Dealing With The Pain of a Difficult Year

Last Rosh Hashana, 2008 – I can’t even remember where I was. I mean in the sense of where my wife, myself and three children were for the Jewish New Year. How can one forget something like that? Either we were in Passaic, or in Far Rockaway or Pittsburgh – as well, we lived in Passaic, and usually for the holidays went out-of-town.

How can I forget which place I sat for all those hours? Whose home I was in? How can a healthy 35 year old forget?

I’ll tell you. Now, after I wrote that I just realized that in 2008 I was not even in the US! I was in Beit VaGan, Israel. Whew. But how could I even forget something like that and think that I was in another country altogether?

I’ll tell you. January 21, 2009, my wife gave birth to a dead baby. A baby that was 37 weeks old. Everything since that day has consumed my mind/spirits/energy surrounding the death of this potential person. Even today, September 11, 2009, I was thinking about it in an intense fashion while at a morning minyan.

Normally, and unfortunately, I do not make morning minyans. I work from 10pm until 5:45am. Sometimes, I stay on the phones for about a half-hour longer trying to get one more client and make one more commission. However, 99% of the time, by about 4am and until the end of the “night” I am wiped out and barely able to stay awake to make the calls I am supposed to make. Additionally, my bus back to Beit Shemesh doesn’t even run until around 7am, so what I am supposed to do from 6am until 7am? Daven.

For a while, I tried to walk to the closest minyan from my work location, but by the time I arrived that minyan was half-way done, and by the time I got my tallit and tefillin on, they were even closer to being finished, and by the time I sat down to start my prayers, I was asleep. Basically, it is not advised or “allowed” to sleep with tefillin on.

Now, no one at the minyan knew that I was awake all night and had walked about 15 minutes just to fall asleep. What they saw was a 35 year old man, healthy falling asleep with tefillin on his head. Since, this is not allowed, they would gently try to wake me up. Several times I was asked to leave and go home. Little did the people in this shul know that my home was another 45 minutes away by bus. We only know so little when we see things – we almost never see the whole picture when we observe people – and even if a person tries to describe the greater picture, like I am, they leave out so many details that one still really never knows exactly what the background story is or was. Especially, if the person telling it cannot even get the facts right, even though they experienced them! How insightful is for criminal lawyers?

Anyway, my wife gave birth to a dead baby. I know, I dropped that little nugget on y’all way up at the beginning and I am sure that this is why I am writing this letter. I just wanted you to know a bit of the background as to why I couldn’t remember where I was last Rosh Hashana.

So, today, I was at shul, when normally, I am not. I was supposed to go into work. Thursday, however, after my pre-work/pre-bus ride nap at 8pm, I just felt incredibly sick and did not want to go into work. So, I called in sick.

That meant I slept in my own bed at night and woke up around 6am. Two of my three children had already joined my wife and I in our beds and were trying to wake us up. I wanted to sleep more. I wanted to never wake up. Sometimes I hope that I just won’t wake up. But not in a suicidal way – that I want to kill myself – more in the way, that I just sometimes don’t want to get out of bed. That the view I’ll see is the ocean with white sand and seagulls.

Finally, around 6:30 my wife and I get out of bed and start our day. By the time 7:30am rolls around we’ve already dressed two of our children, fed them, and started to get dressed. I already took out a load of laundry and brought in clothes from the line on our porch (merapeset) and put another load of laundry into the machine. Our daughter was finally waking up, my wife was saying her brachot, and the boys had already spilled cheerios on the floor. One of the boys spilled cheerios on the other, so I had to change those wet clothes. It was now getting closer to 7:45am, and I still had not gotten fully dressed and wanted to go to a minyan, since I don’t normally go to minyan’s in the morning.

My wife had other plans, and she was about to tell me. “Honey, I have an idea,” she starts. I cut her off, “I am sure you do, and I bet it involves me running an errand,” I retorted in a mean voice. “Wait, let me finish,” she pleaded. “Hadassah, I know that it will involve me running some rather productive errand, meanwhile, I’ll miss the 8am minyan, and by the time I come home I’ll be tired and won’t want to daven at all.”

Okay, I didn’t say those exact words, but the argument had already started. Fortunately, my wife had the foresight to stop it, and we moved on. I left the house and made it to shul, only to realize that I was exhausted. After I put on my tefillin and tallit and tried to start my morning prayers, meanwhile the seleach zibbor (chazzan/or person leading the morning services) was already way ahead of where I was, even though I got there 10 minutes before the officials start.

Sigh – I’ll never fit it, I’ll never keep up. Why do I even bother? The negative tape had begun and now it was beating the crap out of my emotionally. See that guy in the corner in the front? He can daven. You? Don’t even start. See that guy in the side over there? I bet he never does laundry, work over-night, make the bed, and all the other things you do – he, he, gets to learn all day and his wife works, and their children don’t need to watch videos every morning. Why do you even start. So, I close my eyes. Wait, I am wearing tefillin! I try to open my eyes, I look at the Hebrew words. Sigh. Who am I kidding? I can’t read this and understand. But when I try to read the English, I just don’t believe. Why are you even bothering to come to this shul. The weather is beautiful outside, wouldn’t you rather be sitting on the grass and letting the world move by? Sigh. I close my eyes again. Wait, you’re wearing tefillin and why are you so tired? You slept in your own bed – none of your children woke up in the middle of the night. Sure, they came into your bed at 5:30am or some un-godly hour, but you should be awake and singing to Hashem. Okay. I start to try to sing the words that I know and quickly realize that I don’t have any tunes that I know well to fit the words that are on the page. Meanwhile, the minyan is speeding along and I still haven’t gotten to Baruach Shamar.

Anyway – I close my eyes. Again. Wait, I am wearing tefillin, I can’t sleep with tefillin on. There on the table is yet another distraction. A pamphlet about Hidraboot, the “Charedi” TV station. Yes, there is a Charedi TV station and according the materials that I started reading, instead of davening, has been revolutionizing the Jewish world.

Wow! I got excited, hey, maybe I could work for them? I started thinking about that idea, instead of davening of course. Wow – I bet I could really contribute. I mean, I am baal teshuva, I’ve been through a lot! People always say I have a great story, maybe I could inspire some one else? I know, it’d have to be English speakers, and I am not a rabbi, but maybe I could focus on people who are just starting on the path and need a “normal” voice/person to help them through the transitions in habits.

Wait. I can’t even daven, so what good can I do anyone? I close my eyes again. This time, while the minyan has started to get to the shomei esray, I start to think about the dead baby.

I start to imagine it’s last hours inside my wife’s body. I start to imagine all the water, the umbilical cord – that eventually killed my baby. I imagine it struggling for life-choking to death – drowning in the very source of its life.

I recall the hours in the hospital after we knew that the baby was dead inside – and that my wife had to give birth to a dead body. Since her last child was a C-section, we had wanted to have a “V”-back. Everything was planned around this idea – And now the baby was dead. We were at Hadassah Ein-Karem with a dead baby.

And my wife wasn’t even 1 centimeter dilated. No petosin, as that could rupture her internal scar from the C-section and make it impossible for her to have a vaginal birth again (of course, not that you two are thinking about other children right now, the doctors said).

Basically, because it was a horrible experience, I’ll skip all the crying, the fact that we left the hospital, went to a mall and had dinner!, and skip the part were we took a tour of the hospital to find the plaques that reported my wife’s grand-father who had donated money to the very hospital we were in (yes, we did those things – all in a fog – and all in the knowledge that we had a dead body with us).

I’ll skip the details of the hours of waiting until my wife was further dilated and all the kooky and odd things that her and our birthing coach did to get her to the point of delivery.

Now, “normally” babies send a signal somehow, and the internal pitosin kicks in, and contractions start and well, babies are born. Millions of them every day. For thousands of years. How can a dead baby send the signal? Yet, contractions started with some help – which I won’t describe, but it was not chemical drips from the nurses.

Eventually, my wife, our labor coach, and myself were trying to get a dead baby out of her body and into the ground.

They asked us if we wanted to know – to know its gender, to know what happened, to know. Before we left the hospital, to go eat – one of my brothers and his wife came. This brother is close with the Amshinov Rebbe in Beit Vagan. Now, this person, the Rebbe is known to keep himself in shabbot beyond the 24 hours that Shabbot exists for every other Jew. Anyway, it was Tuesday when we were in the hospital, around 6pm, when we were officially told via the sonogram that the baby was indeed dead.

By the time my brother and his wife arrived, it was close to 8pm – I think. My memory as demonstrated above is not so great.

The rebbe had told my brother to tell me the following: no shiva, no period of mourning, no ripping of our garments “kriah”, no knowledge of where the baby was going to be buried, no going to the site of the burial for myself or my wife – and the rebbe advised that we should not see the baby, we shouldn’t find out its gender and not to find out what happened. Okay – well – what can I say?

Put yourself in my shoes – I mean you can’t really, because you don’t know anything about me – except what I am revealing – which is not the complete picture.

So – now the baby comes out. Have you ever been at a birth? The three other children that were born to my wife – all were accompanied by their tears/screaming our tears of happiness, relief and exhaustion. G-d enters the room at a birth.

Don’t believe me? That’s fine too. G-d also enters the room when a baby dies. It is a silent entry – the quiet stillness of death – Judaism says that G-d has an Angel of Death. I don’t know anything about Angels. I am sure I know nothing about G-d – I do know that G-d was in the room. G-d came in the form of the nurses, the midwives, the small crib that our dead baby was placed in and wheeled out in – never to be seen again. I did see its face.

We did eventually find out its gender. We did eventually find out that the umbilical cord had wrapped itself around the baby’s neck. “There’s nothing you could have done to prevent this – and there is no reason to think it was preventable. It is not genetic. We are sorry for your loss.”

Today, September 11, 2009, is also my sister’s English birthday and also, the anniversary of September 11, 2001.

So, there I was exhausted at this minyan, trying to distract myself from thinking about the death of our baby – and just couldn’t even keep my eyes open, when really I should have all this energy – I mean I am a 35 year old man….

And the self-punishment starts. Finally, the minyan is finished with davening – and I am still at the Shema. I’ll never keep up with the Schwartz’s in this town. Sigh, I think I just want to home and go to sleep.

Instead, I wrote this. See, one can find energy for the things that are distractions – but where is the energy for the things that matter?

Rosh Hashana is next Shabbot. Does G-d suspend judgment because of Shabbot? What “trumps” judgment? Does the holy shabbot interrupt the din that is hanging on the world?

As I keep on trying not to daven, these thoughts enter my mind. Again, I just close my eyes –

And there is my baby.

15 comments on “Dealing With The Pain of a Difficult Year

  1. September 9, 2010 is Rosh Hashanah 5771. I hope BSD that Daniel and Hadassah Rosenthal will find on that date that they can look back and say, “The past year 5770 was far better than the previous year 5769, and brought us some measure of consolation.” Wishing you sincerely that you both should be blessed and have no more sorrow.

  2. Dan, I hope things get better and I think they will. Hashem should bless you with a great year.
    Your friend, Yaakov Meyer from Passaic

  3. May HaShem Yisborach, who sometimes is close to us ( Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh) and who also appears distant ( Baruch Kvod HaShem Mimkomo) comfort you and your family. As RYBS pointed out, that is why we say HaMakom Yinachem to an avel in that text.

    Let me offer a step beyond the observations of R M Balinsky and some of the other very well meaning posters here. There is no question that above and beyond the very real physical and emotional Es Tzara that you and yours have experienced, that you and your family have been subjected to a huge blow to their individual and collective personae and psyches. IMO, a frum mental health professional associated with NEFESH, a network of frum mental health professionals with many members in Israel, may also be of assistance as well. It is important to remember that the Rambam in Shemoneh Prakim exhorts us that Cholei HaNefesh require a unique refuah, unlike Cholei HaGuf, and the failure to treat the causes of Cholei HaNefesh, means that one is offering palliative care, as opposed to treating the root causes of the issue.

  4. Daniel, I went through the BT experience many years ago (almost 40). Keeping up with davening is hard. After you get used to it, keeping up with meaning what you say is maybe harder. We also had a loss of a baby, born in the sixth month and lived 11 hours. My wife was in shmira for a couple months including two hospitalizations, which unhinged our lives considerably. May Hashem comfort you and your wife and hang in there.

  5. This was a remarkable piece of writing. To remark that you enabled us to feel along with you, Daniel, would be an understatement.

    I hope that, as you presumably intended, sharing this with the people who read this blog has helped you feel less burdened. I mean these words — share, burden — literally. You should conceptualize your present reality as if we here are actually carrying these feelings along with you, even a little tiny bit, the way each person who visits a choleh [sick person] is said to take away a fraction of his illness. With enough of us taking on an eye dropper of the pain along with you… maybe it will feel a little lighter on you?

    I hope so. Could you try to think of it that way, to visualize it mentally the way you see sand and seagulls as you drift off, and see if that in any way helps?

    I hope and will daven that Hashem will make this year and the other years an easier one to bear, one in which simcha, and the bitachon that is its soil, can find a place to grow in you and all of klal yisroel who are bearing the awful weight of such hurting.

  6. Very moving. I hope that writing about this was helpful to you. We really don’t know what anyone else around us is going through, especially people we don’t know well.

  7. The Amshinover rebbe may be halachically correct, but not helpful from the emotional viewpoint of the family. Books have been written about this, and the need for something to acknowledge the pain of this event. See Confronting the Loss of a Baby by Rabbi Yamin Levy

  8. Bob, that probably is a good idea. However, for the most part it comes down to common sense and thinking before one speaks (or writes). I probably shouldn’t give any examples here.

    I certainly didn’t mean to stifle people from offering support and helping with some of the issues that were raised.

  9. Menachem,

    You noted above that “My wife and I could write a book about the well meant, but incredibly stupid things people said to us.”

    For those of us who are apt to say the wrong thing, such a book—or pamphlet, or even web page—could be a real help. You should seriously consider writing this info up.

  10. In the past week alone, Klal Yisrael lost two more little ones — a five-year old in Monsey and a nine-year old in Williamsburg. Over the past few years there have been many deaths of young people in my own community.

    The only possible consolation for the parents — for myself — is the belief, the desire, the longing for the final geula, when techias hamaisim will reunite these precious children with their parents. I desperately pray that you will be together again too, with joy greater than can possibly be imagined, with your little one, very soon.

  11. Thank you, Daniel, for granting us this privilege. I am so sorry that it is so. I pray that you and your family will find solace in the coming year and that Hashem will bless you all with health and closeness to Him.

  12. Daniel, I have been in your shoes, at least regarding your lost baby. Time numbs but, as I write this through my tears, I know that it never completely heals. If you want to contact me my number is in the Shemeshphone.

    To those who wish to comment. Please be careful. My wife and I could write a book about the well meant, but incredibly stupid things people said to us.

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