Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Final Word

Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman 

When dealing with grief and mourning, if there is one ‘rule’ which always applies it is that there are no rules which are always applicable.

There is nothing more personal and more individual than how we all cope with grief.

There are people who want to ‘talk out’ their pain and there are those who are taciturn and reticent.

Therefore, if there is one area in the Rabbinate in which I tiptoe my way around people and their feelings, it always involves mourning and grief.

Especially difficult is when I have to navigate and sometimes choreograph end of life moments.

Parents often take advantage of a final meeting to attempt to impart some important lesson and/or attempt to reconcile and smooth over repressed resentment which was held on to far too long.

When Jack Rubinoff (name changed) was preparing for his final journey, he asked for his three children, Chaim, the oldest, who lived nearby; Leah, his only daughter who was in Lakewood and Doniel, his youngest who was living ‘out of town’, to come and say their good-byes.

Jack, in the absence of his wife who had passed away five years ago, asked me to be around his home when they arrived. As he put it, “Rabbi, you will be the chargé d'affaires.”

I understood very well why Jack needed me there.

Jack was ‘old school’ when it came to parenting.

He believed in a strict division of labor in his house; as he went to work every day in Manhattan and he expected when he arrived home at 7 that his children could be seen; however, they should not be heard until after he finished his dinner.

When he was younger in the early days of the marriage, he spent some time doing homework with Chaim and Leah; however, by the time Doniel was born, Jack was a senior vice-president at the firm and had little time and even less patience for the attention-starved youngster.

Therefore, is some ways, the father whom Chaim and Leah grew up with was a different father than the one Doniel knew.

Chaim and Leah still remembered a father who would take them on walks and spend quality time with them.

The father Doniel knew was aloof and distant; a man absorbed in his work with little patience for his precocious child.

I was therefore most concerned what would happen when Doniel arrived to depart from his father.

Unfortunately, by the time Doniel came, Jack was on a respirator to assist his breathing; he could no longer verbally communicate, however, he was totally lucid.

Doniel entered the room of his dying father and both preferred that I didn’t leave them alone.

Jack handed me a piece of paper on it was written in the semi-legible handwriting of man whose strength was being sapped from him- the following words, “Doniel, I so wish we would have had more time to talk and to share good times together.”

This was Jack’s last chance to make amends and to connect with the son he knew he had neglected.

It was his final attempt at reconciling with the son he never really knew.

I handed Doniel the note.

He looked at it as if it was a daf Gemara; his face twisted in deep thought and concentration.

Finally, Doniel took out his pen, scribbled something, handed me back the note and quickly left the room, his eyes tearing.

As I handed Jack the note his eyes began to swell with tears which soon began to cascade down his cheeks in a torrent.

He dropped the note and it fell onto the floor.

As I bent down to pick it up, I saw that just two words were written by Doniel.

The two words were, “Me too.”