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"It slowly began to dawn on me that, like millions of other women all over the world, I had been left forever by my husband." An estimated eighty percent of married women can expect to be widowed in the future. In Surviving Widowhood, a clinical psychologist explores her experience after the death of her husband, describing the profound changes to her understanding of herself, and her adjustment to the new configuration of her life. Addressing such aspects of widowhood as: reactions of family, especially grandchildren; her dreams, and their
"It slowly began to dawn on me that, like millions of other women all over the world, I had been left forever by my husband." An estimated eighty percent of married women can expect to be widowed in the future. In Surviving Widowhood, a clinical psychologist explores her experience after the death of her husband, describing the profound changes to her understanding of herself, and her adjustment to the new configuration of her life. Addressing such aspects of widowhood as: reactions of family, especially grandchildren; her dreams, and their significance, in the aftermath of her husband's death; the importance of Jewish tradition and ritual; maintaining memories; and reintegrating into life, the result is a moving and uplifting read. Surviving Widowhood is an essential resource for women and their families and friends, as well as therapists, and at the same time is an intensely readable human story.
|How Death Did Us Part||7
|Living with Loss||50
|Reactions of Outsiders||147
|Out of the Mouth of Babes||158
|Reintegrating into Daily Life||169
That night I mistook Moshe’s death-rattle for snoring. Only when the sound grew louder, did I turn around in bed to look at him. His eyes, half closed, were rolled up. He was not breathing. Perhaps this was merely due to sleep apnea, when breathing can stop for up to two minutes. After all, Moshe did suffer from this disorder. But what if he is unconscious, I thought terror-stricken. I screamed, called out “darling” repeatedly and felt his cold, sweaty forehead. Was he alive or dead? I ran to the phone next to my bed to ask Information for the number of the ambulance service but only got a message from an answering-machine. I rushed out to the kitchen to look up the number in the phone book. When I got through to them I shouted that I urgently needed an ambulance for my husband who was unconscious, and that I had heard him make peculiar throat noises. The person on the other end asked me to reproduce the noises over the phone and inquired whether Moshe had any illness. I stammered something about his having a serious heart condition. My answer seemed to make Moshe eligible for an ambulance, since I was asked to supply his name and address and was told to wait for the ambulance which would arrive in a few minutes, outside our house, so that the driver could find the house without delay.
Grabbing my keys and coat, I hesitated for a moment whether to return to the bedroom to check on Moshe, but I lacked the courage to do so, for fear that he had died.
Before going out into the street I tried to reach our son Alon and his wife Tamara on the phone, but they slept too deeply to hear it ring; after all, it was 12.30 a.m.
As I unlocked the front door of our building, Telma and Sol, our neighbors, entered. Sensing my panic, Telma inferred that we must have been burgled. I mumbled something about Moshe being in the worst possible state and “who knows if he is still alive?” adding that I had to wait for the ambulance in the street. Sol immediately took over this assignment from me, soon to be joined by Haim, another neighbor.
“Does Alon know?” Telma asked. My negative reply spurred her on to try and call him again.With more time and patience than I had been able to muster, she finally succeeded in reaching him and he appeared within fifteen minutes. A quarter of an hour later Tamara joined him. She had first had to find one of her neighbors to sleep over, so that the children would not remain alone.
Meanwhile my nervousness grew by leaps and bounds since there was no sign of an ambulance. I seemed to have waited for hours, knowing that every minute was crucial. Later, the doctors were to tell me that the heart and brain can remain without oxygen for at most four to six minutes. Otherwise irreversible heart and brain damage ensue, probably resulting in death.
I called the ambulance station again and was assured that the ambulance would arrive at any minute. For whom does the ambulance wail? How often had I wondered when I heard the siren of a passing ambulance and uttered a silent prayer that it should not be for Moshe. But now I could only hope that it would reach him on time, flying at break-neck speed to get to him. In fact, as I went to the staircase I saw a half dozen medical orderlies and a doctor running into our building, carrying a stretcher. They asked to be directed to the patient. As soon as they saw Moshe, they jumped on his bed, lowered him unto the floor and started to perform mouthto- mouth resuscitation.
At this point I was considered to be in the way and therefore expendable. Hence I was asked to leave the room. I could not have felt more wretched, realizing that it was touch and go whether Moshe would survive this particular health catastrophe. And there was nothing that I could do but wait patiently when, in fact, my patience was running out as fast as the sand in an egg-timer. Later that night, when I returned to our bedroom, I found the beds and floor littered with several dozen syringes and empty ampules, the debris of a campaign against death. The ampules had contained cardiac drugs which had been injected into Moshe’s jugular vein, in an effort to revive him. There was also a large blood-stain on the carpet where he had lain when they had opened his jugular vein. Actually, he was no longer breathing when they arrived; nor did he have a pulse or blood pressure. In fact, he was clinically dead. The doctors and orderlies, his would-be rescuers, fought death in a desperate struggle.
In the words of Wilfred Owen, in his poem, “Asleep”: And in the happy no-time of his sleeping death took him by the heart. But Moshe was resuscitated by the team which worked on him for about twenty minutes and then decided to transport him to hospital. Alon and I, and of course the doctor and driver-orderly, accompanied Moshe in the ambulance, but not before I had searched fumblingly, with knees knocking, for the envelope containing Moshe’s case history. This was to enable the doctors in the emergency ward to learn the background of Moshe’s present condition.
Though there was no time to lose, the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, which is fifteen minutes from our home, was chosen as the most suitable one for Moshe, as their internal medicine department was on duty that night and was set up to handle his specific problems optimally. When the ambulance with Moshe arrived at the emergency ward, the good news was that Moshe was breathing with the help of a respirator. Also, he had regained his pulse and blood pressure. This meant that he was alive after having suffered cardiac arrest. (I did not know at the time that when a cardiac arrest occurs outside a hospital, only twenty to thirty percent of such patients survive.)
The bad, nay the terrible news was that Moshe was in the deepest coma and without a single reflex. I had not anticipated such a possibility which could not have shocked me more. We were obviously back to square one: Only a little over six years ago, Moshe had remained in the deepest coma after a triple cardiac by-pass operation. It had taken three and a half months for him to reawaken, very slowly, in spite of doctors’ expectations that he would remain a permanent vegetable. Had anyone ever been in two deep comas before? I wondered and waited in anguish. I felt it was almost too much for me to relive the gruesome scenario. Could this be reality or was it merely a horrible nightmare? Why was Moshe being singled out again and why was I made to suffer thus? How long was I to stand on calamity’s scaffold?
Since it is almost unheard of for anyone to recover from a long, deep coma and function normally, as Moshe had done, I was sure that he was quite unique in having the double misfortune of two deep comas. Moshe had always questioned aloud “when the lightning will strike again.” In fact, the certainty of its occurrence increasingly became his incubus. But each one of his doctors had reassured him that his odds for such a scenario were no greater than those of anybody else in the general population. Moshe, however, felt that he had to pack in everything now: He wanted to complete the books he was writing, to travel around the globe and see all those countries and continents to which he had not been, to take in every cultural event possible - in short: To live concentratedly. And this, in spite of severe congestive heart failure, which meant that his heart muscle was weakened and therefore could not pump his blood adequately. Moshe also had some paralysis of the left foot; his walking was altogether seriously impaired. But with him it was mind over matter - his strength of will determined his way of life, however cumbersome and strenuous it might be.
Now he was suffering from severe convulsions, opening his eyes at each convulsion. They spread throughout his body, tapering off slowly only with the help of Valium, a tranquilizer. Though the Valium would surely help to prolong his coma, we were told that convulsions would inevitably cause brain damage. Moshe also turned his head from side to side in an involuntary fashion. This was followed by small tremors. I was reminded of Parkinson’s disease and shuddered at the possibility that Moshe might have acquired this dreaded condition. Standing at his bedside, I felt overcome by the guilty helplessness of the healthy in the presence of the hopelessly ill.
We were told that the first 72 hours would determine the outcome of Moshe’s critical condition. Though he survived those first three days, none of his systems functioned without drugs. Moshe was not even breathing on his own: He was still on the respirator. And as if all this were not enough, he also developed a high temperature which did not react to any medication. The doctors were not certain whether this was due to the open septic wound, dating back to his cardiac surgery, or to a malfunctioning of the brain stem. They said that they would not carry out any tests on Moshe merely to satisfy their curiosity. They would do only those tests the results of which would determine differential treatment. Yet, somehow, I had the feeling that Moshe had been fated to stay alive even now, since there is only one ambulance for cardiac emergencies in the whole of Jerusalem and it was available that night. Also there was very little traffic at night, so that the ambulance was able to get to us in the shortest possible time. In this way I shored up some hope to counter my despair. But six days into Moshe’s coma the doctors were not even sure whether Moshe was brain-dead or not. That was a fact which bewildered me - it seemed to me more important than anything else to establish that issue. After all, a brain-dead person is functionally dead - only his heart is still beating. That is the reason why doctors can remove the heart for the purpose of transplantation (provided the family gives its consent) when the patient is considered to be brain-dead. It has been said of D.WWinnicott, the British psychoanalyst (about his unfinished autobiography), “he was alive when he died.” How true this was for Moshe as well, when he had his cardiac arrest. Realizing the desperateness of Moshe’s situation, Tamara phoned Jonathan, our younger son, and Yona, his wife, who were living in Toronto (where Jonathan was enrolled in a doctoral program) as soon as Moshe had been hospitalized. Alon wondered aloud whether Jonathan should not postpone his flight to Israel so that, if Moshe did reawaken once again from his coma, Jonathan could help him in his recovery. Jonathan and Yona however, were adamant that Jonathan fly home as soon as possible, in view of Moshe’s critical condition. They tried to book a ticket for Jonathan on the first available plane after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. (Moshe’s cardiac arrest had occurred on the eve of Rosh Hashanah). Jonathan arrived on Thursday morning, four days into Moshe’s coma. The reunion was a tearful one for both of us, and I was glad to have Jonathan at my side at this time. We all knew that he would never have forgiven himself had he not seen his father again, even though his father was unaware of his presence.
It was Rodney, our Bostonian cardiologist friend, who had lived in our apartment building six years earlier, when Moshe was so ill, who called me up when Moshe was two days into his coma - before Jonathan ‘s arrival in Jerusalem. Rodney had been informed about Moshe’s desperate state by Tamara and now tried to convince me that Moshe was too ill to live. He told me that, with his severe cardiac congestion, Moshe had not been expected to live for more than two years after his by-pass surgery, at most four years. Yet he had survived for six more years, another miracle. Rodney felt that Moshe was worse off now than six years ago, since his heart was functioning at only twenty per cent of its normal capacity.
Moreover, he was six years older and, as if all this were not enough, his circulation had deteriorated during these years. As a friend he was warning me, that if I did not want Moshe to remain a permanent vegetable, I would have to ask the doctors to stop the antibiotic treatment and cardiac medication. Worse still, I would have to request that Moshe’s respirator be turned off. Rodney stressed that we could not wait too long before taking these negative measures, because Moshe’s heart might be stabilized within the week, and he could then remain in a vegetative state for weeks, months and even years.
This prognosis was too dreadful to contemplate. After sobbing my heart out, I called up Tamara and Alon to share this information with them, though the time was 1 a.m. and I knew that they desperately needed their sleep. For about an hour, Alon and I weighed up the consequences of any steps we might take. For him, “God’s will be done” was a paramount guideline. But I just could not get Rodney’s warning, and the fearful prospects it aroused, out of my head. I finally suggested that we consult Dr. Frank, a friend and senior physician at the hospital. Alon agreed.
When we met Dr. Frank later that morning, he told us that in Israel no doctor would turn off the respirator; but there were other steps a physician might consider taking, although never active ones. Yossi, the father of Yona, and a doctor at another Jerusalem hospital, told us a few days later that such life and death decisions were not ones that a close family member should make. I felt relieved, since I was overwhelmed by the responsibility which I could not, in good conscience, assume. How could I possibly have become actively involved in steps that would hasten the death of my own husband?
Earlier, I had asked Dr. Frank whether he had ever seen a patient who had recovered from a condition such as Moshe’s. He answered quietly: “You have.” Moshe’s had been the one case, unique and dramatic, of a person who had reawakened from a prolonged, deep coma. In fact, as I discovered when he was awakening at the time, no such recovery had ever been medically documented before I wrote my book Recalled to Life, the highly unusual story of my husband who, against all hope and against all reasonable expectations, made what Oliver Sacks called “an ‘impossible’ recovery,” regarded as miraculous by many.We, the family, had not lost faith in the possibility of his revival during those three-and-ahalf months, and we supported him as he recovered from the dreadful disabilities resulting from the severe brain damage he suffered after complications during a coronary by-pass operation. My mother, who spoke to me on the phone from London, believed that if a miracle had occurred once, it might just occur again. I was upset that she perceived me as a kind of miracle-worker and that she almost took it for granted Moshe’s history could be repeated. As far as I was concerned, I did not believe that Moshe had the slightest chance of recovery. No wonder that when I went into the Intensive Care Ward where he lay, facing continuously beeping monitors, and with the hissing of his respirator in my ear, I spoke with no conviction to him when I said: “You will get better.” Alon, the inveterate optimist, could not believe that I had abandoned all hope. He reminded me that at the beginning of his previous coma Moshe also had no reflexes. As an additional infusion of hope Alon told me about the son of the head of his department who awoke from a coma after four months. I countered: “But he was eighteen years old and healthy before his trauma.” Alon fed me a further example of a comatose patient with a positive outcome: a seventy-year-old man who had had two cardiac arrests. During the second one he was unconscious for two weeks, unable even to breathe independently. Yet he did awake from his coma.
I stubbornly clung to my hopelessness. Was it to prevent myself from becoming disappointed later? During Moshe’s first coma I had collected every crumb portending hope, as Alon was doing now. But this time I felt that Moshe must be allowed to die. Alon obtained permission to call in a neurologist friend, Dr. Derek, for a consultation, in order to determine whether Moshe’s brain-stem was still functioning or whether he was brain-dead. It appears that this is not an easy fact to establish. In one of the tests Dr. Derek thought that he evinced a flicker of a reflex in Moshe’s right nipple when he squeezed it. In patients not so profoundly unconscious, this test causes deep pain and can even awaken the patient from a lighter coma. I was not present at this examination, but Dr. Derek told Alon that the problem of consciousness is like a dark, unexplored continent, so that it would be impossible for anyone to make a definitive prediction about it in Moshe’s case. Alon’s hopes were raised somewhat after this examination, unlike my own.
Very gradually the mixture of the waters of our hopes and the cement of our doubts about Moshe’s recovery hardened into the concrete of our conviction of his imminent death. Moshe was always working against deadlines in the articles he wrote and was invariably late in getting to the publisher with them. True to form he was to be late even for his death. In fact, “life kept interrupting his dying” (as Martin Peretz, the editor of New Republic, wrote in his obituary for Donald Cohen in the New Haven Diarist, Oct. 22, 2001).
Alon and Tamara had exchanged apartments for the weekend with good friends of theirs who live near Hadassah Hospital, Mount Scopus, so that our family could be within walking distance of Moshe. (For religious reasons we don’t travel on Sabbath). The phone rang at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning. I was told that Moshe’s condition had worsened. Alon ran to the hospital while Jonathan and I followed a little more slowly. Alon managed to be present when Moshe breathed his last, only five minutes before Jonathan and I arrived. Moshe had not regained consciousness, of course. The doctor and nurse had watched the waves of his electrocardiogram cease, one by one, his life gradually fading out like Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, in which the instrumentalists stop playing one after another and the symphony ‘dies away.’ We, the family, had been watching him die or had hoped that we were not watching him die, for six whole days.
Moshe had had an appointment with death which turned out to be as inescapable as the force of gravity. In the end, he could not defy death and his flicker of light went out. He looked as if he were peacefully asleep. I was reminded of Shelly’s words: “Some say…. that death is slumber.” Pain had been his constant companion; at least he would never again have to suffer any pains - death had cured all his diseases. I recalled that Moshe had expressed this very idea about his mother when she died.
It occurred to me that life and death constituted a continuing process as far as Moshe was concerned, at least after his recovery from his first coma. Some parts of him had died then: First, his leadership capabilities, his ability to take initiatives, his powers of judgment, his deep interest in other people, his capacity to socialize, his spatial capabilities, and, last but not least, the state of his physical health which could deteriorate at any moment, thereby causing his death. So, slowly I had come to accept him in his last years as potentially dying, even dead. It was no longer as shocking an idea for me as it had been when he did not awaken after his coronary surgery. Moreover, Moshe had lived ‘a life half dead, a living death’ when he lay unconscious for over three months. Each of us took a tearful farewell from him, Alon adding a prayer. We left Moshe’s room to talk to the doctor and nurses on duty and finally watched Moshe, covered with sheet, being wheeled out of the room.
On the way home Tamara and her children met us. There were lots of tears, hugs and kisses.
We spent the rest of the day reminiscing about Moshe, crying and laughing intermittently as we recaptured a few of his thoughts and sayings, not forgetting his humor. Above all, some of the most important episodes of our joint lives passed before my mind’s eye - memory has the capacity to yield its material with remarkable speed, a chain of remembrances of a lifetime triggering one another, all of them vividly present to me at that time.
I remembered how I had met him thirty-nine years previously, in 1952, shortly before Christmas, after a lecture he had given in London, on his way from Jerusalem to Oxford, on the three monotheistic religions. We had chatted for a while in the cafeteria in which a group of us had congregated after the lecture, and I had mentioned to him that I was planning to attend his workshop on Hebrew which was to take place in Newbury, one of England’s delightful small towns. Yet I was surprised when, three days later, at that workshop, he actually remembered my name. Had I made that much of an impression on him? He had certainly impressed me greatly with his intellect, his humor and vivacity, as well as with his beguiling smile which, in his roundish face, bestowed on him a puckish mien. I found the combination most appealing and felt myself more and more drawn to him.
Moreover, it turned out that we shared a common cultural background, having both been born and raised in Germany for the first decade of our lives, he in Berlin and I in Leipzig. But while, several months before the outbreak of World War II, my mother, aunt, three siblings, paternal grandmother, two cousins and I moved to Engelberg in Switzerland, where we waited for my father and uncle (already in London) to obtain visas to England for all of us - a feat which they managed to achieve just in time for us to get to London three days before the beginning of the war - Moshe and his parents immigrated to what was then still called Palestine (only in 1948 was the State of Israel founded). The two sets of parents were all observant, Zionist Jews and were later to become great friends.
But Moshe and I shared far more than a common cultural background: I had studied and obtained my first B.A. in Hebrew language and literature at London University before I had switched over to studying psychology. Hence Moshe’s field was not unfamiliar to me but was one that had interested me for many years. I could not have tied myself to a man whose predominant love was mathematics or engineering, or some other discipline of which I was abominably ignorant. It was vital for me to be able to understand what ‘my man’ was preoccupied with for most of the day.
There were also some crucial differences in our backgrounds: Moshe was an only child, while I was the oldest of four children, my youngest brother being a baby at the time of our exodus from Germany. Moreover, while both Moshe’s parents were dental surgeons, my father was a businessman and my mother a full time home-maker.
It took no longer than three days for a love relationship to develop between Moshe and me. He moved to Oxford for a postdoctoral year during which he worked at the world-famous Bodleian library. But he spent much time in London to see me and to meet my family. Alternatively, I would go up to Oxford for occasional week-ends with him.
The match between him and me was considered a highly suitable one by my family. One of my aunts expressed her delight to my mother when informed about Moshe’s background and qualifications: “Es passt so gut” (It is so fitting), she exclaimed, “he also studied” (at a university). According to the ethos of my parent’s community, boys were destined to enter their father’s business, while girls, after completing high school, were meant to marry, the sooner the better. Consequently, a couple consisting of two partners, each of whom had gone to college, was considered to be quite unusual, if not to say unique - so much so that when I registered to enter University College, London, my father was convinced that I would never find a husband. “What man wants to marry a woman who is over-educated”? was his anguished cri de coeur. In his estimation, I would be overqualified for the job of wife, my studies clearly reducing any chance that I might ever have had of entering the holy state of matrimony. No wonder, therefore, that Moshe seemed a direct answer to my father’s prayers. Is it surprising that he and all other senior family members waxed enthusiastic when Moshe appeared on the scene, prepared to rescue me from the dreaded fate of perpetual spinsterhood?
Our love for each other deepened steadily, and three months after we first met, Moshe and I decided to get married, scheduling a July wedding.
The wedding ceremony, held in a North-West London hotel, was followed by a dinner. After hearing all the speeches delivered at that dinner, Moshe absented himself for half an hour in order to write his poem of gratitude to all those who had contributed to our great day. It turned out to be a brilliant tour de force, composed in classic hexameters in German and English. Fortunately, a musician friend brought along the elaborate equipment used at that time to make a recording of it. The memorable first line was addressed to me:
“Lovely queen of my heart, my queen on the day of her glory.”
Yudah, one of our friends who attended our wedding, never forgets to greet me with “queen of my heart” - on those rare occasions on which we meet.
We planned to separate soon after our sublime honeymoon in Italy and France. This was meant to enable me to study at the Maudsley Hospital, Institute of Psychiatry, London, for my Postgraduate Diploma in Abnormal (now we would say Clinical) Psychology, so that I would find work in Israel, in my chosen field. Moshe had to return to Jerusalem to teach at The Hebrew University after his post-doctoral year, spent in Oxford.
One of my father’s close friends came to warn me against this plan, since he was convinced Moshe would not remain faithful to me during that year; after all, how could any man be trusted not to be unfaithful to his wife during such a long stretch of time?
Moshe not only returned to Jerusalem without being able to show off his new bride to whom, incidentally, he remained constant, but he also visited me twice in London during that year. In addition, he went house-hunting in Jerusalem, finally landing an apartment right in the center of the city, which had, adjoining it, what he called a “small wood.” This turned out to consist of three trees next to a garbage dump, but we were supremely happy with our new home, although our cleaning lady pitied us for not even having a balcony on which to hang our laundry. We, however, could not have been more pleased.
We not only lived in this first rented apartment, but in it Moshe also worked at his desk, surrounded by his beloved books. I had meanwhile found a position in a mental health clinic, and when I became pregnant with our first son, Alon, I started to collect data for my doctorate. The topic was, most appropriately, the attitudes to first pregnancy among different cultural groups in Jerusalem. It was Moshe who persuaded me to work for a doctorate and who also helped me phrase some of the disseration, although he was a hardto- please task-master who frequently made me erupt in tears of frustration.
It was in London that I decided to give birth to our first child. We were attending a performance of Hamlet at the Old Vic Theatre on the South Bank of London (the reader may be surprised to know that I cannot remember who acted Hamlet that night) when, in the interval before the final act, my waters burst. I ran to the washroom where I attempted to staunch the flow with innumerable sanitary pads from the vending-machine. Moshe and I raced by taxi to University College Hospital, situated in the West of London, with every traffic-light on the way against us. We both feared that the baby would be born in the taxi, not realizing that Alon would take another twenty hours to make his appearance, with Moshe assisting me throughout the delivery. In that era, his assistance in these circumstances was really unusual, if not to say unheard of, and was possible only at that hospital. Later, Moshe and I would joke about having missed the fifth act of Hamlet.
I pictured Moshe as a proud father of Alon, a beautiful, blueeyed, blond haired boy. Moshe believed in the traditional division of labor, leaving the child-care entirely to me, so that he changed the baby’s diaper only once in his life time, for a photographic session, donning a white apron for the occasion. But he frequently played with Alon, read to him, and was usually around for his bed-time. When Jonathan, the brown-eyed wonder with chestnut-colored hair, arrived on the scene, almost four years later, Moshe’s joy knew no bounds. He was born at the same hospital, when we were en route to a sabbatical in Boston. Moshe helped to “hoover” him out by the vacuum method of delivery. He worked hard for a whole day, trying thereby to spare me the labor pains.
We now had a complete family. Moshe was greatly involved in the education of both boys, who were full of curiosity, mischievous, and part and parcel of most of our activities, which included a lot of travel, to which they adapted easily.
Alon and Jonathan grew up to be warm, bright, insightful men, with a wonderful sense of humor. Both are superlative teachers in the home and with their students. Alon, thirty-five years old when Moshe’s died, is the bearded brother. At the time he taught Rabbinic and Hassidic Thought at Tel Aviv University. Religion, especially prayers and meditation, are his spiritual base, which plays a large role in his life. He was married to Tamara, a goodlooking, intelligent, large-hearted woman, born in California, who gave birth to their two handsome boys, Elisha, blue-eyed like his father, aged six and Neriah, brown-eyed like his mother, aged three at the time of Moshe’s death. Tamara works as a birth enabler, helping to make labor a positive experience for women, who often call her the angel of delivery.
Jonathan was thirty-one when Moshe died. Like Alon, he is an observant Jew but has a more skeptical disposition than his brother. Nor does he share Alon’s interest in meditation. His research is in the experimental study of memory and, unlike other members of my family, he is a fine statistician. He loves nothing so much as to tell a good joke. He married Yona, an Israeli-born warm and attractive woman, who is a lawyer with a sharp, analytic mind. She had given birth to their daughter Tal, the only one of Moshe’s grandchildren who inherited his cone-shaped finger-nails and his broad based nose, three years before Moshe’s death. Tal’s features and curly looks reminded me of Shirley Temple.
Each of my sons and their wives had six years previously helped in an inspiring way to bring Moshe back to life and to enable him to function normally again. They had put all their love, energy and ingenuity into that task, sparing no pains, though this meant an enormous expenditure of time and effort on their part. I was proud to have such children.
Another source of pride and joy, which Moshe had shared with me, was the fact that all of these adults turned out to be exceptionally caring and sensitive parents, and that each one of them played a major part in every aspect of raising their children. But Moshe was far more than the head of his family and I could not but conjure up in my mind the image of Moshe, the great scholar, with a worldwide reputation, professor of Semitic and Biblical studies. One of his students referred to him as “the masterteacher,” known for his high demands (which the good students appreciated). They came from all over the world to study with him. No wonder that he was admired at many institutions of higher learning, such as Harvard, Brandeis, New York University, Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, as well as the universities of Heidelberg and Frankfurt, at all of which he had taught. All this in addition to his regular appointments at the Hebrew and Bar Ilan Universities. He had published hundreds of scholarly articles and more than a dozen books and had headed several large scholarly projects.
Shlomo, a mathematician friend, teaching at Harvard, told me that Moshe was the only person he had ever met, whom he could ask any question pertaining to the Bible and its language. Though Moshe always claimed not to know the answer, he would, after some time and thought, inevitably provide a complete and exhaustive reply.
Since Moshe was highly critical and achievement-oriented, some people considered him to be rather formidable, especially when he would take off his glasses, raise one eye-brow and look quizzically at you. But his sense of humor and the ability he had to laugh at himself tempered these qualities and made him accessible to people from all walks of life.
These were some of the thoughts and images parading before my internal eye on that day, the day on which Moshe passed away. Because it was Sabbath, we could neither call anyone nor drive anywhere until sunset, which occurred at around 6 p.m. that day. But among ourselves we made the plans for the funeral which would take place the following morning. (In Israel it is customary to bury the dead on the day on which they die - this is regarded as honoring the dead.) None of us wanted a night funeral by candlelight, after Sabbath was over. We wanted to enable as many friends, colleagues and students as possible to attend the burial, which meant we had to have announcements in the newspapers, on the radio and even on television. Of course we informed our closest relatives and friends of the news over the phone, after Sabbath. During Sabbath we decided on whom to ask to deliver the funeral orations and in which room we would sit shiva (that is to say, sit on low chairs as a Jewish mourning ritual). It turned out that during the last week of Moshe’s life we had each separately and silently rehearsed for this moment and had planned the funeral and shiva in our minds, though none of us had talked about it before now. I was reminded of one of my patients who had planned her wedding long before she could decide to marry the man whom she was dating.
I slept in the afternoon and woke up amazed, having had the following dream:
On a bus tour with Moshe, I go into another compartment in order to arrange for the next trip. When I return I see that the bus has already left. I am horrified, thinking that Moshe will be so upset and angry with me for having let him go off alone, without me. How can he manage on his own? As I chastise myself, I see a black stool with my sweater on it, in the place where the bus had parked. It is the stool on which I decided to sit during the shiva. Somebody, realizing my anguish, says: “Don’t worry, the bus will come back for you too.”
When I woke up I could not believe that my mind had processed the great event of the day so speedily and so meaningfully and had turned it into a great dream.
In the dream I react with shock to finding myself separated from Moshe without previous warning. I worry how he will manage on his own, in view of the fact that he was so dependent on me in daily life, ever since he woke up from his prolonged coma. I am not yet aware that, as of now, the pertinent question is: How will I manage on my own in my bereavement? But the dream answers this unasked question by comforting me with a promise of a reunion with Moshe, albeit in an after-life: “The bus will come back for you too.”
I rushed to share the dream with my children. We were all amazed, not only at the speed with which my mind had processed the sad events of that morning, but also at the fact that it had actually sent me a message of consolation.
The funeral took place the next morning at 11 a.m. and was attended by a large crowd of people who had known Moshe. In Jerusalem the funeral cortege assembles in a so called funeral-parlor, which is located in the midst of a busy traffic intersection. Here the family members of the deceased shake hands and hug their friends. Here, a man cuts a tear into the clothing of each of the chief mourners to signify the ripping away of a life. Here also, the main eulogies are delivered, before the corpse, which is wrapped in a prayer-shawl. From this assembly place the procession wends its way by cars and buses to the cemetery, which is about three miles away and is situated on a hill, overlooking Jerusalem. Two of Moshe’s close colleagues and friends, Moshe Greenberg, professor of Bible, and Moshe Bar-Asher, professor of Hebrew language, eulogized him most movingly, detailing his life’s accom- plishments. Bar-Asher, who had been one of Moshe’s students, was recovering from a detached retina and had obtained special permission from his ophthalmologist to attend the funeral and to deliver a eulogy for his revered teacher. Unfortunately, however, the words of both speakers were partly drowned out by the noise of the traffic in the streets. But I heard enough to realize that they were summarizing a life full of superlative achievements. Surely, had there been a demand for a curriculum vitae in order to enter the world to come, these eulogies would have amply fulfilled such a requirement.
Both our sons then for the first time recited the kaddish, a prayer in Aramaic, said when grieving the loss of a parent or other firstdegree relative.1 Hearing it from their lips, in a choked voice, was among the most moving moments for me during the funeral. It tore me up, since the kaddish symbolized more dramatically than any other words, that the head of our family was no more, that Moshe had been taken from us for ever.
Alon hesitated until the moment of the actual burial as to whether he would speak at Moshe’s open grave. When he did so, his words were more riveting and poignant than any others that could have been devised. How proud Moshe would have been of him that morning, had he been able to hear him! Who knows? Perhaps he could.
There was no funeral music, there were no flowers to bedeck Moshe’s grave, nor did wreaths cover it. Among Orthodox Jews, it is not considered appropriate to play music or to bring flowers as a final gift to the deceased. Instead, at the completion of the funeral rites, the mourners and their friends each picked up a small stone and walked slowly with it to the grave, on which he or she deposited it. The ultimate austerity divorced from all esthetics! Could there have been a better way to symbolize the terrible reality: “From dust thou comest and to dust shalt thou return?”
Finally, the mourners walked between two lines, formed by those who had attended the funeral. True to tradition, these called out to the mourners: “May God console you, among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
I walked through the lines with my head lowered and eyes brimming with tears, unable to see who had gathered at the final leave-taking of Moshe.
We, the closest family, lingered at the grave-side after the completion of the ceremony. It is too hard, no, it is well nigh impossible to say farewell forever to the person with whom one has shared the best years of one’s life. At this point, the people surrounding me seemed but shadows, without any real substance. The only thing that was real and existed was my feeling of irretrievable loss.