My husband Hal was only eight years old when his father, Norman, died. Norman died of a stroke at thirty-eight years old, leaving a wife and four kids ranging from sixteen years old down to little Hal. My mother in law Natalie was left to figure it out on her own. Widowed in her thirties with four kids. She’s still kicking and awesome at eighty three.
When we found out Noah was a boy at the amnio appointment, all I could think was how happy I was to give Hal the father/son experience he missed out on. He would now be able to do all those things with Noah as he grew. Neither one of us cared if our first child was a boy or a girl. We really didn’t. But having a boy may have filled a void that Hal might not have known existed.
It was Hanukkah and I was around nine years old. My mother was trying to gather all the kids to light the menorah. We got presents every night. We grew up not wanting for anything. My father must’ve been too tired from his long days working at my grandfather’s gas station. He was upstairs sleeping.
My mother said “Ok, let’s light the candles. Daddy’s too tired to come down.”
And then I blurted out, “We can pretend he’s dead!”
It was one of the only times I can remember seeing my mother angry. Really angry. I don’t know where that statement came from. I don’t think it was a fear I had. I don’t remember having any friends that had lost parents. I don’t know why I said that.
“Erica!! That’s terrible! Don’t ever say something like that again!” She seemed really shaken by that moment and I felt really ashamed.
After Noah died, the void was huge. Gaping. This empty space that had been filled by this little boy was blaring. Spotlighted. Flashing neon. Like one lifeless giant sunflower drooping in a field of six feet tall ones. That’s where your eye zooms. The void. What’s not there.
The void of Noah’s car seat in my rear view mirror, the void of his cry in the nights after he was gone. The void of his call for Mama or Dada in the mornings and the void of the sounds of his jumping up and down in his crib until he would hit his chin on the rail.
We found out Miriam was a girl right before the healthiest embryo was put into my eager uterus. Or as our doctor used to say, “The uterus is an optimistic place. It believes it’s going to get pregnant every month. It just needs some help sometimes.”
We were so busy trying to have another child, we didn’t really talk too much about gender. Of course, we wondered if that baby would look or act like Noah. We really didn’t care. We just had to fill this void he left. A child is all about love. Gaping, I tell you. Cavernous.
“It’s a little female,” the doctor said as he glanced back at his paperwork. Hal and I let out a guttural yet joyous laugh. Fueled by relief most likely. That void could never be filled. I just couldn’t look at a boy that wasn’t Noah.
I had trouble seeing my nephew, Spencer, who was only two months older than Noah. I would be seeing him go through the stages Noah would be /should be going through. It was hard. It’s easier now for me. But the first thought I have when Miriam and Spencer play together is “so this is what it would look like if Noah was still here.”
Just the other night, I had Miriam and Spencer each on one knee. We were at the pizzeria. Miriam wanted to eat the fries and plain noodles Spencer was eating. Miriam wanted to skip on the black and white tiled floor like Spencer was doing. I was daydreaming about what it would be like to have a son and a daughter in the conventional, alive sense. Would Miriam ever feel the need to fill her void of a big brother?
Hal was away this week. In Chicago for four days. My mind goes right to the void. To the empty space of Hal’s father, Norman. I see a black and white picture of him in my mind. He had strawberry blonde hair and a big smile. He was tall like Hal. I get barely a taste of the void Natalie must’ve felt. I understand why my mother got so angry at the innocent child’s misguided suggestion of pretending my father was dead.
We spend lots of time trying to fill voids we may not even be aware exist. The initial emptiness of these pages fill a void for me. The letters get typed. The sentences come together. I re-read to make sure they all make sense. Another hole in my head or heart slowly gets filled in.