I had spoken to my brother, a pediatrician, about the babies. In response to my question, he assured me that babies at that age could not be self-aware. Even my son’s attempts to breathe were instinctive reactions rather than any attempt at survival. I know that is true, but somehow I find more comfort in believing that my son died fighting.
The Chevra Kadisha picked up the bodies the next day with the instructions about their names and the fact that we did want to know where they were buried. My son was given a bris before the burial.
People can be so cruel. Literally, the moment I hung up the phone after receiving the confirmation of their burial, a nosey neighbor called for my wife. My wife spoke to her for a few seconds, slammed down the phone and began to cry. Through her tears, she told me that this friend said she had heard that this meant we could never have children, and she was calling to confirm the information.
Our babies hadn’t been gone for even 24 hours and we were already the topic of local gossip! I simply couldn’t believe it. My wife and I decided that we needed to get away from that kind of spite for a while, and we planned a trip to New York the following week.
Looking back, I cannot describe the pain I experienced when so many people told me that my babies didn’t really exist, and that I was overreacting. But I had bonded with my children. I loved them as much as any father could ever love his children, and people were telling me that they weren’t even “real.”
I rarely challenged such statements, but there were times when I responded by asking if I was or was not a father while I cradled my children as they died. That always ended the argument, but I still don’t believe I convinced anyone.
There were a few people who showed genuine friendship. One of the best was from a person in shul who walked up to me on Shabbos, hugged me and said, “There is nothing I can say, but if you ever need to talk, or just to sit around with someone and scream and yell, give me a call.” He would do that for me.
That was the best reaction. He justified my pain and acknowledged my children, while understanding that there was nothing that could possibly be said. Most people really didn’t know what to say. Many tried to look away when I walked into the room or ended up saying something stupid.
For a while I flirted with the thought that if I had agreed to try and save my babies, they would have “lived” on machines for a day or more, and then no one would question that they were real. It took me years to realize that such thoughts were my own selfish way of trying to justify their existence to myself, but there would have been nothing humane with such an attempt and all it would have done was prolong their suffering for my own interests.
We didn’t sleep much after we lost the twins. Three or four nights later, in the middle of the night, my wife tearfully mentioned that the babies are so small and helpless. “Who would look after them in heaven?”
I have no idea if such a concept exists, but really there was nothing I could say. I told her I’m sure that they would be fine, but it was no real comfort. Early the next morning, I got a call from my grandmother; we were very close. She was a Holocaust survivor and a very special person. She also frequently had dreams and premonitions that proved amazingly accurate.
My grandmother told me that she had a dream the night before that her father was pushing my babies in a stroller in heaven. Noting the time difference, it is entirely possible that she had that dream at the exact moment my wife and I had our discussion.
That might have provided my wife and me our only little bit of comfort in those trying times. We simply couldn’t handle the reactions we were getting from the people around us. An escape to New York seemed like a great idea, but we really didn’t understand that there was no way to escape that kind of pain.