There are certain times in life — you just know when you know. Sometimes there's no sound, rational explanation for what you encounter or for how you approach it. You call it a gut feeling or intuition; or it may be something inexplicable but heartfelt. But from wherever it comes — you just know when you know.
Like when you visit the perfect college campus, and you just know that's where you're meant to be — you just know when you know. Like the first time you meet that special someone, and you know you're going to spend the rest of your life with that person — you just know when you know. Like when your feverishly sick three-year-old-child describes your deceased father (whom he had never met) and tells you, "Grandpa came to my room last night, and he wanted me to go to heaven and play Matchbox cars with him" — you just know when you know!
As I'm writing this, I realize that the last life-example on that list sounds somewhat far-fetched. And I will admit that at the time, the particular event defied all sense of logic; and it still does to this day. Nevertheless, one reason we took it pretty seriously was because Matty (under his doctor's care) had been extremely sick with a virus for almost ten days. High spikes in fevers, he was barely eating, and he had lost over three pounds! I know three pounds doesn't sound like much weight for you or me to lose — but for a little shaver just 24 pounds soaking wet, that was more than one-sixth of his body weight.
What did I think then and what do I think now about what happened that night? Call it a gut feeling, call it mother's intuition, call it heartfelt, call it whatever you'd like. But in my mind that night and in my mind to this day, my father came to my sick son in a time of need — you just know when you know! Did it scare me? Heck, yeah — it freaked me out! And that's why we took Matthew to the hospital immediately following my father's visit and demanded that they do something — anything! In the long-run, it was an exceptionally nasty virus that had to work its course.
This incident was not the first time after my father's passing that I felt his presence; however, this manifestation was perhaps the most perspicuous. Once Matthew was out-of-the-woods, and I had time to reflect on what had happened, I was strangely comforted. Comforted by the beliefs that I would see my father again, that he was watching over us, and that he indeed did have a special connection with Matthew Bernard, his namesake. I am a subscriber to the ideas that when we die, we are destined to watch over those loved ones whom we leave behind and that our soul (or at least piece of our soul) transfers to a newly born generation.
According to Dr. Ian Stevenson — Renowned Canadian Psychiatrist, Reincarnation Research Specialist, and Professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine — reincarnation is the idea that a soul presently residing in a particular body may have embodied another person at an earlier time; and furthermore, that upon the death of the physical body, the soul will transfer to yet another person. I'll admit some of Dr. Steveson's ideas about reincarnation beg for cynicism. But do save the eye roll, because beliefs in not only reincarnation, but also having a connection with those who have passed is more prevalent than one might think. Theories of reincarnation or metempsychosis (a philosophical term in the Greek language referring to transmigration of the soul) are present in modern-day religions and cultures.
Many are surprised to learn that there is an element of reincarnation found within Judaism and the Jewish culture, which dates back to the eighth century CE. An integral part of this view is the 'revolving' of souls through a succession of lives — rooted in the naming tradition of a newborn child. Those who believe in 'gilgulim,' name their newborn after a deceased loved one, with the belief that the child will then inherit their soul. This tradition makes it likely that children not be named after the living and is the reason that generational suffixes like 'Jr.' or 'II, III, IV, etc.' are practically unheard of in the Jewish culture.
I can remember my bubbe talking about gilgulim, as she explained in her thick Yiddish accent, "Your middle name, Maureen, was begotten of my brother Morris, who has passed." She would tell me stories of 'Mootzie' (as she called him) and what a special brother he was. She would often tell me that she could see him sparkling in my eyes and that to have the honor of his name was also to have the privilege of his kind and generous soul.
So naturally, when I became pregnant, I began thinking of this tradition for the naming of my first child. There was no question in my mind that I would carry on the tradition and that one of my children would carry on the name of my father, Bernard. You know from reading the beginning of this blog that my son Matthew received his middle name from my father, and if you recall, I revealed that I had felt my father's presence on more than one occasion.
Growing up, I was very close to my dad — 'Daddy's Little Girl,' if you will. He passed away when we were both very young — he, several years shy of his 50th birthday; and I, just having graduated from college. So I often felt sad on special occasions, that otherwise should have been jubilant. Of course, I was sad for me because my dad wasn't with us, but I was also sad for him; sad that life had been so cruel and cheated him out of so many of its most precious moments. After learning I was pregnant, while driving to my very first prenatal appointment was one of those moments when sadness overcame me. I remember wishing I could call my dad to share my news on that wintery, overcast February day as I walked into the doctor's office.
To say, "What I learned during my first OBGYN visit on that dreary February blew me away," would be an understatement! First of all, I learned that we were expecting twins. But perhaps an even more significant event on the emotional Richter scale than being pregnant with twins was that my due date was October 26th, 1996 — what would have been my father's 60th birthday (to the day)!
I so distinctly remember leaving the doctor's office and feeling that life had become utterly surreal. And believe it or not, it was about to become even more so! As I walked outside, the grey, stormy sky suddenly transformed into that which you might see in a 16th century Flemish Baroque landscape! You probably know what I'm talking about — the cold, dark clouds parting and bright, warm rays of light streaming down from the heavens above. It was a moment in time I will never forget. I'm sure that my father was there with me and sharing that very moment — you just know when you know. I was elated — not only would I have a baby who would have the honor of his name and the privilege of his soul; but I would have two babies who would share his birthday too! How cool was that? Of course, the chances of a woman giving birth on her actual due date — slim to none. And statistically speaking, the odds go down even further with it being a first pregnancy and a twin pregnancy. Needless to say, Matthew Bernard and his sister Meghan Jameson (after my husband's grandfather) were not born on their due date. Not even close! They came three months early — which could easily be fodder for another blog!
Well, so much for a birth date being another connection to my deceased dad — or so I thought! Believe it or not, two short years later, the due date for my second pregnancy was December 8th, 1998 — the day that marked the 15-year anniversary of my father's death. So we missed having Baby No. 1 and Baby No. 2 on Dad's birth date, but perhaps Baby No. 3 would come on his death date! As I write this, in retrospect, it all seems a tad morbid — to want your baby born on a death anniversary; but, at the time, after being so disappointed that we missed my dad's birth date the first go around, making this mark seemed vital.
Another tradition, which I have faithfully upheld from my Jewish upbringing is the lighting of the Yahrzeit (or memorial) candle. We light these candles and say a prayer for a departed loved one at sundown on every death anniversary according to the Jewish calendar; however, because I choose to go by the Gregorian calendar for consistency's sake — I light the Yahrzeit candle in memory of my father every December 8th.
December 8, 1998, was upon us and I was still pregnant! Bless Baby No. 3's little heart; he didn't make his grand entrance into the world early. But, would my wish come true in that 24-hour window of opportunity between 12:00:01 am 12/08/98 to 11:59:99 pm 12/08/98? Would we have a baby boy born on the anniversary of my dad's death?
Well, sadly the entire day came and went, with no outward signs of being in labor. I can't say that I wasn't disappointed. At sundown (4:13 pm), I set the Yahrzeit candle in the holder and took my prayer book from the shelf. Are you ready for this? Within moments of lighting the memorial candle and reciting the mourner's Kaddish for my father, I went into labor. Crazy right? Could this be another sign from above and would I give birth to Baby No. 3 on December 8th?
We left for the hospital at 6:30 pm, I was having pretty hard contractions. I wanted my labor to go quickly — yes, I know, I know, what woman doesn't — but I desperately (I mean desperately) wanted Baby No. 3 to be born on December 8th. At 11:45 pm, I was nowhere near ready to deliver when my obstetrician came into my hospital room and said, "It doesn't look like your little fella is going to make that midnight deadline." I started to cry. But thank goodness for Dr. Bernstein; he pointed out that December 8th is forever a sad day for me (a memorial of a death) and that it would be far better for the new baby to have his own happy day that could always solely be a celebration of his life.
Doctor Bernstein was a very sage man, and he was also very right. Michael Russell (after my grandfather) was born on December 9th and every year for the past 19 now, I have been glad that he was. I have been grateful that I didn't have the conflict of mourning my father and celebrating my son every December 8th.
As it turns out — what's the importance of a birth date anyway? I have learned it's just a number or a day of the week. However, "What's in a name?" That's a completely different question. In this mommy blogger's humble opinion — with great deference to Mr. Shakespeare and his brilliantly penned soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet — there IS something quite significant in a name. Fortunately, I am reminded just what that is every time I see that certain sparkle in each of my children's eyes — you just know when you know.
If you enjoyed this anecdote, leave us a comment below. Tell us about similar experiences you've had.
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