As I prepared for the visit of my long-lost cousin, I pictured our meeting in my mind. I know what this sort of reunion would look like in my wife Sonia's Southern family. They would make polite small talk but the main event during the visit would be a rousing genaological game of "Now, who's your Daddy again?". Southerners seem to play this game with relatives, friends and complete strangers. They come from areas where they are deeply rooted to the land and often know every family in town. "Now, who's your Daddy" is a fun way to find connections and establish relationships between families, but it might also be an attempt to avoid dating your cousin. Anyway, it always seems fun and light-hearted.
I didn't expect this kind of jolly genaological fun if we raised the topic of our mutual cousins or other family members. By trying to establish how we are related we revisit the loss of most of our family. Simply filling in the family tree meant treading on killing fields.
Why would my cousins and I subject ourselves to such pain? Because Jews, denied our own country, liberty and even lives over thousands of years have only the power of memory to allow our race to continue. We would try to piece together the puzzle of the names of the dead even though their lines had not continued because we owe our ancestors the respect of acknowledging their too-short existance.
This new cousin might not up to having such a chat, or her mother, more than likely, may have declined to revisit painful memories and left her ignorant. Whether we discussed them or not, the missing relatives would hang like ghosts among us as we shared tea and cakes.
It was this realization, that memory is a duty in those who survived, that was affecting my ability to donate my embryos to the wonderful Christian couple I had found who wanted them. Above all else, I knew, from my own experience with adoption and egg donation, that their children from my embryos would not want to remember. Not because it would be painful for them, as it was for me, but precisely because it was not.
I had no illusion, expectation or hope that my recipients' children would see me as a true relative. They would learn about, remember and care about their own family's history, not mine. That is as it should be. But it extinguished one or two more living memories which allowed those lost relatives to remain alive, in some way; to be remembered.
On the other hand, I was not choosing to give life to those potential children. I would not carry them, nurse them, change their diapers or soothe their small hearts. Neither I, nor my ancestors, could lay claim to their remembrance.
The recipients wanted to provide their children with some knowledge of their genetic roots but they neither wanted, nor needed, my awful burden of history. I would make suggestions according to their preferences and they were free to accept or reject them. My Jewish embryos would not become their Jewish children. Yet with the mothers I had selected they would grow into good and well-loved people. That was more important and, at any rate, would have to do.