I’m leaving Montreal today for the umpteenth time. I’ve made this trip many more times than I can count. But today is different. Today is the first time I’ve left knowing that I won’t be coming back to visit my mother the same way that I’ve always done. Two days ago was her funeral. Once again, G‑d has done things in His time, not mine. Once again, I’ve had to step back from my ideas of what is right and nullify myself to His plan.
Over these thirty-plus years that I’ve been a Torah-observant Jew, I’ve heard and learned and tried to integrate the truth that G‑d is in charge, over and over again. Yes, I understand the concept so well. Yes, my intellect can grasp the concept. G‑d runs the world—I don’t. And yet for me the hardest task, it seems, is to let that truth encompass and fill me in a visceral way.
It’s interesting how what creates our reality becomes the norm for our day-to-day existenceMy mother had chronic illnesses for many years. In fact, I grew up with a mother who hadn’t been well since I was ten years old. It's interesting how what creates our reality becomes the norm for our day-to-day existence. It wasn’t as if she was dying. It was more like she was just tired all the time. Her illnesses were more “mechanical” than destructively life-threatening. We used to tease her—that she was like an old machine, some of the parts were just wearing out. But I was aware all these years that there was always something different, that my mother spent so much time in bed while the mothers of my friends just didn’t. And so, that became the “normal” in my life.
Yet my mother, in spite of the demands of her illnesses, never complained, and was present in so many ways for myself and my siblings. It was just that the center of our family life became her bedroom rather that the living room. We ate many meals there, we shared school experiences there, we did homework there. That became our “normal,” and it really was normal for me. It was where I went automatically when I came home from school; it was where we wound down in the evening. And when I became a mother myself, it was where my children hung out when visiting Montreal.
Torah teaches us that one of the most important commandments is the honoring of one’s father and mother. For more than fifty years, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege of fulfilling that mitzvah. When my father passed away twenty-five years ago, my mother, who had depended heavily on him, could no longer do so. She was remarkable in how she became independent and learned the skills needed to live on her own. Of her four children, only one lived in Montreal; the others were in Toronto and Los Angeles. Nevertheless, we all shared the tasks involved in helping her maintain her independence, each of us handling that aspect which matched our expertise.
As the medical person in the family, it fell to me to interface with her doctors. Part of honoring my mother meant making sure that all her needed care was coordinated and focused towards the one goal of keeping her safe, healthy and autonomous. Fortunately, her doctors participated and concurred in the planning, and for many years she was able to live alone in her apartment.
I visited every three to four months, as did my siblings; and she, as well as we, cherished those visits. And, when possible, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren made the journey. She felt she was blessed, and expressed it often. There is an expression . . . “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” In truth, that is what she did. And therein lies such a lesson.
My ongoing challenges are so permeated with arguing with G‑d, with wishing He would just do what I want when I want it. As a sixty-something mother and grandmother of many children and grandchildren, one would think that I would have progressed beyond such a juvenile idea. When, oh when, will I learn to respect G‑d’s decisions? When will I “get it”? My mother, on the other hand, seemed to intrinsically know that basic truth. She didn’t complain, she didn’t rail against what was clearly G‑d’s plan for her. She accepted her reality, she changed her expectations to match that reality, and she simply moved on with her life.
She accepted her reality, she changed her expectations to match that reality, and she simply moved on with her lifeI find myself, in these first few days after her death, being awed by her in a way I didn’t fully understand during her life. I am filled with such an appreciation of her strength and the profundity of it. I had always been aware of how easily she adjusted to the changes her life demanded of her, but until now I wasn’t really aware of how much bitachon, trust, she had in her Creator. With all my learning, all the years of being Torah-observant, I have yet to achieve that level of trust that she exhibited.
Someone once told the Rebbe, “I bring Jews who are far away closer to G‑d.” The Rebbe commented, “No one is far from G‑d.” Someone looking at my mother and how she lived her life would have cavalierly assumed that she wasn’t close to G‑d at all. But I know, and can feel in the depth of my being, that she was so very close. When we try to teach our children to keep the commandments, to do the mitzvahs, we often tell them, “G‑d is getting so much nachas (joy) from you”. There is no doubt that G‑d has received and continues to get so much nachas from my mother, Flora Gittel bas Yaakov, may her memory be for a blessing.