By Hannah Lee
For the conclusion of the fall Jewish holidays, I visited my in-laws. At the nearby shul, Rav Steven gave a very moving drasha on Shemini Atzeret. He and his wife had lost their twin babies— at 20 weeks of gestation— just before Shabbat. At a time of intense grief, he was able to give comfort to those of us in the Sanctuary. He cited the text from Chapter 6 of Kohelet (Eccleciastes): “…better off than he, is the stillborn child, for he [the stillborn child] comes in vain and departs in darkness. Though it never saw the sun, nor knew of it; its contentment is greater than his.”
Twenty-three years ago, I suffered the loss of a baby, but there is no traditional Jewish ritual for miscarriages or stillborn babies. No naming ceremony, no shiva. I didn’t even seek out a support group. Finally, I’ve now been given a positive perspective on my loss. We were so moved, my new friend had copious tears down her face.
Then, Rav Steven segued into talking about other losses: the death of people we’ve lived with. He said that the tendency is for us to have a fixed static memory of the departed person, because time has stopped for that person. However, in order to give a future to our relationship, we need to bring that person into our present and incorporate new interactions. We need to re-member them into our lives.
Dad died in June and Mom has placed a large framed photograph of him in the living room. She talks to him daily and when my siblings and I visit, we bow and greet Dad. Upon our departure, we announce our farewell. At the oddest moments, I think of Dad and how he would have reacted. I take comfort in that and it gives me the impetus to talk about him with my daughters. He remains alive in our thoughts, and thus he is still relevant. May Rav Steven and his wife take comfort in imaging their twin daughters as they grow throughout childhood.