My wife of 56 years passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2016. There were 161 people who came to offer tanchumim…heartfelt condolences. The apartment was so crowded there was barely room to move. But I and my children were deeply touched by the outpouring of sympathy and affection.
Yesterday, my brother, who is six years younger than I, passed away from a brain tumor. Less than one and a half years have passed since Rahel’s death. Now I must sit shiva again, but do not have the strength to do it. Following the funeral, my children and I will return home. The customary hard-boiled egg, symbolic of the cycle of life, will be my first meal.
I have informed the rabbi of my synagogue to announce that the shiva will be private. I am not able to bear crowds of people. In my deep sorrow, Hashem will be with me. He is my Comfort, my Rock, and hopefully my Redeemer. I remind Him every day “Ain Elokim zulatecha”..there is no God besides Thee.
I have not yet recovered from the death of my wife. The pain has not diminished. I look at her photo, pick it up and kiss her face and break out into hysterical crying. My wonderful daughter who spends every Shabbat with me tells me “Abba, Ima would not want you to cry on Shabbat”. And I reply, “Don’t tell it to me; tell it to my tear glands. I cannot control them.” I remain old and devastated.
And now, tomorrow I cease being an onen and bear the added pain of being an avel. My sleep patterns have changed greatly since Rahel’s death. I often cannot fall asleep before 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and when the alarm clock rings at 7 o’clock I shut it off and remain in bed until 9 or 10 o’clock, rise from my bed with difficulty, wash, dress and begin the morning prayers.
It will be an effort for me to arise on time for the 7:30 morning minyan. Ain braira. I have no alternative.
We have no control over our lives. As we recite in the Netaneh Tokef on the High Holydays, “mi yichyeh u’mi yamut?” Who shall live and who shall die? Hakol b’ydai shamayim. Everything is in God’s Hands.
I wish, however, He would have taken pity upon me and have granted more life to my brother. Selfishly, I am pained at having to observe another shiva while not yet having recovered from the first.
I am grateful that my brother did not die on the ninth of the month. The ninth day in the monthly secular calendar has been a curse for me. My beloved grandfather died on the ninth in 1942. My sister died on the ninth at the age of 4 months in 1935. My brother died the next year at the age of 6 weeks on the ninth of the month. My father’s brother died on the ninth of the month and was followed by my father’s death at age 79 on the ninth of the month.
It has become a superstition for me. I never travel on the ninth day of each month. I try to avoid driving. I spend the ninth day reading over and over again verses from Pirke Avot, the Talmudic tractate of the Ethics of the Fathers. The wisdom of our early sages brings me comfort.
I have no fear of dying. It can be painless or occur in a state of sleep or unconsciousness. On the other hand, I fear death itself….only because it is the finality, never to see beloved family ever again. Never to be hugged. Never to be able to tell them how much I love them. Death is permanent
I am not a believer in techiyat ha maitim… resurrection of the dead. The body decays but the soul, the memories of happy years together, goes on living. For me, the soul (nefesh) lives on in the memories of surviving families.
As long as we are remembered, as long as others think of us, we can never really die. And if so, we have thus gained eternal life.
So now, once again, I must recite the ancient words: Yitgadal v’Yitkadash Shmai Raba..
Magnified and Sanctified is God’s great Name.
And end it with a strong “Amen.”