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2/3 of a Mommy

2/3 of a Mommy

Dealing with the Loss of a Child

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It's been just about a month since Mother's Day, but I'm still trying to work through its after effects. Now there were so many ways to celebrate Mother's day this year. Brunches, flowers, candies, gifts, personalized jewelry, and of course, a good sale, as everyone knows that nothing says, "Thanks for giving birth to me," better than 30% off small appliances.

I still find it impossible to lie, even to strangers, about my daughterBut the most popular gift in my neighborhood was a t-shirt. Around the corner from my apartment, a boutique was and is still selling T-shirts that declare to the world how many children the wearer has. On stylish, burnout cotton, the tops are emblazoned in trendy print, "Mommy of 1", "Mommy of 2", etc. Everyone had one. Now that Mother's Day is past us, the brunch specials are over, my omelet and mimosa are but a pleasant memory and my discounted blender is installed happily in my kitchen. Meanwhile the t-shirt's have hit the clearance rack yet I am left with a dilemma – which one do I buy?

Living in New York City, I spend a lot of time in public. Having a ridiculously adorable baby with me tends to invite a lot of conversation. Depending on the length of the bus ride, eventually, people will get around to asking me if this is my first child. Yet one good look at the amount of wear and tear on my baby carrier and stroller and one can gather that no, this is not. When I tell strangers that Izzy is my third child, the natural inclination is to ask about my older two. "I have a son who just turned four, and a daughter who died when she was almost five months old." Silence. No one knows how to react.

So, do I get the "Mommy of 3" t-shirt? Should I be wearing a trendy conversation piece begging strangers to ask where my third child is when I'm out with my boys? No, that's not the kind of awkward interaction I want to invite on myself. Yet, I still find it impossible to lie, even to strangers, about my daughter. I refuse to pretend she never existed or use a nebulous answer regarding her whereabouts to gloss over the fact that she died. So, the "Mommy of 2" shirt isn't for me, either.

Every day, no matter how pleasant, no matter the occasion, will be a day without my daughterThere's no "Mommy of 2/3", shirt, but that's the one I need. Better yet, I need a t-shirt that says, "2/3 of Mommy", because each of my children is a piece of me, and one piece is gone. Some days, that is very obvious and the easiest way to communicate this to the rest of the world would be to have it on a t-shirt. The grief of losing a child is devastating to a parent's psyche and there are many ways in which I'm "not all there." My thought processes are fractured, concentrating is harder than it used to be and I'm not as quick on my feet as I once was. Most profound, though, is the incompleteness of my happiness.

Thank G‑d, we recently welcomed into the world our third child, a son, Yisroel Simcha, or Izzy for short. When I was pregnant with him, I told my husband that I wanted to make a big deal of his birth. I wanted balloons, a big party for his brit, the whole shebang and I got it.

I thought that creating a big celebration would lighten my heart and maybe even repair it. The sadness of grief found its way into my joy and took up residence, redefining joy for me. Every day, no matter how pleasant, no matter the occasion, will be a day without my daughter. Even the happiest moments for me, no matter how bright, will always be tinged with darkness.

Happy feels different nowSometimes I look at my living family and feel so filled with love that I could radiate with it, overwhelmed with joy to the point of spilling incoherent tears because these people are just so amazing. But even those heavenly moments of crazy-lady love are so augmented by the constant presence of grief that happiness is now a completely different emotion than it once was. Happy feels different now. This ecstatic adoration of the man I chose and the men I made is not a single color of joy, but an iridescent emotion, glimmering in varying shades, depending on the light.

I don't know if that can be condensed onto a t-shirt, or run through a discounted blender, but my mimosa will be commemorating all I've had and all I have left. I'll drink to all of my children, wherever they are. Happy Belated 2/3 Mother's day to me.

Yael Hanover is an author, speaker and Kallah teacher living in Florida with her husband and three sons. She is available for classes in person and via Skype. Yael can be reached at HiImYael@gmail.com. The first installment of her book, "I Can't Even Imagine" is now available for Kindle.
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Cathlyn San Jacinto May 24, 2015

I am a mother of 3. my oldest son just passed away on May 3. He was 3 years old. My daughters, 2 and 4 months, are my loves. I just miss my son, my first born. He made me a mother, he taught me how to be a good one. I am still in shock, the pain hasn't hit me yet because it doesn't feel real. I'm trying to be strong for my girls but every moment of the day I feel like I am missing someone, my Caleb. Reply

Linda Cincinnati, USA June 30, 2010

Dear Anonymous, I can hear the pain behind those capital letters. This is such a terrible thing to go through - the worst experience a person can have, according to psychologists. It takes a long time to heal. Yesterday we were buying tickets to Kings Island and both my older son and I automatically included the little guy in the count. Friends came for dinner and we used our dining room for the first time, spreading the table as a buffet instead of putting chairs around it and looking at the empty spot, just to make it more bearable. I'm taking little steps to get through this. But so many people have told us about how Arun brightened their lives that I realize he had a real purpose on Earth.
Reverse the verse - "The Lord has taken away and the Lord has given." We were blessed to have Arun. He was only meant to have a short life but we were the ones privileged to enjoy it with him. Reply

Anonymous paramus, NJ June 30, 2010

how can we know g-d's plan if g-d has a plan in view of this kind of unspeakable tragedy, how can we know what it is? I do not want to know in the world to come - i want to know NOW. Reply

Jane Kennah Tucson, AZ June 17, 2010

Shiney There is nothing that I can say to you that hasn't already been said. I know the love of a child, the sadness when one hurts, when someone almost hurts the child and the fear of losing one's child.

My only words to you are, I'm sorry for the death of your daughter and ask the Lord to heal your heart. Peace and Blessings Reply

Linda Cincinnati, OH June 14, 2010

Sudden death of family The last comment reminds me how sometimes death comes when you least expect it. Even when it comes after a long illness, we rarely get the chance to complete a "bucket list". So, do fun stuff with your kids today. Don't put it off until the house is clean or whenever. Let them know you love them even when they do wrong. Hold them tight. They are the most important "things" in life. Reply

Jane de vries Paramus, NJ June 13, 2010

my mother lost a daughter to homocide My sister, a musical prodigy, was stabbed to death in brooklyn, april 1980. Her second grandson was born early, exactly 7 years later, on the same date. how do you explain that? Perhaps chabad can run a support group for parents with children who have died and open it up to the non jewish world as well. Reply

Kara Tyson Mobile, AL June 12, 2010

What To Say 15 years ago I lost my family in a house fire. At 28, I woke up from a coma to find out that I had lost everything and everyone.

I realize that in the course of normal conversations people are going to ask if I have children. Even today, I truly do not know how to answer the question.

Truthfully, I don't go anywhere on Mother's Day. Usually, I face the issue perhaps once or twice a year, but on that particular day I am asked the question EVERY where I go.


If I say yes--that only leads to more questions. If I say no--I feel like I am not truthful and that it dishonors my children. If I say yes, but they are not living, then the person who asks feels horrible--and I do not want anyone to feel bad about asking a perfectly normal question.

On a side note, I have never really celebrated "Hallmark" holidays. I figure if something means that much to you, you do not need a day. Reply

Anonymous via chabadgn.com June 11, 2010

loss of children I too have had losses. Two beautiful baby girls died of Tay-Sachs disease and a 3rd pregnancy was also affected.. Luckily my first child was a healthy girl or I don't know how I would have survived.. The sadness from these losses never goes away...and comes out from time to time as does the loss of both my parents. I now have 2 grandsons from my daughter and 2 grandsons and a granddaughter from my adopted son. Life goes on and gives us many blessings. Thanks for sharing and giving me this opportunity to share anonymously. Reply

Linda Cincinnati, OH June 10, 2010

Lost child Thank you for saying this. My 11 year old son recently died from cancer. I always hated it when other Moms who had lost children would say things like "I have 3 children;, two here and one in heaven." It's embarrassing because losing a child is unthinkable. Before it happens to you, you already know that it would be unbearable. How can you possibly respond, especially if you are only trying to have a brief social conversation with the person. Yet, now I know that although it might be difficult for others to hear, I can not and will not stop talking about my third child who is still part of me. To do so would be to pretend that he had no effect on the world he left behind. Actually, he was a very special soul who completed his mission of bringing people together and making the world brighter, a little earlier than we all hoped. Reply

Joel Kleehammer Mannheim, Germany June 10, 2010

Thank you Thank you for your article. I lost my son to SIDS in 1993, and his memory still has the power to bring tears to my eyes today. I have the same issue with how many children I have had. He was my second of eight, so I have certainly been blessed by HaShem since then. I sometimes answer that I "have seven children" and sometimes that I "have had eight," which causes problems when I talk about my children to the same person more than once before explaining my situation.

I don't have a t-shirt, but I have four and a half months of very good memories of my son. Please enjoy the memories you have, and try not to dwell on thinking of what might have been. Be thankful for the time you were given to be with your daughter. A little bit of time is just as much a gift from above as a lot of time. Reply

miriam Bklyn, new york June 9, 2010

re: on loss
by the way in crown heights there is a teleconference that happens once a month for those who have lost children

the same person who does it is the co author of a monthly magazine called "Tapastry" which is a very inspiring publication on this topic

may Hashem wipe away all our tears and see our loved ones soon Reply

Anonymous June 9, 2010

Thank you for sharing! You speak for many moms with this story! I have thank G-d not lost a child, but I have miscarried. I have found with time that when asked how many children I have that I say, "I conceived [X,] but had two miscarriages and have [X-2] and they are doing great!" that I am acknowledging the ones who just didn't arrive but also don't seem to want sympathy. I have also seen and heard other women doing the same thing. In the past, moms were not allowed to talk about these things.

Thank you for opening your heart to us all. This will get passed around to women all over the world, in prisons and in hospitals and places of worship and mother's groups and EVERYWHERE. (I know this because I will take it to all these places myself!!)

May you be blessed and may all these ripples come back to you-- and to your little girl who died is healing hearts! Reply

Leah Rosenstein Oak Park, MI June 9, 2010

I also lost a baby I had a baby who was premature and survived the night but succumbed the next afternoon. I do sometimes think of what life might have been like had he survived and wonder if we will be reunited in the next world. Thank G-d, I have other children, but when I speak of my family size, I usually only mention those children that I actually raised.

Yael's child, however, came home, lived in the house, and had an affect on the family. Asking someone how many children they have is a bit of a loaded question anyway because it is not always a simple answer.

Instead of a t-shirt, Yael could get one of these charm bracelets or necklaces made for mothers or grandmothers with baby shoes or child cutouts and put a special stone in the one for Shiny. Reply

Sarah Beit El, Israel June 9, 2010

awesome parallel You have put into words the profundity of a Jewish neshoma (soul)in a world without the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). By speaking of your beloved daughter, you were able to express the incompleteness of our joy because of our national loss. May we see Jerusalem rebuilt and may we see those whom we love in techiyat hametim (resurrection of the dead) speedily in our day. Reply

Anonymous ny June 8, 2010

Your article helps me to be more sensitive to a friend of mine who lost a child about a year ago. It helps me to realize and remember that even when she smiles or laughs or looks good, a piece of her is missing and the word "happy" now has a different meaning in her emotional experience. May Moshiach come already and reunite all the broken hearted with their precious loved ones. Reply

basya rus ritchie fair oaks ranch, tx June 8, 2010

so many heartbreaks so much joy may all of us who have commented know true joy today. as we awaken and wash, a special prayer that we still have the joy of going out in the world and make it a better place..and our no-longer-with-us on-this earth will be with us to help us BRING MOSHIAH NOW Reply

Anonymous Washington , DC June 7, 2010

2/3 of a Mommy ..really 3/3 a Mommy Just today, when asked about my children, I proudly responded that I have 4, even tho one passed away in 1978, a tiny babe. For almost 25 years I found myself unconsciously setting the dinner table for six; it was not UNTIL I opened up and started speaking about him that I could stop doing that. The little souls that HaShem calls early will always be a part of us, and to deny their Heavenly existence only causes heartache and yearning. Know that you will see your darling daughter Shiny in the World to Come; and thank HaShem for the gift HE gave you by letting you have her, even if for a short time. May the Lord Bless you and your husband and family. Reply

Shira Rose Toronto, Canada June 7, 2010

please write more yael, this is so touching, and the most wonderful part of it is the honesty. i so respect you. mazel tov on your beautiful family, all members here and not quite physically here, and mazel tov for a belated mother's day. maybe just get a t-shirt with a mimosa on it :) Reply

Tatiana Ulm, Germany June 7, 2010

I can also relate... Dear Yael,
First of all, I am so sorry about the lost of your little girl.
My first child, whose name is also Yael, died after her second heart surgery a day before turning 18 months. I've remarried since, and have two beautiful children, but for years I felt the pain of being a "Motherless mother"... never knowing how to answer to the "how many children do you have" question.... still now. My children were, are, and will be always part of me. There is always this constant deep pain for what I won't be able to offer to my little girl anymore, mix with the joy of having my other children enjoy life and growing healthy. My heart goes with you and all the other mothers that have to go through the worse pain of all. I want to believe that our children will be reunited with us eventually, somehow. My best to you Reply

Chana Jenny Weisberg Jerusalem June 7, 2010

a beautiful article Dear Yael,
thank you for sharing your poignant reflections on the loss of your daughter. I visited your website, and am so impressed how you have turned her death into a source of goodness and light in the world.

may Hashem bless you and your husband with comfort. Reply