November 7th, 2021.
My father passed away in Cornell Hospital while I was running on the sidewalks alongside the NYC marathon. People blew horns and cheered wildly as we got the call that he passed. They clapped and smiled and shouted as my father’s soul departed from his body. We were on the wrong side of the avenue that was blocked off, and we had to run the extra 20 blocks to get to the hospital. My father was covered in a sheet, one I was not to touch nor uncover. The last time I saw my father’s face was Friday evening, as he drifted into a sleep coma. I squeezed his hand once, one of the many goodbyes I had already given. I wasn’t sure if this one would be the final one. After all, my father kept surprising all of us, including the doctors. According to them, he wasn’t supposed to even make it off the ventilator in 2020. Yet, he persisted. He was a fighter.
When you see a parent suffer, and you know the only way out is death, there comes a point in time when you cannot justify your wants with their pain. There arrives a day when you think, is this really worth another day of life, when it is purely suffering and immense agony?
And then, as the death approaches, the pain reaches this crescendo – the parent you love is no longer in this world fully, but in an in-between place, one foot out the door and the other foot struggling to stay in place. If you are, I could say lucky or very unlucky, depending on how you feel, you will know what I am referring to. This time is short, maybe a few hours, maybe a few days. This place, this in-between where the person you love and know so well, so truly well, suddenly becomes a stranger, a body that is breaking and falling apart so that you cannot reach their eyes and meet their gaze because their gaze no longer exists, this place is quite possibly, in my humble opinion, where hell meets earth. And this, this is when you begin to pray not for their life but for their death. Please, God, make it quick. I cannot stand this anymore. He cannot speak anymore. She cannot see me anymore.
Please, God, take my parent, if only they should be at rest, if only I should not have to witness this crushing defeat of death, please, if only to make this stop, make this suffering stop, please, I know that he is already gone, I know that she no longer recognizes her daughters, please, just end this, please, please, please –
The flatlining. The last choke. The heart stops.
There is at first, this immediate relief. No more suffering, they are both at peace now.
Followed, instantly after, by, “wait, no, I take it back. I want him back. Bring her back.”
But is too late. There is nothing as final in this world such as death. You will never see your loved one again. Your mother is gone, and your father has just joined her. You are no longer somebody’s child.
In this way, my parents passed within two years of each other. My mother at home with her children, as I held her hand and watched her take her last breath, and a mere 20 months later, my father in the hospital, with only a few of his children, as I ran through the streets of NYC trying to make it on time.
It’s interesting to me that they both passed on days of celebration. My mother passed away on the happiest Jewish holiday, and my father took his last breaths to the sounds of applause and cheers from the NYC marathon. On joyous occasions of celebration, us children were left to mourning.
I didn’t just lose my dad. I lost another best friend. And, in the more recent years, he was almost like my baby. I was in charge of taking care of him, from organizing his meals to hiring the aides that would support him to talking to the doctors and planning his estate matters. My entire day involved him. He called me every single morning, and then more throughout the day to check whether I was at work yet, or what he was having for dinner, or when his next appointment is, and when I am visiting next. Not to beautify a very hard relationship, that took lots of therapy and space and time to heal, but to try and explain how important it was to me. We had our struggles and disagreements, and he wasn’t the easiest patient to take care of by far, but he was my father, and I loved him so, and not a morning goes by since he passed that I don’t wait for his call.
Every cappuccino I make reminds of him. When we would dine out, he would order in the beginning of the meals, to be given at the end of the meal, two splenda, he held up two fingers, in a to go cup, so he can hold it. I hear his voice so strongly as I recall this.
The other night, or really, I should say almost every night, I was watching TV with my sister, and she said how much he would have loved this, and we both laughed because of how silly it was, how he would get so happy if we would stay over and watch a movie with him. “The next one. One more episode,” he would say, without even looking back at us. Anything to drag our time out.
Every book that I read makes me think of him, lying on the couch in the living room with one book in his hand and five other ones spread out on the table. The last object he held in the hospital was a Jewish book. He was starting to enter that place, where he wasn’t quite fully here, and he asked for his reading glasses, and we put a book in his hand, and he tried to hold it up. His weakened arms could barely hold the heavy thing. This image haunts me.
It’s very hard to write all of this because he is very much alive in my mind still.
It really doesn’t make any sense to me, and the reality is hard to bear, I try not to think of it.
It felt more real with my mother. We watched as she actively died for months and we held her as she passed, and then the entire world stopped abruptly after for Covid, and it felt right – that the whole world stopped when she did. Of course we shouldn’t go on like everything is normal. Everything is very much not normal. I had almost seven months of being able to stay home from work, not having to make up excuses for why I was solemn, for why I didn’t want to go out, why I didn’t smile often. I was able to watch till the sun began to rise and then sleep till it was halfway down.
But with my dad, the world continued. I was back at work one week later. Everyone kept moving. There was no more pausing or stopping or grieving, there were things to do, bills to be paid, finances to be in order, estate planning to manage. Packing up an apartment of 47 years in less than three months. So many things to keep me going that I didn’t need to find the time to stop and process what has happened. Where my father’s body lies. Buried, in the ground.
No more morning phone calls.
Just when you think that it can’t get worse, it does. Losing one parent is terrible, yes, horrible, devastating, one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through, but no one prepares you for losing two. Maybe because it doesn’t usually happen, at least not like this. At such a young age, and in such a short time. Because losing two parents means you lose your home. Maybe you have a house, maybe you don’t. We never had a house, we had an apartment. One that was lived in for 47 years. Imagine all that time and energy, all the breathable memories you can almost taste and smell, so alive in your mind that they are almost tangible. Almost.
In less than three months, all those 47 years are gone.
In this home I lived all my life, in this home that my parents grew and grew and grew, in this time and space, after all these years, and between eleven children, I have,
used every Friday night and shabbos day
From my mother as a young girl
a coat rack,
used to hang my father’s jackets, coats, and kaputahs
a folding chair
that sat countless guests and family
a rolling pin
that my mother rolled and kneaded the challah dough she would bake
a glass dish
used to serve pastries and candies during every celebration, birthday, and holiday
a salad bowl, a mug, birthday cards, two of my mother’s dresses, my fathers pajama shirt, their wedding photo, hundreds of photos, my mother’s perfume, my father’s sunglasses, my mother’s reading glasses, a challah cover, a tablecloth –
If you were losing your home
and you did not have a very big one to return to
What would you take?
If you have no more experiences to capture, if you can never see your parents again, and you know your memory will fade, and in twenty years you may not be able to recover their facial expressions anymore, or how they looked when they made a certain joke, or how they sounded when they were angry,
how many photos would you take?
When photos are all you have left,
When there are no more new chances
How many do you squeeze in a box?
What will you take to remember the ones that are gone when there is no other place to return to that has their spirit, their touch, their memories. When the house that encompassed them is gone, what do you have to to feel and smell? When the only place they remain is buried in the ground, tell me, what would you take?
These weeks have been an empty grasping, clutching to anything that I could hold and tug and see to prove to myself what once was. Trying to fit as many boxes as I could in my tiny apartment, under the bed and over the shelves, whatever I could manage. Letting go would be so much easier if I knew it wasn’t forever.
Most days I feel like walking around with a hanging sign around my neck, “handle with care. broken glass inside.” I feel so incredibly fragile, ready to break into a million pieces at any moments. Some moments are so hard I almost wish it would happen.
But the thought of nothingness, of absence of any light, of vast darkness and emptiness, of my body disintegrating into the ground, scares me so, so much more. And maybe there is an afterlife to believe in, a place where my parents are happy and watching over me and still with me, and maybe there isn’t. The only thing we have control over, in anything in life, is our actions and perception. During a therapy session last year after my mother passed, I told my therapist I don’t believe my mother is near me or connected to me. I don’t feel anything. And she asked me how that was working out for me. And I answered that it wasn’t. It was horrible, I was miserable all the time. Although it is so much easier to believe in nothing, to believe my parents are gone, to believe that all those we have loved are really and truly gone forever, it is so, so much harder on us. To quote Harry Potter, “Do not pity the dead. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.” ― J.K. Rowling.
Wherever those we loved are that are now passed, they are already on that journey, and we have to believe that they are okay, or even more than okay, if you believe in the Jewish philosophy, then they are exactly where they were meant to be all along. There is nothing we can do anymore. But what about us? The survivors, the grieving, the mourning, the orphans, the daughters, the sons, the sisters and brothers, the friends and neighbors. What about the living?
As a psychology major, I understand the importance of love in infancy and childhood development. I believe in the effects of having care, tenderness, devotion and commitment in the early years that make up the building blocks of our lives.
My parents, they were everything and above. With all their faults, no one could ever deny the absolute truth that enveloped their whole essence. Their devotion to their children.
Thank you for the foundation you have given me. The love and care is all that is holding me up right now, and I know from it will build a beautiful and bountiful life. And there is more that I could say but I think I will have to end it here because my heart is starting to hurt. I miss you both so much. My best friends. My everything. Ta, I am so heartbroken that you didn’t make it through. That the prayers weren’t enough. That the miracle wasn’t strong or big enough to hold you. I am so sorry that you died. I just want to spend more time with you. Mommy, I don’t even have words anymore. I need you.
To anyone who has made it this far down, thank you for listening and for being here with me. Your support is everything.
Here’s to 2022. To new memories. To open blessings, warmth, connection, and light. To all of us; to the living.
8 thoughts on “The last of 2021 – Losing my Father and my Home”
Your words hit my heart. I love you.
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Michali!! Like mommy called you😉
Crying 😭 so true every word…
Amen to 2022 ❤️ To Good times
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Yoir parents were filled with such light and goodness. Thank you for sharing. Very brave to share such words so eloquently
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Michal, your writing is heartbreaking and gorgeous. You took me with you in your pain, and reminded me of our fragility.. and the beauty and resiliency of life. Thank you ❤️
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This is beautifully written and heartfelt. My heart goes out to you. I am so sorry for your loss. I hope that you will find comfort and peace.❤️
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Michal, you are a gem that shines even in the night. May your parents memory keep shining bright.
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You find the words when there are none. ♥️
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