I envisioned my grandfather, my Papa, swaying back and forth in the moon-lit window, reciting the foundational prayer of the Jewish people, the Shema, again by himself, forgiving anyone who may have antagonized or angered him or who had sinned against him. The soft, baritone voice, the tear-filled eyes, his smell and presence in my childhood room. How could this gentle, pious man ever have been angered? "Papa? Papa," I tried to call out. His swaying, his familiar scent, his tears, my memories, swaying...

I had been raped

I awoke suddenly with a strange feeling of dread. As I came out of my sleep I realized that I was on my couch and still fully dressed. I felt my head and there were sticks and leaves tangled through it. Momentarily I felt as if I could not move my legs and it began to dawn on me. I had been raped.

Only twenty-three, I had no family left. My dear grandparents who raised me since I was a young child had been gone for five years now and I was alone in the world. When I realized what had happened to me, I tried to think of the night before. Yet somehow I felt numbed, drugged even. I kept hearing the chanting of my Papa, seeing his swaying silhouette, falling in and out of semi-consciousness as his familiar words ebbed and flowed through my mind.

His sidelocks were swinging as he swayed back and forth and suddenly he turned from the window, looked directly at me and vanished.

I arose and although a bit unsteady, I was not badly hurt. I had no one to call. I did not know what to do. So I showered and scrubbed my body and washed my hair three times. I stood there, swaying gently under the stream of hot, cleansing water as I kept going over the previous night's events. Dinner down the road with friends, getting up to order another coke... and the night suddenly turned black. I slowly realized that I had been drugged somehow. This seemed to be a new phenomenon in 1982 - the date rape drug ketamine causes hallucinations, dream-like states and often unconsciousness. As an emergency room nurse, I had heard of this being a problem in the cities. However, we were located in a small town and had not seen any cases come in yet.

I called the county sheriff's office and through my tearful and sketchy recollection of the events I tried to report what had happened. The officer they said they would dispatch to my country home never arrived. I did not know what else to do. In these years there was no rape protocol set out so I stayed inside my house for the weekend and recovered as best I could.

On my way home about three weeks after the rape, the feeling of dread came over me. I gripped the steering wheel as the realization that I may have become pregnant presented itself. When I arrived home I called a friend and told her of my concern and she told me to bring a urine sample into work the next day and her husband who worked in the lab would run a pregnancy test. As I had feared, the results came back positive.

I remained in my house for three days as I grappled with my conscience

Again and again the chanting and praying of my Papa and the gentle kindness of my Nana kept flashing into my mind. They were so strong. So spiritual. So good to me. I longed to hear their advice, to run to my Papa's arms and pour out my heart to him. However, I was alone. I realized that I had some very important decisions to make and again I remained in my house for three days as I grappled with my conscience in isolation.

I was pregnant. That much was obvious. The pregnancy was the product of a rape. Hence, the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. Although there are truly three choices, I knew for myself that I would only choose between two. How could I give up a child that was part of me for adoption? Would I have a lifetime of regret and wondering? Could I raise a child on my own, separating the child himself from the brutal act that had created him?

In the words of the Midrash:

The Holy One, blessed be He, says: "When anguish comes upon the children of Israel and they call upon Me, they should make themselves partners with My glory and I shall answer them immediately." Thus it is written, "He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him, I am with him in distress" (Psalms 91:15).

I began to pray nearly continuously, rarely sleeping and eating very little. After three agonizing days, I decided I would keep my baby and not tell anyone how he came to be. Nobody would know. I would protect my child from hearing of the horror from an errant comment and making him feel "unwanted" in his mind.

The pregnancy went smoothly and soon after first feeling my baby flutter inside of me I began preparation for our life together. I was in love with my baby. I saved money so I could take a year off of work. I changed my small house around and added a tiny cradle to my bedroom. I installed child locks on every cupboard. I bought baby blankets and other necessary items as the months went by. I kept busy, worked hard and ignored the disapproving glances from some of the staff at the hospital where I worked. Since I was unmarried, I bought baby blankets and other necessary items they assumed I had gotten myself into trouble, as it was phrased back then. It was tough but mostly a happy time for me. I would raise my child the best I could, modeling my parenting after the example set by the kind grandparents who raised me.

When I would become worried, I studied the Torah. I especially was fortified in my decision when I read Psalms 139:15-16 where King David wrote:

"My bones were not hidden from you
When I was made in secret,
When I was woven in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw even the embryo of me,
And in your book all its parts were down in writing,
As regards the days when they were formed
And there was not yet one among them."

My baby, already loved by me, was also known and cared about by G‑d. I felt His protective arms around us as I went about at work, ignoring the stares of those who perceived me immoral, and smiling with gratitude when someone would ask what I would name my child.

I remember thinking of how happy I was and would respond that I would name my child Asher, if he was a boy, since the name means "happiness" and he had brought me so much happiness already. Two days before my due date, I felt unwell. I went upstairs to the obstetrics ward and the nurses on duty checked me over. They listened to my child's heartbeat, felt for contractions and then phoned my doctor. His partner was on call that night and he instructed me to go home, relax and not to worry since this was my first baby and they come when they decide the time is right.

I left the hospital that night near midnight. As I traveled the snow covered highway home I began to feel very cold. I turned the heat on high in my car, yet as the trip wore on, I began shivering more. When I arrived at my house I alternated between vomiting and stoking my already blazing wood stove. I could not get warm. I tried lying down on the couch but suddenly a sharp pain gripped my abdomen and did not release. Something was terribly wrong. Again, instead of calling for help, I wrapped myself in a down comforter and began driving the steep mountain road back to town. I remember once waking up, my car door open, and seeing myself lying prostrate on the snowy highway. I began driving again and finally turned into a ranch and banged on the door, screaming in pain and begging for help. The couple took me inside, called the doctor immediately and soon I was admitted to the hospital. A monitor was placed around my belly yet there were no rhythmic contractions. Only a rock hard womb inside. The doctor placed monitors inside of me, explaining that they were attached to my baby's head to check his vital signs. The machine showed nothing. He repositioned the leads and again the monitor was blank. "Abruptio Placentae," he whispered to someone. I saw tears in the eyes of the nurses and I knew. My child had died.

"My Asher, My Asher," I cried over and over

The labor room seemed so dark and silent as I delivered a perfectly formed, seven-pound baby boy four hours later. Although he was not alive, the quietly weeping nurse washed his tiny body, wrapped him in a soft blanket and handed him to me. "My Asher, My Asher," I cried over and over. I rocked him. I kissed him. Automatically I performed the rituals of all new mothers as I unwrapped his still-warm body and counted his fingers and toes. I rocked back and forth, running my fingers through his dark hair, repeating, "Y'vorechicha Hashem v'yshimrecha" - May G‑d bless you and safeguard you.  In my stunned grief, it was all I could think of to utter.

As his body grew cold, the nurse took my Asher away and I awoke later to a whirl of questions and paperwork I never realized existed. "What will you name him?" one inquired, a death certificate instead of a birth certificate in her hand. "Asher," I replied through my tears. "Please sign so we may send him for an autopsy," one instructed. "He must be back before Friday," was all I could think of responding as I scribbled my signature where she had placed her finger. "Where would you have him buried?" asked another. I responded with a blank stare. To a nurse walking into my room I stated with a strange calm, "He must be circumcised, I think." She said she would make a special note of it. And then I slept. No more questions. No more decisions.

No more Asher. No more happiness.

Except for G‑d, my life felt blank.

In the ensuing days, I sat in my home alone while I recuperated. I prayed. I cried. I screamed. I longed for someone to come by and have a cup of tea with me. I wished for someone who would listen to the truth of my story. Yet I found I had isolated myself once again and began repeating my familiar childhood Shema prayer for comfort.

B'shem Hashem Elokay Yisrael, m'yemini Michoel, umismoli Gavriel, umilfonai Uriel,  u-may-achorai Refoel, v'al roshi sh'chinas E-l. In the Name of the L-rd, G‑d of Israel: May Michael be at my right, Gabriel at my left, Uriel before me, and Raphael behind me; and above my head the Presence of G‑d.

It was all I could think of saying. I swayed, I laid on my bed, I paced and I sang it, over and over until the Shema began to comfort me. There was no one else for me but G‑d. I did not realize it then, but I now am certain I could not have had a better companion in my grief.

I have learned many lessons

In all of this I have learned many lessons. I have learned true, gut-wrenching grief. I have learned loneliness. I have learned that the gentle and spiritual upbringing of my grandparents really did prepare me to survive anything; they had given me the gift of knowing my Creator. Truly, a more powerful gift cannot be found. I also realized that although the pain of losing one's child never truly leaves, it does subside with time. I now know what words to say to someone who is grieving. I know that just sitting in silence is often the best. Listening to them tell their story is essential. Frequent short visits are comforting. I have learned not to ask the bereaved to call me. They won't. I call them instead. I send cards on the date of passing, the yahrtzeit. And most of all I have learned to rely upon G‑d for true comfort.

It was twenty four years ago today that I buried my son.

Just born.

Not born.

Still born.

I always have and always will love you Asher, Mama