I felt again the low-level fear in my body. We were talking in such a matter-of-fact way about something so enormous. My mother was dying. We were thinking together about what she would need during her last days, and about her funeral. It was almost surrealistic.

I ached from anticipation of the loss. And I worried about what horrors might lay in store for us along the way. From that night on, I prayed to G‑d to please take her to Him like a mother gathers her baby to her breast. I begged Him to grant her a peaceful passage, to spare her and me the type of trauma that had marked both my father's and sister's deaths in different ways. I felt our fate in His hands more starkly than I ever had before. He would decide how these days and weeks would unfold, what would happen to my mother, and how she would ultimately be taken from this world. I was totally powerless to influence the events that were to come. I just had to be prepared to do whatever was asked of me by the circumstances.

The torch was about to be passed. But I wasn't sure I was ready to take it

It was that simple — and that hard.

I lay in the bed beside hers that night, feeling deeply the turn in the road we had just taken. We were no longer digesting the diagnosis, taking tests, or exploring treatment options; we were getting ready for death. I had decided to sleep in the other bed in her room so I would always be by her side if anything happened or if she needed anything during the night. I had made that decision the moment the doctor told her she had only a short time to live. I didn't want her to be alone with that reality. I wanted to be with her, to give her whatever I could, to do whatever she needed. She had embarked on a journey and I wanted her to feel me firmly by her side.

Our roles had reversed. I was now the one taking care of her, tending to her needs, providing support and comfort. We had come full circle. The torch was about to be passed. But I wasn't sure I was ready to take it.

I listened to the sound of her breath as she slept. She was still alive, still in the world with me. We could still talk and laugh. We could still share memories of my father, my sister, and all sorts of things that had happened in our family over the years. We held these people and events in our hearts. By talking about them we continued to give them reality in a more tangible way than one person alone could.

Who would I reminisce with when she was gone? There wasn't anyone else left alive who had these memories. I would be holding them alone. What if I forgot? Would I be able to hold onto a sense of my past without her, or would it fade away with time?

I felt like I was not only about to lose her, but also about to lose my one remaining connection with my father and sister. Between us we kept them alive in some way. When she died, they would die for me all over again. The loss that was about to occur felt so enormous. I wondered if my vessel was strong enough to hold all the pain.

When she died, they would die for me all over againAs I lay there anticipating what was to come, I realized the futility of my thoughts. There was no way I was going to be able to deal with the totality of the situation all at once. I couldn't come to grips with the loss while she was still here. That was too much to ask of myself. I had to stay in the moment, to appreciate every second I still had with her. There would be time later, when it was reality, to face the loss.

I reminded myself of our forefather Jacob and his inability to come to terms with the death of Joseph, for the simple reason that Joseph was not dead. He had been separated from his father but he was still alive. Jacob, of course, didn't know this. He thought his son had died. But his soul, unlike his mind, could not be deceived. And so all his efforts to grieve amounted to naught. He remained inconsolable.

I would have to remind myself of this more than once in the days that followed. It was easy for my mind to stray into the future. And when it did, I could feel my chest constrict around the pain that lay ahead and a sense of overwhelm start to descend. Quickly, I would tell myself that she was still here, that there was still life to be lived with her and that I didn't need to fast-forward. That day would arrive soon enough, and I would have more than enough time then to deal with everything.

Oddly enough, I had said those same words, "She's still here," when I was just four-years-old, in a context not that different from the one I was in now. My mother had had her first bout with cancer and was seriously ill. She had undergone several surgeries and radiation treatment. Something had happened in the last surgery that had created a complication, and the doctors thought she was not likely to survive. Someone, I don't know who, had the idea to bring my sister and me into her room to say goodbye to her. I remember the scene like it happened yesterday.

I was brought to the side of the bed where she lay. It was the middle of the day, but the shades were drawn so the room was dark. My father and sister were there, and maybe someone else; I don't remember. My mother was trying to smile at me and I heard her whisper the words, "Hi darling." Meanwhile, everyone else seemed to be crying.

"Why is everyone crying; she's still here"I don't remember doing this, but I was told later that my immediate response was to say: "Why is everyone crying; she's still here." Apparently, that lightened the atmosphere in the room a little. And my mother went on to say what she thought then was her goodbye. I don't remember much of what she said other than that she would always love me. I mostly remember how thin and weak her voice sounded and how strange everything seemed.

But from my words I can see that even then I was trying to help myself — and everyone else — stay in the present. That time it was even more sage advice, since as it turned out, she didn't die. She went on to live many more years. This time, I probably wouldn't be spared the anticipated outcome, she probably would die. Still, it made sense not to grieve now, but rather to enjoy whatever time we had left. She was indeed "still here."

I wasn't going to be able to get a head start on the grieving process. As it says, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: ...a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance" (Kohelet 3:1,4).

Now was still the time to laugh and dance, even in the face of the heartache. The weeping and mourning would have to wait.