Grandpa’s Little Girl
by Judy R. Gruen
Am Echad Resources
February 21, 2001
We sat in the hard plastic chairs by his hospital bed, smiling weakly as we awaited confirmation of what we dreaded learning -- that Dad had cancer. Mom and I sat quietly most of the time, hoping our presence would comfort him. Then, Dad spoke.
"You know, Judy," he began, "I was thinking how nice it would be if you had a little girl."
I was stunned. I had given birth to three boys in the past four years. My unbridled fertility had frequently been a source of worried glances and a rolling of the eyes among my parents and in-laws.
"And here are the names I like best," Dad continued, deepening my amazement.
"Shoshana. . ." Mom and I looked at each other, uplifted by the sudden conversational focus on life. We told Dad that we both felt Shoshana was a beautiful name.
"Naomi. . ." he continued, and again we nodded our approval.
"And here’s my favorite," Dad said, smiling longingly, "Muriel!"
"Muriel!" Mom and I laughed together. After announcing two lovely biblical names that I could easily consider naming a daughter, his favorite was a name that to me (and even Mom) was amusingly dated.
It was such a funny moment at such a poignant time, but I took Dad’s unprecedented discussion of a hoped-for granddaughter seriously. Was it possible, I wondered, that God was somehow compensating for Dad’s weakening physical condition by providing him spiritual insights into my future?
Over the next eight months, my father slowly lost his battle with cancer. He displayed remarkable courage, equanimity and a strength I had not seen before; my respect for him only grew. During the course of his illness, I made myself think of at least one thing to feel grateful for each day. Most days, I felt grateful that he had no physical pain. Other days, I felt grateful for all the years (though not enough) that he had been blessed with, and for all the love he had lavished on his family and friends.
Although he no longer spoke as he did that day about my having another baby, I kept his words close to my heart, and I thought about them often.
Several weeks before Dad passed away, I had a discussion with a rabbi’s wife about the Jewish custom of immersing in the mikvah, or ritual bath.
According to Jewish law, husbands and wives refrain from all physical intimacy from the beginning of the woman’s menstrual period until she immerses in the mikvah seven days after it ends. The law, a major foundation of traditional Jewish married life, ideally enhances both the physical and spiritual aspects of a marriage
Although I had used the mikvah regularly since my husband and I had married six years earlier, I had never made the extra effort to walk to the mikvah on the infrequent occasions that my immersion night fell on a Sabbath or holiday. We had reasoned that, for safety and distance issues, we would defer to the next night when I could conveniently drive. Yet that practice began to bother us more as time went on, which led to my broaching the subject with the rabbi’s wife.
"It’s very, very important not to delay going to the mikvah," she said. "And if a child is conceived after going to the mikvah on the Sabbath, that’s considered to be especially meritorious."
Her words made a strong impression on me. And so, when it appeared that my next true mikvah night would indeed fall on a Friday night, my husband and I made arrangements for a babysitter. Donning comfortable tennis shoes for the long walk, we set out together to the ritual bath.
My father’s words took on an aura of prophecy when, a few weeks later, I discovered that I had conceived after that visit to the mikvah. I immediately wondered if this was the little girl my father had spoken of. Exactly 48 hours after I learned that I was pregnant, my father passed away in his sleep.
Powerful emotions swept over me: grief, loss and the surreal feeling that always accompanies the death of a close loved one. At the same time, I sensed the promise of new life within me, a harmony linking life and death. I became more and more convinced that my father somehow had known that a daughter lay in store for me.
The comfort I felt carrying this child gave me the strength to speak at my father’s funeral, and although the pregnancy was physically exhausting, it was spiritually restorative.
On February 16, 1994, Dad’s wishes came true. Our fourth child, and first daughter, was born. We named her Yael, taking the Hebrew letter "yud" from my father’s Hebrew name, Yaakov. And Yael, in addition to being a biblical heroine, also means "will ascend."
Her grandfather had ascended to the next world, and we pray that she will ascend in this life to the highest levels of personal achievement. Her middle name, Bracha, was chosen simply because that’s what she is and will always be to us: a blessing.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Judy R. Gruen is a writer and editor in Los Angeles.]
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