“I think we’re losing her,” my sister Susan’s voice was breaking over the phone. “She just had a massive heart attack and the doctors are trying to resuscitate her. I can’t believe it. Yesterday she was fine and now she’s almost gone.”

Susan was talking about her mother-in-law, Gretl, who, although 96 years old, had always seemed indestructible. Widowed for over 20 years, she had remained in her small apartment near her daughter’s house in London. Despite being in a wheelchair and now quite frail, she traveled the world with her daughter Rose, visiting and getting tremendous joy from her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Yesterday she was fine and now she’s almost goneBut during this visit to Jerusalem, she had felt unwell and couldn’t catch her breath. While at the hospital undergoing tests, she suddenly had a massive heart attack, and Susan feared she wouldn’t survive.

To the doctors’ amazement, she responded to the resuscitation and her heart restarted its rhythmic beat.

The immediate crisis was over.

But Gretl lay there with her eyes closed, not unconscious, but not awake, for days and days.

Rose, who had brought her to Jerusalem for a supposedly short visit, sat with her, next to her bed, not knowing how long she might remain in this condition.

She received tender care and whatever medication she needed, but nobody seemed to be able to give a prognosis. According to statistics, the medical chances of her reviving were almost nonexistent, given her age and what she had gone through. But here in Jerusalem, miracles are an everyday occurrence.

The days turned into weeks. Gretl’s condition didn’t improve, yet it also didn’t deteriorate. Rose’s husband returned home to London to tend to his business, and Rose remained by her mother’s bedside. Her life, like her mother’s, was in limbo.

Their family in Israel suggested to Rose that she go back to her home in London and that they would take care of her mother, but she wouldn’t think of it.

“All my life I’ve looked after Mummy. I visit her every day. She comes to stay with us every Shabbat. How can I just leave her here like this?”

There was no answer.

Rose and David, her brother, took turns staying by Gretl’s bedside, together with Susan, David’s wife, and the grandchildren. She and all the family talked to Gretl, not knowing whether she heard or understood anything. They continually kissed her, stroked her hand and told her they loved her.

The weeks stretched on, and the London insurance company that was covering her medical costs announced that they wanted to return Gretl to a hospital in London. Obviously their expenses were enormous, and repatriating her was in their best financial interests.

The Jerusalem hospital had no alternative but to give their consent. Although she was considered in critical condition, she was stable. They could not recommend the move for someone her age and in her condition, but they also could not refuse it.

The Jerusalem hospital had no alternative but to give their consentDavid and Rose were very worried that in her weakened and frail state the flight could be quite damaging to her, yet they knew there was nothing they could do to prevent it.

The special hospital plane was ordered, and the insurance company informed them that the British medical team would be landing in Israel the following morning at 9:00 AM and would be at the hospital at 10:00 AM.

At midnight Gretl suddenly took a turn for the worse. Her temperature rocketed and her pulse dropped. Within hours her internal organs started to fail. Rose called David to the hospital and together they waited for the “inevitable.”

The insurance company was called and the repatriation to England cancelled.

David and Rose took comfort in the fact that their mother would be buried in Jerusalem, the city holy to all Jews.

But the inevitable didn’t happen. To the doctor’s amazement, a few days later Gretl opened her eyes for the first time since she had taken ill.

“Do you know your son’s name?” the doctor asked her, in the way all doctors do when neurological damage is feared.

She smiled her sweet, angelic smile. “My David.”

“And your daughter’s?” the doctor persisted.

“My Rose.”

The doctor smiled and left them.

Gretl’s condition was again stable, but after that initial awakening she went back to sleep. David and Rose continued their regular vigil but were puzzled. They had thought that maybe their mother had known that she was being taken back to England and had “decided” that she wanted to remain in the Holy City. But now her situation was back to where it had been a week before.

The insurance company was in regular contact with the hospital, and now once again asked permission from the hospital to return her to England. Once again the hospital said they couldn’t refuse, as she was again stable—so again, the arrangements were set in motion for her return the following day.

We love you and we’re trying to understand what you wantSuddenly a thought occurred to David and Rose. Their father, who had died many years before, was buried in London. Maybe this fact was “bothering” their mother.

David took his sleeping mother’s hand in his and whispered.

“Mummy. We love you and we’re trying to understand what you want. Once again, arrangements have been made for you to go back to England. But we don’t think that’s what you want. Rose and I are wondering if you are holding back because you want to be buried next to Daddy. Mummy, if that’s what is stopping you resting, then we promise you that if you choose to remain here, we will arrange for Daddy to be reburied in Jerusalem. Mummy, the choice is now yours. The plane will be arriving from England at 3:00 AM. You have until then to decide.”

At midnight Gretl’s temperature rose, her pulse failed, and at 2:30 AM, in the Jerusalem hospital, she returned her soul to its Maker.