It’s been well over 30 days since you died. The shloshim (first 30 days of mourning after the funeral) is over and, yes, I’m keeping the beard (at least for now). During the five months while you were “enrolled’ in hospice, I said good-bye to you each day and at the end of every visit. But the final good-bye was the sum of all the other good-byes and more.
There was the “big” letting go (the fear that I would never see you again and that you, as my mother and the matriarch of the family, would fade away) and the “little” letting go’s — markers that you were descending into that “darkest of valleys” that (every)one walks through: when your absolutely magnificent handwriting turned to shaky scribbles, when you asked if you had a daughter (you did, but she died tragically), when you would tell me to say hello to Vicky (my wife) and then also tell me to say hello to my wife, or when a blink of your eye was followed by a deep silence. Each was another moment of good-bye.
Slowly, you became frailer. You went from walking by yourself to walking with a cane to walking with a walker to riding in a wheelchair to being bedridden. I was unprepared for all this, even though I have been with others on similar journeys, both as a friend and as a rabbi.
But when that frail woman was my mother, neither past experiences nor my rabbinic role mattered.
Losing you to the indignities of this disease profoundly affected my experience of you — and of me. I never expected to be feeding you with a spoon — and I never expected that you would be eating in this fashion. Even though the spoon held delicious ice cream, I wondered if this was what God intended. Just contemplating how many ways there are to die is overwhelming. Even in my own nuclear family, there have been three completely unique ways of dying: Was any one “better” than the next? I think about that question a lot. I turn it over and over in my mind, and there is never a resolution. I just ponder. Sometimes, at random moments, often while saying kaddish daily. I wish for “the answer,” for calm. Time doesn’t heal; it only diminishes the intensity of my grief while renewing my search for clues.
I spoke directly to you through the eulogy (a new practice of mine). I thought about the meaning of your 93 years. And after I shared recollections with my friends at the shloshim, I noticed that my words were about me as well as about you. It was about how I was feeling and less about your neshama, your soul. A colleague gave me The Orphaned Adult: Confronting the Death of a Parent by Marc Angel. That book, along with Leon Wieseltier’s tome, Kaddish, and many conversations with friends and family helped me to focus more on your earlier, healthier years. And that way of reflecting brought me an unexpected gift: a renewed commitment to treasure each moment of every day. Saying kaddish daily places me within my community and in front of the Ultimate One. My thoughts and feelings will certainly evolve over the next months (and years). Maybe I’ll continue to write to you, but for now, I want to end (or pause) with the final words that you uttered: “Thank you.”email print