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Goodbye, Mom

Goodbye, Mom

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Although my mother, of blessed memory, passed away 17 years ago, around the time of her yahrzeit (anniversary of her death) I always remember the extraordinary series of events that ensured I made it to her funeral.

Living in a Toronto nursing home, wheelchair-bound after a major stroke, my elderly mother had been in fragile health for many years. Transferred from the nursing home of the facility to its hospital section, she was surviving on “borrowed time,” as the doctor notified my sister and me.

At the time I was living in Jerusalem, but was in the process of moving to a small community in the Judean Hills. Anxiously I found my Canadian passport, noting ironically that it was also about to expire shortly. However, renewing it would involve a lengthy trip to the embassy in Tel Aviv. Perhaps subconsciously, I did not want to renew my passport, as if by doing so I’d be acknowledging the possibly brief time remaining for my mother in this Perhaps subconsciously, I did not want to renew my passportworld. Frail but tough, she had managed to survive similar health crises in the past, and I fervently prayed this would be one more.

Still, realizing the necessity of keeping in touch with my sister in Toronto, I arranged with Bezeq, the Israeli phone company, to have our new phone line installed before our move. But after arriving at our new home on a Thursday afternoon, we tried to make a phone call and discovered, to our great frustration, that the line was not working after all. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done about it until Sunday morning at the earliest. From a neighbor’s house we called our oldest son, then eighteen and staying with friends in Jerusalem, providing him with our neighbor’s phone number in case he needed to contact us. However, I couldn’t expect our new neighbor to allow me to make a long-distance phone call to my sister, and I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.

After unpacking a few of our myriad moving boxes and trying to get a bit organized on Friday, we took a break and enjoyed a pleasant Shabbat in our new community, where we were invited out to different families for all three meals. On Saturday night after midnight, with our kids all asleep and my husband and I about to retire for the night, we heard a light knock at the front door. It was our neighbor’s daughter, with a message from our oldest son that we should call him right away. Heart pounding, I realized something serious must have happened for him to call us so late.

From the neighbor’s house I phoned our son, who explained that after spending Shabbat with friends, he decided to return to our now-empty apartment in Jerusalem for the night. About to crawl into his sleeping bag, he noticed the phone, still connected, on the floor beside him. Though it was late and he felt very tired, something made him pick up the receiver and check for messages. Then he heard my sister’s tear-filled voice saying that our mother had just passed away. Aware we had moved, but unable to reach me at our new but nonfunctional phone number, my sister had called our old number in case I would somehow receive her message. She said to phone her right away, so we could make arrangements for the funeral.

Under the sad circumstances, our new neighbor kindly agreed to let me make the crucial long-distance call as soon as Shabbat was over in Canada.

When I got through to my sister, I murmured the words Baruch Dayan HaEmet (“Blessed is the True Judge”) to acknowledge our loss. She told me that, ironically, our mother’s health had improved to the point where the doctor agreed to move her from the hospital section back to her regular room in the nursing home.

“I’m going home today,” she had commented cheerfully to one of the nurses, a surprisingly long sentence, since her speech had been impaired by the stroke.

“That’s good, but we’ll miss you here,” the nurse replied.

A few moments later, she realized that our mother had indeed gone “home.”

Together, my sister and I discussed the arrangements for the funeral. Then I remembered—my Canadian passport! Where could it possibly be now? Surveying the chaotic aftermath of our move, with boxes still piled up in every room, I wondered helplessly how I’d find this proverbial needle in a haystack. Then a certain box caught my eye, and to my astonishment, I found my errant passport inside! Checking the date, I realized A certain box caught my eye, and to my astonishment, I found my errant passport inside!it had expired just eleven days before.

Early the next morning, I called my oldest son again and explained the problem. Calmly he reassured me that he would take care of both the passport problem and booking my flight. Since Sunday is a regular work day in Israel, I knew he’d be able to arrange a flight, even a last-minute one. But since foreign embassies are usually closed that day, I wondered how he was planning to accomplish the impossible passport mission.

A couple of hours later, he called me back with the incredible news that he had somehow managed to persuade a Canadian government official to open the embassy in Tel Aviv just for me! The Canadian embassy is normally closed from Friday afternoon until Monday morning, but unbelievably they decided to make an exception in my urgent case, so I could get my passport renewed. The catch was that they would stay open for only a few hours, until one o’clock that afternoon, but not longer.

My husband and I caught a bus to Jerusalem, where we met up with our son and then took a frantic taxi ride all the way to Tel Aviv. When the cab driver heard about the urgency of our mission, he tried his best to drive speedily—but, nearing the entrance of the city, we became ensnared in a frustratingly long traffic jam. I looked again at my watch—twenty minutes till one o’clock!

Astoundingly, the traffic suddenly cleared and, speeding towards the Canadian embassy, we arrived with ten minutes to spare. After we ran up the steps into the building, the security guard, notified of our imminent arrival, immediately let us in.

Breathlessly I handed my expired passport to the sympathetic clerk, who studied it and requested the three mandatory passport photos. Photos—oh no, I didn’t have any. What could I do now? Then suddenly I realized—I did have photos! I’d been teaching eighth grade that year, and since it was the graduating class, all the students and staff had had their pictures taken. I’d been carrying around two of those photos in my handbag. My school photos happened to be precisely the right size for the strict Canadian passport requirements! The clerk actually wanted a third photo but, realizing my stress, understandingly agreed to photocopy it. Still in a state of shock by this rapid turn of events, I went to sit down until my renewed passport was ready, expecting a lengthy wait. Surprisingly, just twenty minutes later, they handed it to me, expressing sympathy for my loss.

Since my flight didn’t leave for several more hours, we called a friend’s brother who lived near Tel Aviv. Not only did he and his wife kindly invite us over to rest at their home and offer us something to eat, but their son insisted on driving us all the way to the airport. After thanking him and saying goodbye to my husband and son, I finally boarded the plane. To save time, I took only hand luggage with me, praying that the flight would not experience any unexpected delays. Unlike many previous trans-Atlantic flights I’d taken over the years, this one seemed particularly swift and smooth. When we landed at Toronto Airport, due to my sad circumstances I was allowed to be among the first passengers to disembark from the plane and go through passport control. When I saw my sister waiting for me, we hugged and cried on each other’s shoulders. We then drove straight to the funeral home, where the rabbi gave a moving eulogy for our beloved mother.

At the cemetery, my mother was buried next to my father, who had died seven years before. I sprinkled a small amount of holy Israeli soil on my mother’s grave. Then I had a sudden recollection of my mother coming home from work, changing from her business clothes and high-heeled shoes into a comfortable housedress and favorite old slippers.

“Ah, what a pleasure,” she’d smile, starting to relax.

I could almost hear her repeating those words now, as I visualized her soul floating upward, gloriously freed from the damaged body to which she’d been shackled for nine long years.

“Goodbye, Mom,” I whispered, missing her already, but comforted that she was now in a place of endless spiritual pleasure.

I visualized her soul floating upward

Then we returned to my sister’s house to sit shivah together.

We decided to put up the gravestone the day shivah ended, but needed to find a suitable epitaph. The one on our father’s gravestone was perfect for him: “A man of faith with an innocent spirit.”

I had trouble sleeping that week due to jet lag and all the stress, but one night at 3 AM, these words came to me: “A gentle soul, filled with lovingkindness and devotion,” which precisely expressed the person our mother had been.

My husband and oldest son called to ask how things were going and to update me on events at home. They had one final incredible story to relate, the icing on the cake. The telephone company sent a repairman out to solve the mystery of our nonfunctional phone line. He found that the outdoor phone box, located on a nearby pole, was filled with bees, which had shorted out the line! When my sister’s rabbi came to pay a shivah call, and I told him about this very strange phenomenon, he explained that the Hebrew word for bees, devorim, is connected to the word dibbur, “to speak.” I felt my mother had been trying to convey the message that she had wanted me to be at her funeral. Through a perfectly arranged set of highly unusual circumstances, I managed to make it there after all.

This story should serve as an aliyah for the souls of my parents, Hoda Leah bat Moshe, a”h, and Azriel ben Menachem Mendel haLevi, zt”l. May their memories be for a blessing.

Menucha Chana Levin is the author of two novels, The Youngest Bride and The Castle Builders, published by Israel Bookshop Publications.
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Shoshanah Brenner Dallas, TX November 29, 2013

Thank you for sharing your story. It brought back memories of when my blessed Mother passed. I also had one of those frantic trips but was able to fulfill my promise to be at her side as she departed. She also was a gentle soul who was full of chesed. I am blessed by her example and Bless HaShem's name each year at Kaddish. Reply

Hilary Karas Herzliya, November 22, 2013

Shabat Shalom Thank you for sharing. I was unable to make my mother's funeral due to various circumstances. You were so fortunate to make it. Reply

rachel ohayon Tzfat Israel November 18, 2013

very moving story...Menucha with her writing skills makes me feel that i am living the story with her. Reply

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