COVID has turned our world upside down.

One of the biggest changes that has taken place is in hospitals and senior facilities. People can no longer visit, and patients are in the hospital alone, without family.

My father, Yitzchok Kosofsky, entered the hospital before COVID. He never made it back home.

Over four months in the hospital, his body grew weaker and began to shut down. He didn’t want to eat. We put on his tefillin for him, he mumbled the Shema and signaled that he was ready to take them off. He hardly spoke, and when he did, it was just a few words.

Children and grandchildren traveled to California to visit and help, sitting at his bedside, coaxing him to eat, even staying overnight in the hospital room. For a while, he was in rehab in a nursing home, across the hall from our mother.

When the lockdown began, all hospital visitations stopped. Communication with the doctors and therapists took place by phone. Hospital staff put tefillin on him, guided by a family member over Zoom.

A few weeks after the lockdown began, his condition took a turn for the worse. Doctors performed several emergency procedures, which were successful, but new problems arose. It reached the point where his body ceased to respond to treatments, and it was clear he had just a few days left to live.

It was time to say our final farewells.

He hadn’t spoken on the phone in several months, and besides, he was no longer conscious. Any conversation would be one-way.

Our sister notified us Sunday afternoon that she would set up a video call on Whatsapp with the hospital chaplain, who would be in the room with our father. As we are nine children, we would each get just 60 seconds to say goodbye.

Sixty seconds? A single minute? What do you say?

My siblings and I are no strangers to public speaking. We are rabbis and teachers in our communities from the Northeast to California, in Australia and Argentina. We all give lectures and classes. I’ve conducted difficult funerals. Yet, this was something different.

I ran to the quiet of my bedroom, away from the household commotion, where I could think. When the initial panic subsided, I collected my thoughts:

  1. Before someone passes, it is important to ask forgiveness for any wrong you may have done. This is especially true for a parent, whom we are required to treat with great esteem.
  2. It is likewise important to express forgiveness for any slights the person who is passing may have committed. We want the deceased to proceed to the next world with no hurtful actions and words on his record.
  3. My father had the great privilege to meet the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, with his Hebrew school class, when the Rebbe visited Chicago in 1942. In the years that followed, he made the decision to become a chassid of the Rebbe, and he raised us in that tradition. I should thank my father for bringing me up with a passion for the Rebbe’s teachings and directives, something to which I’ve devoted my life.
  4. Years ago, my father introduced me to a fascinating book called Shnei Luchot Haberit (Shelah). This led to me teaching a weekly class for adults on Arizal. I would often share the fascinating connections and gematria that I had read, and he would say, “How do you like that!” (As an accountant and as someone with a talent for numbers, he appreciated teachings with gematria.) I would have to thank him for opening the world of Shelah to me.
  5. The biggest tribute I could give my father is to give him nachas (pride). So it would be appropriate to state that I hope I have made him proud, and will continue to do so.

With my mind and heart racing, checking if there was anything I had missed, I jotted down these five points and waited anxiously for my turn to speak. I tried to stay calm and keep my head clear.

My phone rang for a video call, and I could see my father in his hospital bed, hooked up to tubes and wires. I spoke as I had planned, knowing this was the last time I would speak to and see my father until Moshiach comes. I made sure to speak in a tone that was calm and comforting.

When I was done, I thanked the chaplain for providing us this opportunity to say goodbye.

I remember taking a deep breath when I hung up.

Our father hung on for two more days, before passing away from old age shortly after his 89th birthday.

While his family was not with him physically at the time of his death, we were united in the things he held dear: a love for Torah and a dedication to the Rebbe’s teachings.

Looking back, I realize the topics I mentioned in those 60 seconds - devotion to the Rebbe, studying Shelah, and bringing my father nachas - are what bring me comfort in the months since his passing.