Last night I started to write but had to stop in the middle from sheer exhaustion. Today is Erev Yom Kippur for the world, but I lit a yahrzeit candle last night also, because for me today is four years since my father passed. In addition, this shabbat is officially one month that my mother is gone…so I am finding life a bit difficult just now.
I spent part of last night in the medical center with my husband, who thought he’d get a head start on being dehydrated. Thank God, he is doing a bit better now that he had a few liters pumped in by way of IV. As we left, he told our children that they really do stick a needle in if you don’t drink enough- this time he couldn’t be a good example; he had to be the horrible warning.
Of course, being in a medical center on Erev Yom Kippur brought home the frightening reminder that we are not in control, and that anything can happen to us at any moment. This is the Ten Days of Repentance, and it is the most appropriate time to think about how our lives are not in our control, and that we are standing and begging for even one more minute, one more breath, let alone a good life and blessings that we so desire.
The title of this piece refers to the Leonard Cohen song, which discusses the many ways one can die, and asks, essentially, which way will we die. It is, of course, referencing one of our most well-known prayers on the high holidays, right after U’neteneh Tokef, where we remind ourselves that it is all up to God to decide who will live and who will die, and if death is our lot this year, when and how it will happen.
Yesterday I brought snacks (Kibud) to my school, to share with the teachers I work with and have them say brachot for my father. In the midst of my mother’s sholshim, I wanted to make sure that he has an aliyat neshama as well. The whole event was unplanned, but the principal asked my department head to say a dvar torah. David Stahl spoke beautifully about how we olim, trying to do the mitzvah of living in the land, all pass through the stage of being pulled back in the direction of our aging or sick parents at some point. Even when we have parents who are proud of us, (although they’d really like us to live near them and not so incredibly far away), like my parents, it is still hard on the children to want to be in both places at once. I felt this very strongly because we left when my father was sick, although he was doing okay at the time. I was able to spend time with him as we visited as frequently as we could in the following five years. When my mother got sick, my husband asked if I want to go back for at least the year, but I told him no-it wouldn’t be fair to our children at the stages of their education. However, I wanted to be there and managed to get more time than I thought I would. Still, it was hard. When David finished, many of the staff came over and hugged me, and even today I had a few belated shiva phone calls.It made me tear up but also in a good way-knowing all these people care and want to comfort me is really comforting.
Since I wrote at Rosh Hashanah, some people have apologized for still coming over to me, so I want to clarify- I do appreciate it, very much. The only reason I mentioned that it was uncomfortable is the reason it is difficult–it is so much easier for us to spend our lives sticking our heads in the sand, sticking our fingers in our ears and going la-la-la. Who wants to think about being an orphan, having no one left who knows exactly what I was like as a baby and a little kid. But receiving comfort is also an aliyah for my parents, a blessing for their souls, and maybe even a comfort to them knowing that people are comforting me. So please don’t feel bad if you say something and I look sad (or drop things SB :)), it really is a comfort to know you care. And it is appropriate, especially at this time, to think about these matters- we can all go sooner than we ever thought we would, and we need to ask for and appreciate all the time we have.
I end my father’s yarhzeit and head toward the end of shloshim with these thoughts, to quote a great writer (J.R.R.Tolkien): It is not for us to decide (who gets to live and die, and how), it is for us to decide what we do with the time we are given.
I wish for us all a good year filled with blessings, some serious thoughts, laughter and love. Gmar Chatima Tova.