Even when we know that a person’s end in life is near it is inevitably sad, difficult and challenging to accept and truly digest.
The night that my father in-law passed I think that was exactly what was felt. In my opinion, anyone’s passing is too heavy on us all because of the finality of it.
It was late evening on a Thursday in Israel when the final moment occurred. A couple of hours prior, my youngest daughter had said ‘lila tov’ to me over the phone and also said, “Mommy, please call me if something happens to Saba.” Now what to do? I was staying with my oldest daughter and I quickly decided that I would not begin to upset her that evening. We were supposed to meet the next morning on Yom Shishi to catch an early train to Haifa to visit him; me and my girls for what we believed could be the last time. Therefore I waited awake most of the night knowing that she would be getting an early start soon enough.
When she called, the first words out of her mouth were, “any news?” And then my words or lack thereof, along with my hesitation to tell her the news (because ideally I WANTED TO BE RIGHT NEXT TO HER) was enough for her to begin to sob. The kind of cry that parents spend their life trying to shield their children from, no matter how old they are. Particularly when there is a love so deep in their precious hearts and their souls. Within a short time she was next to me and all we could do was try and comfort one another and wait for the funeral.
We also waited for my husband who was rushing to catch the last flight out of NYC before Shabbat in Israel, since he flew back days prior to get ready for the inevitable. Of course, there it happened as we always knew it would, with the race to get to Israel because only one person really knows when that moment will happen in life so there is no real way to be prepared.
While we waited, we went out for a walk on that Friday to try to pass this day. We took a seat along the way on one of the benches on Ben Yehuda Street and sat in a kind of trance as we both watched life continue on around us thinking how can this all be when we have just had a death in the family. As you all know, Yom Shishi brings everyone out, especially on a sunny day. As we watched people buy beautiful bouquets of flowers to bring home to their Shabbat dinners and witnessed the bustling in the bakeries, the exchange of “Shabbat Shaloms” coupled with that “Yom Shishi feeling” was quite evident.
EXCEPT for us; we felt very much out of sorts. I turned to my daughter and said to her that I am always amazed at how life goes on, with or without us. It is something I try not to dwell on, but it is profound how it will always be that way no matter who passes away. My daughter’s response to me was how she had just had that exact thought. She went on to question how it can be that her Saba is not really here anymore for her to make her daily phone call to check in and talk over their days, and obviously so much more than that. I also took the opportunity to remind her that the most significant fact is that she was there in his life. She was very present and they enjoyed their time together, whether she was in the same room or on the phone with him, she made a big difference and contribution to his life and that is what counts.
I think we all have our way of dealing with this part of life and there is no answer on how to cope. I personally shared with her on how it actually takes time to sink in. I don’t believe that people really leave our hearts (since love can never die) so I feel that we secretly keep thinking that somehow they are around and just keep them in our thoughts because it is so hard to comprehend. Somehow we all adjust because we have no other choice.
And now, fast forward. Before we knew it we have found ourselves talking about how the Shloshim of her Saba is here; could it be that one month has passed already?
I have discussed the passing of my father-in-law with my rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis. I was curious as to the notion that I had been told once that when a person passes on a Hag or on Yom Shishi they are a tzadik. He explained to me that his passing on a Thursday night after sundown would already mean that it was going into Yom Shishi. My rabbi also explained to me that because of the timing, it could be said that the angels wanted him because he was on a superior level according to what they saw in his life. But more importantly, he clarified to me that even without the fact that he passed on a Friday, it was true that my father in-law was a tzadik because of the way he conducted his life.
We spoke of his dedication to Judaism and specifically his being the first one at the synagogue each morning of his life. Rabbi Yisroel explained to me that being the first one at the minyan is very powerful indeed, just like being one among the ten or the last one to complete the minyan. In my father in-law’s case, my rabbi explained to me that he would receive not just his own blessing for his proper conduct and devotion, but that he would be blessed with the blessings from all the others that came to pray after him and along side him during all of those minyans. Now that he has passed away this means that all of those blessings that he earned will be passed on to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
We realize here something that we at times forget; the fact that there isn’t anything to leave behind to our loved ones other than mitzvot, a shem tov and those blessings, which are what this Abba, this Saba, this Saba Gadol and yes, this Tzadik will be remembered for always and forever.