1) Saying Good-Bye

Parting has always been difficult for me. This is true with short-term partings, and becomes exaggeratedly greater when a long separation is anticipated.

But never have I faced a parting as heart-wrenching as the one that I have experienced recently.

My family and I arrived in Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon. Early the following morning, my father, Rabbi Dovid Schochet, was scheduled for a serious operation, which at his age and condition could be life-threatening.

For weeks, ever since the large growth was "accidentally" discovered on my father's kidney, the tension had built. It was a tumor of the sort known as a "silent killer," and my father was fortunate that it had been found through a series of unexpected tests. We all hoped that it wasn't too late for it to be contained.

In record time, due, in no small part, to my mother's vigilance and sister's and brother-in-law's perseverance, my father had been examined by several specialists in the field. Their prognosis was grim. They warned that speed was imperative to remove the cancerous growth before it spread any further, after which nothing medically would help.

By Divine providence, a series of events lead my parents to a world-class specialist in Cleveland, who hoped to successfully remove the growth and save the kidney. The doctor was a Canadian Jew with whom my father had exchanged some words of Torah during their initial meeting and felt confident that this doctor could be G‑d's messenger to cure him.

Staying in a hotel adjacent to the famous Cleveland Clinic, our only comfort was in each other's presence.

It was late Sunday night, the night before the operation, and our collective anxiety engulfed each of us. My father emerged from his bedroom and joined my sister and me in the adjacent area. He sat down at the table, visibly nervous, and opened his book of Tehillim (Psalms).

We watched him closely, not knowing how to respond to encourage him. Several moments later, he concluded his reading and explained, "Tomorrow, we will have to be in the hospital early and I will be very rushed after the davening (prayers). I won't have time in the morning, so I wanted to recite the children's Tehillim tonight." My father's custom, ever since I can remember, was to recite daily the chapters of Psalms correlating with the age of each one of his many children and grandchildren.

It struck me that he wouldn't forego an opportunity of praying on our behalf.

My father then dialed my brother, who was staying a few blocks away. "Please meet us here at the hotel early tomorrow morning," he requested. "I want to make sure to bentch (bless) all of you, before my surgery."

My father replaced the receiver in its nook and I observed him intently. "Daddy," I began, gulping down the large lump that was forming in my throat. "We don't want your blessing tomorrow. We want it after the surgery, for many years to come!"

My father smiled tolerantly at his youngest child and replied, "Yes, Chana. I definitely hope to bless all of you for many years to come. But tomorrow, too, is an auspicious opportunity and one never knows…" His voice trailed off before he continued. "The final moments of life can be the most important ones. We are fortunate when we have a chance to prepare properly."

By now, it was past one o'clock in the morning. The alarm clock would buzz in four hours to awaken my father for the earliest minyan (prayer quorum). We would be leaving for the hospital shortly before seven o'clock.

I lay awake in bed, eyes open, scanning the strange room and picturing in my mind's eye my father blessing us, hoping that it would not be the final time. My mind restlessly grappled with the scene as my heart screamed: How could I possibly say good-bye to someone who means so much to me? How could I convey to him through mere words my appreciation for his lifelong of giving? And at such a juncture in his life, how could I finally give something back to him?

The question twisted and turned in my anguished mind, amidst the doubt, hope and fright wrestling there. Before long, morning mercifully dawned, providing an escape from the tormenting night.

My sisters, mother and I were waiting nervously by the time the men had returned from shul. My father gathered his few personal belongings for the hospital in an overnight bag. He then stepped into the other room to call each of us, one by one, for a private, secluded moment of personal blessing.

Tears dropped down my cheeks unabashedly as my oldest brother approached my father, whose face was white like the wall. Being the youngest of the family, I awaited my turn, as my thoughts considered how each of the twelve tribes must have felt, surrounding Jacob on his deathbed, receiving their last blessings and instructions as they bid him good-bye.

My father's beckoning to me broke my reverie and I forced my feet, which felt like a pile of cement blocks, forward. He lifted his hands above my head and silently mouthed the traditional blessings. As he concluded, fresh tears stained my already wet cheeks and he hugged me.

I gazed into his wise, blue eyes, eyes that for so many years had interacted with me smilingly and with such teasing humor. I heard my voice managing to say, "Daddy, thank you for being such a wonderful father, all these years." I sucked in some air since my chest felt like it would collapse under the crushing burden.

My father, who was sent by the Rebbe more than forty-five years ago to establish the Toronto Chabad community, and who served at its helm as its beloved rabbi, was more than a father. I forced myself to continue, "There hasn't been a day in my entire life that I haven't felt such a pride in being your daughter." I paused for a second, "But may G‑d allow you to continue to be here for many years to come."

I noticed a tear escape my father's eyes. He nodded wordlessly as he hugged his youngest child once again, this time a touch tighter.

Moments later we all left the hotel together to walk the five minute trek to the hospital surgery room.

2) The Wait

I sit in one of the lounges of the Cleveland Clinic surrounded by my mother, my siblings and their spouses. Comfortable couches are arranged into discussion centers throughout this large lobby area. But instead of lively, animated chatter, the room is filled with a subdued undercurrent of talk, attesting to the serious tension filling this room, where families await news about the surgery of their beloved.

Off to the side of these areas, a large station marked "P20" stands. Equipped with computers, a paging system, phones and other up-to-date technology, official-looking nurses busily attend to their work behind this counter, with grim expressions on their faces.

Families descend on this station to request an update of the progress of the surgery. The nurses use pagers, handed to each family, to summon them from all parts of the large hospital.

It has already been several weeks since the initial news of the tumor found in my father's kidney. By now, we are well versed in the intricate aspects of his condition and well aware of the doctors' prognosis. Somehow, though, the news still didn't sink in and felt surreal.

About an hour ago, we tearfully left the bedside of my father, as the intern wheeled him to the pre-operating room. I can't begin to imagine the emotions pulsing through him as he said the vidui (confession) prayer, or as he bequeathed all his worldly goods as a gift of inheritance to my mother and informed us how his sefarim (books) should be divided should the worst occur. Nor can I fathom how he had the presence of mind to speak about the halachic implications of burying his removed kidney or how he remembered to tell us to return a book he had borrowed from a local synagogue.

I marveled, too, at my mother's courage as she parted from my father, her husband of almost fifty years.

She looked at him bravely and said, "You'll be alright. I know you will." She smiled encouragingly, but I was privy to the heart-wrenching turmoil and doubt that she faced within.

The surgery was scheduled to last several hours. We sank comfortably into our couches, doing the only thing we could do, endlessly mouthing words of Psalms, desperately entreating our Father in Heaven to grant my father many more years of earthly life. Hours passed with incessant words of prayers on our lips.

During this time, I glanced around the lobby and noticed many other families sitting and waiting. Some were whiling away their time with card games, while others were thumbing through popular magazines or newspapers. I felt immensely grateful to have the comforting gift of prayer, so that I could utilize these strained hours constructively.

As the hours passed, I noticed many families leaving. Some gathered at the "P20" station, exuberantly joyous. Others shuffled away, dejected and forlorn, their hearts shred to pieces after learning a negative outcome.

I wouldn't realize it until later, but just such a scenario had haunted my father before his operation. When his own father was his age, my father's family, too, sat in a similar hospital setting, awaiting the news of my grandfather's surgery. The outcome was not positive. His family was devastated when they were informed that the cancerous growth had spread. My grandfather, Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet, passed away shortly afterwards.

At one point, I took a short walk around the lobby's corridors. I passed a large window facing one of the clinic's underground parking lots. I observed the cars arriving and leaving and I thought how we, too, are parked in this world for a limited time. Silently, I prayed that my father's time in this world had not yet expired. Unlike the cars, mere hunks of metal, I thought how each of us forms such everlasting bonds of connection.

I remembered then, how, at this very hour, scores of people, in yeshivahs, synagogues, summer camps, and study groups around the world, were praying on my father's behalf. I thought also of the countless individuals who had been touched by him who had approached me, misty eyed, on the streets or in the grocery store with their well-wishes, or to whisper in my ear the good deed that they had taken upon themselves in his merit. I pictured all those prayers, all those positive acts and all those chapters of Psalms rising up, heavenward, providing an enormous spiritual shield. I felt somewhat comforted and strengthened.

A short while later, the Rabbi of the Chabad community in Cleveland visited. The organizer of the Bikur Cholim (aid for the sick) organization of Cleveland also came to greet us, laden with packages full of sandwiches and other refreshments.

Many people from all over the world come to Cleveland seeking the help of respective specialists associated with this reputable clinic. The Cleveland Jewish community responded to this challenge with a remarkably organized and professional network of volunteers, providing all kinds of support — medical advice, meals, a place to stay and anything else that a visitor might need. As this woman wished us well, we all felt enriched by more than the food that she had left with us.

My mother expressed it well. "At a time like this, you really appreciate such unconditional outpourings of kindness."

The hours inched forward slowly.

It was now our turn to find ourselves at the "P20" station to learn that the operation had been successful. Thank G‑d, the operation had concluded earlier than originally planned, the kidney was saved, the growth was removed and it had not spread! We wouldn't know for certain for a few days, but from initial testing, it appeared that the tumor was not cancerous — something that occurrs in less than 5% of such cases.

Hearing such miraculous news, feeling overcome with relief and thanksgiving, my obvious reaction was to open my worn Tehillim once again. From the depths of my being, I expressed my gratitude.

Soon after, we rushed to the recovery room and pleaded with the nurse to be allowed in to see my father. After some begging, we stood at my father's bedside, our hearts bursting with joy and thankfulness, as we watched my father open his eyes, smile weakly, and silently mouth the minchah (afternoon) prayers.

I can't remember a sight as beautiful as watching my mother gazing deeply into her husband's eyes. Words are not rich enough to describe the joy in her face as she stood almost wordlessly for close to an hour — until the nurse finally shooed us out — love and joy washing over her smiling features.

3) Two Farbrengens

I sit at my father's bedside, the night following his miraculously successful surgery. My brother and I will remain for the night, keeping a vigilant watch on my father.

I hadn't slept much last night, too full of anxiety before the operation, but now I am also too overwhelmed to even close my eyes. I sit still, intently watching my father's pale face, observing his calm breathing, grateful to have him with us.

"Close your eyes, Chana. Try to sleep." My father instructs, always considerate about another's wellbeing. But my eyes simply cannot shut. The tense events of the last several days coupled with the overwhelming relief of the miraculous outcome are simply too enormous for my mind to grapple with and I need the quiet reflection to digest it all.

I think back to the last two weeks before the surgery. I remember the tears each of us shed and the strength we mustered to take some action. I remember hearing all about the doctors' visits and reports and finally the decision to come to this clinic.

I remembered, too, the farbrengen (chassidic gathering) we arranged at my home for my father, inviting the entire community. Many people attended, filling every chair and space in my home, saying l'chaim, singing heartfelt songs and wishing good health to my father.

Chassidim say that the effect of a farbrengen is potent. We had hoped that it would be powerful now too.

Years ago, my father's youngest sister had been helped through a farbrengen. My aunt, a young, rambunctious toddler, had fallen into my grandmother's boiling pot of laundry water. She was rushed to the hospital, with her entire body scalded and with little hope for survival.

The Rebbe was immediately contacted and he offered his blessing, some medical advice, and the instruction to my grandfather to hold a farbrengen celebrating her recovery. It must have been difficult for my grandparents to make a celebration when their daughter was lying in the hospital, close to the clutches of death. But soon after, my aunt miraculously and fully recovered.

Watching the many participants at my father's farbrengen, and later watching my parents walking back home, so regally, side by side, I had hoped the same would be true with my father.

My mind skipped a few days later to the trip we had taken to the "Ohel," the Rebbe's gravesite. My father, sister, brother-in-law and I had flown in to New York for the day, heading straight to the Rebbe's resting place, to beseech him for a blessing on my father's behalf.

I stood in solemn prayer for a long time, expressing what I knew only the Rebbe could fathom. Standing opposite my father in the small area, I asked the Rebbe to intercede on behalf of this chassid of his, who served as the Rebbe's shaliach (emissary) for so many years. I cried, too, for all the hardship and pain in the world, for all the wants and lacks, for all the needs, for all the negativity that faces us.

Leaving the Ohel, my father turned to me and, paraphrasing the words of our Sages, wished me, "May G‑d fulfill all the desires of your heart."

I wanted to reply, "How could you possibly think of the desires of my heart at such a time?", but instead I quoted in return, "One who blesses, shall himself be blessed."

Landing in Toronto late that night I felt lighter, as if a crushing burden was lifted from my heart, replaced instead with optimistic faith. I drove my father to his home, sixteen hours after having picked him up from there, and accompanied him to the door.

"Now that we've done what we can, all will be well." I stated emphatically trying to be supportive.

"Yes, Chana. G‑d willing, all will be well." He hugged me.

And then my thoughts wandered to the last Shabbat, only two days ago, but seeming like a world apart.

My children are accustomed to hear my husband relate stories about tzaddikim (righteous people) at our Shabbat table, and eagerly await this part of our meal. My husband opened a newly published book and began to translate one of its stories.

To my astonishment, the random story he chose was about an individual who had a growth in his kidney. The man sought the opinion of several doctors, all who provided grim forecasts, before consulting with the Rebbe. Several weeks later, with the Rebbe's blessing and to the doctors' complete befuddlement, the growth had entirely vanished.

Hearing the story, I felt the Rebbe's warm embrace, encouraging us that all would be fine.

I smiled contentedly at my father in his hospital bed now, these scenes playing out before my eyes, grateful for the miraculous results. Eventually, I dozed into a restless slumber, sitting upright in a hospital chair, pillow propped up behind my head.

I awoke suddenly. My father was calling to my brother, "Yossi, Yossi."

"What is it, Daddy? Are you in pain?" I was quick to my feet, at his side.

"It's morning, so it is time for davening. Yossi, you need to go to the minyan." My father, who was always diligent in this, urged my brother.

My brother opened his groggy eyes and turned on the main light switch. We both dissolved into laughter seeing that the clock read 5:15 AM.

We looked at each other knowingly. It was wonderful to have our father back.