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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
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Family Ties

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Not long after my mother died, I was sitting on campus talking with a friend and mentioned that it had been a long time since I had seen a frog. I used to love going out into the garden with my mother and our St. Bernard dog in the autumn evenings and see the frogs come out. I have a thing about frogs – probably from reading too many fairy tales.

The next day, I went to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave and saw some movement on the mound of earth. I looked closely and it was a frog. I have never before or since seen a frog in a cemetery, and I had no doubt that it was my mother’s sense of humor winking at me from beyond.

My colleague at work, Sharon, has started to take an interest in religion. She, like many people, is experimenting with connecting to her roots. And she’s very spiritual.

Recently, her father came to her in a dream for the first time in the 12 years since he died. He visited her two nights in a row, asking her to visit him at his home. She wondered what he wanted. Did he have a home she didn’t know about? Was he calling her to the next world? Then she realized what was going on. She opened her diary and saw that it had been his yahrzeit and that she had missed it. That Friday she went to visit his grave, lit a candle and donated money to a shul to learn for him.

On Motzaei Shabbat, Sharon went to a hafrashat challah. The rabbanit there was telling people all kinds of things she had no way of knowing, as if reading the details. Suddenly she calls out, “Who here has a Yossi?” One woman said her father is called Yossi. The rabbanit waved her away and asked the question again. One woman said she had a friend named Yossi. Then suddenly Sharon said, “My father’s name was Yossi, and I forgot his yahrzeit.” Satisfied to have found the Yossi she was looking for, the rabbanit said a prayer and then told Sharon to do something as a tikkun for his neshamah.

A month later, her mother came to her in a dream asking for her help. Sharon realized that she had forgotten her yahrzeit as well, having gotten confused about the date. She called a Chabad rabbi, who told her to have an azkarah for her mother. She organized her family, held an azkarah for her mother and visited her father’s grave. She also decided to take on the task of lighting Shabbat candles from that point on. The azkarah was the first time in 24 years that the family was all together, including members who hadn’t spoken to each other in years because of a quarrel.

We’re not as separated from our loved ones who have left this world as we think. And our actions in this world help them in the World to Come in ways we can’t imagine. They sometimes come to us in our thoughts in order to remind us of this if we should forget. And if we recognize our obligation to honor their memories, we can grant them an illui neshamah that we can’t even dream about.

Note to readers: After this column was scheduled for publication, Rosally Saltsman realized that today’s date, 24 Tevet, was her mother’s birthday.

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Not long after my mother died, I was sitting on campus talking with a friend and mentioned that it had been a long time since I had seen a frog. I used to love going out into the garden with my mother and our St. Bernard dog in the autumn evenings and see the frogs come out. I have a thing about frogs – probably from reading too many fairy tales.

In an April Lessons in Emunah column, I wrote an article called “Learning to Dance in the Rain” about two friends who were very ill. One was in a hospice. The doctors had given up hope and the family waited with a heavy heart. But there was still One Doctor left. And He began to heal her. Slowly, the disease began to reverse itself, slowly it began to withdraw.

When I call my friend on her birthday and ask her how it feels to be her new age, she answers, “It’s better than the alternative.” Yes, we’ve all heard Vivian Greene’s words: “Life’s not about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

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