Sunday, December 4, 2016

Losing My Mother - Where Did My Pastoral Wisdom Go?

As I wrote about in September, my mother was, at the time, gravely ill.  She passed away on October 7.  I haven't written anything personal since then, and I wanted to address this a bit.

On Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, my sister messaged me that my mother was not oriented to time and place, which I knew was bad. So I made plans to travel down to San Jose.  I got there on the afternoon of the 6th.  In what was an amazing turn, mom was still conscious when I got to the nursing home, so we spent a few hours talking and reminiscing.

The morning of Friday the 7th, I got word that she was unconscious and unresponsive.  I got to the nursing home, and seeing what was happening, told my sister she needed to get here.  We were sitting a vigil until about 1pm, when we went to get lunch.  Shortly after we got back, mom went into respiratory arrest and died.

I had seen people die many times in hospitals as a chaplain, so the physical process wasn't startling to me, but my sister had never seen anyone die before, so it was very hard for her.  Nonetheless, it was an overwhelmingly difficult time, as we cried, hugged each other and made notifications.

The Jewish communities of San Jose and Sunnyvale immediately stepped up and provided us with lots of support. I spent that evening at the rabbi's house for Shabbat dinner, and it was a wonderful break.

The next morning at services, I started crying during the liturgy said during the Days of Awe, asking that we be written in the Book of Life.  The same thing happened on Yom Kippur morning, during the Avinu Malkeinu (traditionally translated as "Our Father, Our King") at the line "Healer of the sick of Your people."

On a rational plane I understood that everyone dies, and even had come up with a beautiful way to understand the prayer for healing, when dealing with dying patients.  This prayer asks for Refuat haNefesh u'Refuat HaGuf, Healing of Spirit AND healing of Body.  This line can easily be read as Refuat HaNefesh O'Refuat HaGuf, Healing of Spirit OR Healing of Body, making it a meaningful prayer over someone who is actively dying.

Yet, despite knowing this, I was absolutely amazed, in the moments, that my pastoral wisdom had escaped me, and that this liturgy was so difficult for me.  I couldn't figure it out!

Of course not; I was in intense grief.  All of our knowledge and wisdom is overwhelmed by the grief and we can't access it.  I was told by my teachers, that they would have been very concerned if I had responded in any other way.  But at the time, it seemed so bizarre.

The things that brought me comfort through all of this were that:

1) My mother somehow seemed to know I was coming and stayed awake until I got there.
2) My mother waited until we got back from lunch to die.  Again she somehow knew our presence even if she was completely unconscious.
3) The love and support of Congregation Sinai San Jose ( was amazing.  Many people whom I didn't know, knew who I was and came to express their words of comfort to me.  It was truly wonderful knowing that this home away from home truly had my back and enveloped me in love and comfort. 

Losing my last parent (my father died in 1999) was extremely hard, but having so many wonderful people around me made this a much easier experience, and I will always be grateful.


  1. Hi Rona, Thank you for sharing this. I am sorry for your loss. I am glad that our community was able to be there to support you.