by Drew Steinberg
Jewish values and the importance of family are engrained in me because of my mom. Because of her, we celebrated Shabbat every Friday night as our family of four, at a minimum, while I was growing up. High Holiday meals and Passover seders had full tables of extended family (blood relatives and friends who are equivalent to family). The din of stories of the holiday intertwined with family kibbitzing encapsulated my parents’ home, holiday after holiday, year after year. My mom made sure of it. When COVID hit, we were fortunate to be in close proximity that we were able to continue to have Shabbat and holiday meals together. Although it was not the large family Jewish celebrations we were all used to, it was still Judaism mixed with family.
Our Passover this year was out of the norm, more so than COVID out-of-the-norm. A few days prior, my mom had her tenth procedure in four months, and we were anticipating another hospital discharge. The procedure and hospitalization were timed so that Mom would be home with all of us for our Passover seder. What we had hoped would be a morning discharge so that my mom could oversee the decorating of the table, ended up being a late afternoon discharge where we were rushing against the clock to get her home and situated in time for seder. Keeping the kids calm while getting my mom comfortable back in her house and also trying to prepare for the sacred holiday was overwhelming but manageable. The kids and my mom were so excited that they got to sing the “Frog song,” “Dayenu,” and others together. My mom got to watch her two older grandchildren (Pre-K students) sing the “Four Questions” in Hebrew. We got to have a new version of a Passover seder for my family this year. We were scared it would be our last seder with my mom, but we also somewhat knew how likely that would be the case. We wanted to make sure my mom got her holiday with her family at her home. She deserved that. As my family is still in the first weeks of my mom’s passing, everything feels raw and uncomfortable. I anticipate Jewish holidays going forward will have that uncomfortable feeling, especially Passover since it was her last holiday with us.
Losing a loved one is challenging. Losing a loved one while having young kids is a different challenge; then there is losing your person, who has been your loved one while having young kids. When my mom entered comfort care, she shared with her rabbi that her greatest sadness was that she was not going to get to experience her grandchildren growing up. She was not going to get to see them become of Bar Mitzvah age and use the tallit bags that she needlepointed. Her not being here to celebrate with my children and their milestones has already been so devasting for me. I am so grateful for the time she had with all of us, but especially her last visit with my boys.
During my mom’s time in comfort care in the ICU, the Palliative Care team wanted to make sure that she felt at home, as much as possible. They asked us to bring things to decorate her room. Immediately my sister and I thought of bringing family photos and the grandchildren’s artwork, things my mom had decorating her bedroom since she got sick this last time. In addition to the decorations, my mom felt most at home having family nearby (immediate and extended). With that in mind, I wanted to figure out how to have my sweet young boys visit with her one last time. I am sure like many, I am not comfortable in an ICU room. The fact that you can see other patients through the glass walls/doors with their illnesses and ailments, which sometimes involve tubes or ventilators, is not something I enjoyed seeing. I did not want my boys to share my fear of ICUs, especially at such young ages.
I was extremely grateful when the Palliative Care team offered a patio visit where family could visit with my mom outside of the hospital room setting. It was both a way for the young kids to visit her as well as have a larger group visit since we were outside. Due to how she was doing, the patio visit got moved to a time where only my boys, my dad, sister, my husband, and I would be able to attend. That final visit for my boys with their grandma was something special. It was a time for my boys to be themselves. A time for them to see Grandma one last time and share their feelings with her. A time for me to see smiles on all their faces together for the last time.
My mom’s absence is already so palpable. Unfortunately, there were celebrations so close to her passing where the void was felt. I know the void will continue to be there. I just wish it didn’t have to be there at all.
The following was said in the handful of memoriams, both written and verbalized: My mom truly achieved greatness in all aspects of her life. Her life was tragically cut short when she had so much more to give to her family, her community, and the world. My mom was loved by many, respected by more, and admired by all. May her memory be a blessing.
תהא נשמה זו צרורה בצרור החיים
T’hei n’shma zu tzrura b’tzrur ha-chayim
May the soul of their loved one be bound up in the bond of life.
May the memory of this loved one be for a blessing.