Saturday, June 16, 2018

"do you have any children?"

Dear Nahum,

It's been a long time since I wrote a letter to you. Don't think that it's because I don't think of you. I think of you often and will think of you always.

Did I ever tell you how sometimes we don't know if we should tell new people about you or not? Don't be mad at us for this — but when someone asks us, "Do you have any children?" sometimes we say, "No". It depends who's asking, when they're asking, where they're asking, and how they're asking. Sometimes we tell them about you right away. But sometimes it would just be too awkward to start talking about you in a particular setting. Or we know the conversation has to be short and we don't think we have time to start into your story. So we say, "No".

Dad and I always seem to tell each other that evening, when we've been in a situation where we felt we needed to say, "No." Almost as if to reaffirm to each other, that we do have a child. We just didn't feel we could mention you at that moment.

A few weeks ago, a bright-eyed, smiling young lady whom I had met about half an hour before asked me about the necklace I was wearing.

"What does it say?"

"It says Nahum," I said. "Like the prophet..." I explained, as if that really explained anything.

"Oh, OK..."

"It's the name of our son..." I added, seeing that the first answer wasn't enough.

"Nice." She was still a bit puzzled, "Is he at home right now?"

You can see how these conversations go, son.

"No...he died at birth." What was I supposed to say now? "Hence, the necklace."

There was surprise and then sadness in her youthful eyes; eyes that were too young to know how many people see a broken baby in an ultrasound. Her early-twenty-something friend leaned in too; they both looked sad and didn't know what to say. Later when I told Dad about the conversation, he was a bit surprised, that I had told two brand-new acquaintances about the story of you.

So the next time the topic came up, I tried to veer away from the subject. Sightseeing in another city, I ran into a friendly bookstore owner. I had some questions about his city, and he had lots of answers. At some point in the conversation, he turned the questions my way and found out that we have been married for three and a half years.

"Do you have any children?" he asked.

"No," I said. Easy, compact answer for the stranger.

He smiled and nodded, "Still just enjoying the newlywed life, huh?"

Um...that didn't sound like an accurate description either. Not that we're not enjoying marriage (after all, I married your Dad! You remember how sweet he is), but our marriage feels past the newlywed stage. It's in the we-didn't-expect-to-still-be-just-two-of-us stage. In the I-thought-I'd-be-sightseeing-with-a-stroller phase. We are a family of three, a family that lost one third of itself. So I couldn't stop the conversation right there.

"Well, we lost our first baby."

He was a decade or two older than me, and could relate, to some degree. He and his wife have four living, healthy boys but two miscarried children as well. I thought of a quote I heard from someone's grandmother: "Having babies doesn't make you old. Losing them does." 

Losing you made our eyes and our marriage older, Nahum. Sometimes when I look at young, bright eyes that have never known a heavy loss yet, I feel a twinge of jealousy that I'm on the other side now, as someone who has known the kind of loss that makes one feel old. I look forward to Heaven, where our old souls will be refreshed and renewed, where a kind inquiry about my family won't lead to a conversation about death....where there will be no more death. On earth we will always struggle to provide an easy, compact answer to the questions "Do you have any children?" or "How many children do you have?"

Here's how I wish I could always answer the question "Do you have any children?"
"Yes! We have a son named Nahum, and we love him very much."