…and Kiddush Hashem
My father hk”m* was blessed with having incredible daughters, sons-in-law, sons, and daughters-in-law who made sure he was accompanied and cared for around the clock. In the past four years, there was probably not a total of three hours when there was not somebody in the house from the family to care for him.
Some of us were local, others from West Hempstead, Edison, Monsey, Florida, Chicago, Switzerland, and Israel. Some were able to offer more time than others. But he always had family for company, day and night.
The biggest break the caregivers had was during “chavrusa time,” in which my father spent his time learning a halachah topic with Dr. David Levenson and Steve Weissman, each a tzadik in his own right. That daily hour gave him a reason to continue in life. Originally, it was in person, and then it switched to Zoom when the pandemic arrived.
Yet, my father was also fortunate to have the most wonderful professional caregivers. Aldene, Jackie, and Dee, although coming from the Island of Jamaica, became an essential part of our family, rotating their stay until Immigration put it to a stop. Each one was smart, intuitive, and caring.
When their participation was no longer possible, my sisters cobbled together a crew of wonderful caregivers, including Prima, Vadisha, Esther, Sharda, and Tara. Russ and Shirley were two outstanding therapists who brought my father back to physical life. Special thanks, of course, are due to Dr. Debbie Rimler, who despite her busy schedule and family matters, managed to give my father so much of her personal attention and medical expertise, sometimes in concert with my brother-in-law, Dr. Rob Koppel. And then there were those who came every Shabbos to drop off flowers and Shabbos treats.
During the virtual shiv’ah, almost all of the aides showed up on the Zoom screen. Some, like Vadisha and Esther, simply cried uncontrollably.
There was one aide who came primarily on Shabbos and sometimes for the night shift. She tells me she reads my articles, so I will change her name in order not to cause her any discomfort. I will call her Mary Lou.
Mary Lou was a professionally trained nurse’s aide and knew what she was doing. Be we often wondered how caring she was for my father. She didn’t exhibit the same warmth toward my father as the others. Sometimes she did not seem to go the extra mile.
Then came that fateful Friday night when my father was obviously readying to leave this world. Mary Lou walked in, not expecting anything unusual; she saw my father in his sad condition and broke down – sobbing and sobbing in a mild state of shock.
After the shiv’ah, Mary Lou came to my father’s house to receive the holiday bonus due her. She was still so awfully sad. And she told us some very revealing things we did not know.
She said: “You don’t know what it meant to me when your father and family insisted that I eat together with you at the Sabbath table. It made me feel that I wasn’t just a hired hand, but part of the family.”
She also surprised us by telling us that at one point she had marriage problems. She decided to consult with my father. She said he gave her such sound advice, which likely saved her marriage. “Just listen carefully to what you say and what your husband is saying,” counseled my father. “Listen carefully and then try to work things out. Don’t just dismiss each other” was the advice from a rabbi who could no longer be the active lion he was.
She said that she will never meet a man like our father or our family again. And this was coming from Mary Lou who we were not even sure if she fathomed who and what my father was.
In this day and age, when so many of our people are making headlines for the wrong reasons, it is good to know that kiddush Hashem is still part of our fabric. But that will never reach the headlines of the New York Post.
*hareini kaparas mishkavo (may I be an atonement for him), which a son should use when referring to his father during the first year after his passing
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.