My friend, Rivka, passed away this March after a 10-year struggle with Atypical Parkinson’s: a rare form of the disease for which there is no treatment. While she was ill, I visited her on a steady basis, witnessing multiple losses: the ability to speak, to eat and to move—other than involuntary spasms and the lifting of a few fingers. I was, however, also privy to deep affirmations of love from her family who came to read to her, to entertain her with instrument and song, to hold the hand that refused to release.

Her husband, Simcha, kept herThe duration of her life was not in our hands stimulated and healthy as long as possible because he, too, recognized that the duration of her life was not in our hands; the best we could do was help add to its quality. During my visits with Rivka, I read Torah, showed her pictures of friends and family, spoke about the community we once shared and looked into her sad eyes as I held her hand. It was the best I could do, but it never seemed like enough.

I knew from my Jewish studies that every moment the soul remains in the body is of great value to the person, the Jewish people and the world as a whole. We’re each here for a purpose, and G‑d doesn’t take back our soul until the purpose is fulfilled. Still, there were times I secretly hoped that Rivka, this woman who embodied only goodness, would be gently released from her ailing, pain-ridden body.

I was privileged to witness many moments of love that she and her husband shared during his daily visits. A retired music teacher and professional saxophonist, he sang to her in his deep baritone voice, sometimes playing Israeli tapes: a homage to Rivka, whose family emigrated from Israel to the United States when she was a child.

He was there to raise her and hold her while she stood, and to help her digest her tube feedings. He was there to tell her that she was beautiful, and to put new lyrics to old melodies. One of the tunes to which he added his own lyrics was a song titled, “There’s a Kind of Hush.” He sang this song at the funeral, sharing the depth of his love for her: “I feel your love from up above/I feel you like an angel right from my heart/We’ll never part.”

But this story is ultimately not about Rivka’s ravaging illness or her husband’s endless devotion. This story is about moving on, and in doing so, enabling the soul contained in the body that was Rivka to move upward, unencumbered with worries about loved ones on earth. It is, foremost, the story about the final honor the family paid Rivka: the erection of a tombstone—a means of honoring the deceased and properly demarcating the location of her burial place. This ancient Jewish tradition was recorded in Genesis when Jacob erected a tombstone over the grave of his wife, Rachel.

I learned that the tombstone should be erected as soon after sitting shiva as possible, although many mourners provide this honor to the dead after the 11-month Kaddish: a period of remembrance and daily prayers designed to comfort the mourners and help aid the soul’s journey upward.

It didn’t surprise me that Rivka’s family elected to erect the stone earlier to provide this tribute as soon as they could to the wife and mother whom they accompanied as far as death’s door. Her son, who never missed a day telephoning his mom and was often at her bedside, spoke at the cemetery—first and foremost of his mother’s courage in trying to move ahead, to embrace life, despite her disease. He also highlighted his mother’s devotion to both him and his sister: making sure they were healthy, happy and had a Torah education. This eulogy was far shorter than the one he had given at her funeral. I noticed that her son’s face was relaxed, even content, a 360-degree change from when I had seen his gaunt, pain-covered face while visiting his mom in hospice. His sister, who spent much of her time working out of town and visiting her mom when she could, echoed similar sentiments of how caring, loving and fully devoted Rivka was, and how she gave totally of herself to both children.

Although there was, understandably,It’s what Rivka would have wanted still the pain of loneliness on his face, Simcha, too, continued to embrace life while still holding on to the love he and his wife shared. It was what Rivka would have wanted. He often travels with his children, shares holidays with them, and has lunch out with a coterie of friends. He gives concerts at nursing homes and volunteers to teach Hebrew-school students popular Jewish melodies. He had given Rivka the gift of music throughout her life and now uses it to help himself press forward. Yes, Simcha has moved on, as we all must. At the same time, the gifts of love that Rivka and Simcha gave to one another during their 43-year-marriage remain.

Looking down at the newly erected gravestone, Simcha sung the lyrics: “You know I really love you/You know I really care; I really have to tell you, Rivka, so let me be sincere/For making me feel special for all the things you do/I have to say this loud and clear: I really do love you.”

Toward the end of the unveiling, after reciting Psalms and prayers at the grave site, we each left a stone for Rivka—a way of showing that the memory of the deceased lives on in us and through our own acts of faith, kindness and charity. To me, these small earthly gifts also symbolized a lightening of our collective hearts: Our group of family and friends who had mourned Rivka’s death had gathered again—endowed with renewed strength—to celebrate and honor her life.

While memories of loved ones—and the stones that remind us of them—may last for eons, our bodies, naturally, do not. As I leave the gravesite, I am reminded that each of us is a temporary sojourner on his/her own G‑d-given path, here to bring more love and kindness to our world until we are called home.