 years, but this new metastasis was in his brain and lungs. It wasn’t a whether, but a when. And I was kicking myself for visiting only twice in the last six months.
As his condition worsened I finally begged for a post-due date induction so I could make it back to see him in time. Or at least send him a photo of his newest grandchild.
When the baby was born I quickly emailed out the picture. But it was too late. My dad died before my family could get to the hospital.
I listened to his funeral on speakerphone from my hospital bed, with my baby in my arms. I was shielded from the horror of putting my father into the ground, yes. But I wasn’t there to hold my mother.
In the hours and days to come I asked a lot of unanswerable questions–did Dad somehow “know” about the baby before he died? Did their souls intermingle even though he died after the baby was born?
It was astounding, this juxtaposition of life and death–and I felt like we were dwelling in some kind of liminal space–even the maternity ward nurses were attuned to the holiness of it.
When I came home from the hospital, the reality of everything came crashing in–planning the bris while we were still working out the details of the shiva. But my community came out, in force, to celebrate and to mourn. And my husband was perfect–my rock and my soft place to land.
The first time the baby came to shul with me, he was only 4 days old. We’ve been going to synagogue together each morning to say Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) ever since. It gives a rhythm to our days, and to my mourning. With frequency of prayer have come depth and growth. It’s a gift to have my baby with me as I do the hard work of keeping Dad’s memory alive, and a welcome surprise to finally have the opportunity, after my third child, to focus on my own spiritual life and not just that of my kids.
My sweet baby Izzy, named for my dad Israel, will have this connection to his saba (grandfather) forever. I’ll teach him every day about this wonderful man that he’ll never know.
It will be both a burden and a blessing.