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Bittersweet Journey

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Rabbi Sherre Hirsch: Just as I was putting my son Emet to sleep for the night, he asked me why the doctors could not fix my mother's brain. Before I could say anything, he continued. If these are the best, the smartest, and the greatest doctors in the whole world, then why was she not getting better?

sad mother holding her sad son

There are times as a parent when a short answer or a turning of the question into another question is insufficient. There are also times when you just don't have a great answer. I have the same questions too.

So I decided to give him the answer I tell myself. As smart as doctors are (and I am married to one), they just don't know all that much about how the body works. Each day they are discovering more and more, but they still have a long way to go. So, instead of trying to be God, they work in partnership with God. God gives them the gift to heal to the best of their abilities, but it is limited. Even God does not understand why some people get an incurable illness and others don't. What we do know is that God wants Gaga (his grandmother) to be well. God does not want her to suffer. And just like we are sad, God is sad too. All illnesses are beyond God's control.

It's what I tell myself, even though it doesn't always seem like such a good answer. And when Emet followed up my speech by asking why he should believe in God if God is not in charge, I knew it was not sufficient for him either. Looking straight into his innocent eyes in that moment, I knew no answer would be enough. Instead, I said that for me it was better to believe in a God who loves and comforts me in my pain rather than a God who is all powerful and can make people sick or well. He was not so sure. We lay there for a while watching the moonlight on the ceiling without saying another word until we both fell fast asleep. That would have to do for now.

We are expecting our fourth child in October, and while I am anticipating the arrival of baby Hirsch # 4, it is bittersweet. My mother was in the delivery room for all the other three. Each time she was giving me the confidence, the cheers, and the support I needed. Would she have the energy to do the same this time? Would she be able to wait out the labor keeping me company, feeding me ice chips and distracting me with silly stories? Or will she not make it to that day? Will I have to bring our child into the world and at the same time, grieve her grandmother's loss?

In either case, our fourth child will never share the relationship with her that the older kids do. The new baby will probably never know her. Even if they meet, chances are that the baby won't remember. This baby will be far too young. How much do we really remember before we were five years old?

When the baby is born, my other children will be seven, five, and three. When they are older, they will mostly remember Gaga through the stories I tell them and through the videos we have. They will never have what I had with my grandmother, who died when I was 37 years old. My relationship with her was entirely separate from my mother's. She and I talked on the phone, we traveled, we knew each other well. We had sleepovers at my sorority house. She danced at my wedding. My children will never have the joy of seeing their grandmother rock to "YMCA."

What I know about grandparents is that they love you in a special way. They don't have the same expectations that your parents have of you. They love you just because, and you feel special when you are with them. My children have that relationship with my husband's parents and I am grateful. But they live in Louisiana, which makes visits special occasions, rather than a regular part of daily life.

So I want the new baby to arrive today. I know this is not possible, but I want them to have a chance to know one another. The sooner the baby gets here, the better. If nothing more, I want my mom to hold the baby in her arms so I can take a picture, and then one day tell the baby all about that moment. But for now I have to wait and hope.

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
misty May 10, 2009, 1:19 AM

I lost my mom this year, and your diaries help me realize how significant it is for a mom to lose a mom….and how impactful it is for my family. I’m going to have a conversation about it with all of us in the morning. thank you!

Toni May 11, 2009, 11:45 AM

At 28, I lost my father almost exactley 3 months to the day before my son (first grandchild) was born. It was the most difficult time in my life, watching, while I lost my father, but antipating the birth of my son. I hate that he never met my son. I try and imagine the bond they may have shared. And I am jealous that he gets to excited to see his other grandfather, because i think my dad could have had that. It is painfully hard, but you move forward with life, you have to, for them.

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