January 27, 2022
My sister does not eat blue M&Ms, so I go through her ziplock bag of M&Ms and
pull out all the blue ones. I tell her I am performing a bluectomy.
This is the most successful thing I do for anyone today.
When we arrive at Mom’s, she’s asleep. We fail to rouse her. After 15 minutes of trying, I sit down to say some Tehillim by her bedside. Every day, I drop a coin or two in a tzedaka (charity) box in the merit of her soul. There isn’t much I can do for her anymore.
The CNA comes in while we’re there and she brings a bowl of what we think is puréed hamburger for Mom’s lunch. I think about how the pleasures of this world are over for Mom. She’s already left all that behind.
It makes me want to appreciate this world more while I’m still here, even though I believe the pleasures of the next world far exceed anything available to me here. I’m not ready to prove myself right just yet.
I publish Part I of this journaling exercise and I am blown away by the number of people who tell me they have lived this exact experience. I tell L we have just been admitted to a club we didn’t know existed - the “Waiting For A Parent To Die” club.
L and I have been doing the daily Wordle so I tell her about the
Mom/Wordle dream I have.
In my dream, you start with five green squares and have to work your way down to five grey squares.
Because dying is the mirror image of being born.
Feeling All The ThingsJanuary 28, 2022
Last night I tell E I don’t see myself getting on that plane Sunday night and we discuss whether he should go home without me.
While she’s out grocery shopping this morning, L texts and asks me to call her. The hospice nurse has been in touch with her twice already this morning. Mom is showing signs of a dramatic decline.
We unload the perishable groceries and rush to Mom’s bedside. Feeling all the things.
We see some of the signs. The blood is leaving her extremities. Her skin feels clammy and her limbs are cold. She hasn’t spoken a word since yesterday. She stopped eating.
E says viduy (an end-of-life Jewish confessional prayer) and the hospice nurse tells us at this stage she isn’t expected to make it through the weekend.
She opens her eyes and looks straight at me but doesn’t say a thing. She lifts her right hand in a wave and I so want to believe she is waving at the souls waiting to receive her. Later, she lifts her left hand in the same brief wave motion.
It’s erev Shabbat. We can’t stay by her bedside indefinitely. She’s sleeping now, but was agitated enough, trying to climb out of bed. We get her something to calm her down.
Now she is sleeping. And when I walk out to get ready for Shabbat, I understand that it may well be the final goodbye.
Chee-PopJanuary 29, 2022
Shabbat passes on edge, waiting for the call that doesn’t come. After Shabbat, we learn that hospice has reclassified her from being in transition to actively dying.
After havdalah (the ritual that marks the end of Shabbat), we drive to Mom and walk through the quiet and empty halls to her room, already feeling the heaviness of death.
She’s mostly still, with the endless chee-pop sound of the oxygen tank in the background. The TV from next door can be heard from the doorway.
Mom starts making a gurgling sound and it’s scary not knowing what to do. I step outside because my fingers are itchy to write. When I step back in, L has done research and tells me it’s the death rattle. The website assures us that it isn’t painful for the dying person and sounds worse than it is.
Emily and Betsy, residents of the memory care unit, hover near Mom’s door. I ask them to please not go in. They introduce themselves, shake my hand and say, “I’m sure we’ll meet again.” Then they quietly walk away. I am not at all sure we will meet again.
Right now, listening to the chee-pop and the intermittent death rattle, the dying seems about a million times worse than the death.
We go to her side one at a time. I wish her a peaceful transition, as sweet as possible on all levels, with nechama (comfort) all around and, in so doing, I repeat wishes that have been shared with me.
I gently kiss her forehead and somehow, I manage to walk myself out of the room.
I do not expect to see her alive again.
First, I CurseJanuary 30, 2022
It’s 6:51 AM. I can’t fall back to sleep. My eyes are closed and I see a white light opening. The opening is not big and it does not last for long, but I want to believe it’s an echo of what Mom is seeing now.
I fall asleep on the couch where I go to say Tehillim after falling back to sleep in bed proves unattainable. I hear my sister on the phone and I wake up to an update.
Twelve to 24 hours they say. Come now if you want to see her before she goes, if you want to say goodbye, if you want to call a rabbi to pray. We agree among ourselves that we’ve already done all those things.
Barely an hour later, it’s over.
I call H, who is at work. Then I tell the kids.
E has agreed to act as her shomer (guardian) until the funeral home arrives to take her body into their care.
Moments before the call comes in, I make a bracha (blessing) after my breakfast.
That will be my last bracha until after the burial. Now I am an onenet (a mourner between death and burial).
Very quickly, we discover that the Jewish funeral home is not prepared to honor their commitment for a fully Orthodox funeral. Their excuses are lame. I am livid beyond measure.
First, I curse.
I curse a lot.
Then we activate our network. We contact every Jew we think can help.
We do our best to get our mother's body transported from the non-Jewish funeral home's holding warehouse where she has been taken and get her where she belongs, with a shomer to stay with her through the night.
It takes hours. Dozens of calls and texts all over South Florida, Baltimore and Israel. Many curse words spill from my mouth into the air of my sister's kitchen. I can't cope with this level of indifference.
Finally, with the help of Chabad (God should bless the Chabad network all over the world), transport is arranged and the indignity is beginning to be ameliorated. I weep with relief when the local Chabad rabbi tells me that, by midnight, my mother will be where she is supposed to be and a shomer has been arranged.
I think the worst is behind us.
I am so wrong.
January 31, 2022
I wake early so we can call and arrange for the burial today. Before 9 AM, our hopes are dashed. We are fed a litany of obstacles.
I know this isn't Israel, or even Baltimore, where such things would never happen, but I refuse to accept that nothing can be done today. I make some more calls. A family friend of a friend is sympathetic. In 45 minutes, he has solved the problems the official funeral director could not.
We are scheduled for a burial at 2:45 PM. We arrive at the cemetery and realize that the funeral home's general manager is aware of our case. He tells me he saw my Facebook plea for help. He shows us more compassion in one minute than we received from our assigned funeral director in the past 24 hours.
We are asked to identify the body. Originally, L and I decide that E will do that for us, but somehow, the three of us spontaneously walk, three abreast, to the open casket, holding hands for strength. I have tried to avoid looking at dead bodies my entire life. Today, I look at my dead mother's face. I see clay fragments over her eyes and mouth, a symbolic reminder of the end of desire.
I touch her cheek.
She is so cold.
There are just four of us graveside and another 12 on Zoom. Just family. The funeral home sends every available Jewish man to the grave site to help make a minyan (prayer quorum). I note this gesture with appreciation.
E officiates at our tiny graveside service as if there are dozens of people present instead of just the four of us. He delivers a eulogy that is often funny and also deft in its avoidance of a sensitive family hot spot.
These words, the memories I share here, are my eulogy.
There is no ordinary shiva. Nearly everyone who knew Mom is already in the World of Truth. E and I are going home. Between Shabbat and bidud (quarantine), there will be no formal shiva.
Last night, while speaking with an old friend, I decide that the turmoil of the past 36 hours has been a way for me to earn a measure of spiritual merit. Hashem Himself caused the hardships thrown at us. Please God, my fight to preserve my mother's dignity restored something missing on my spiritual scorecard.
Rest in peace Ma.
Your work here is done.