The phone rang. It was a call I’d been dreading.
“Well, are you going to pick it up?” asked my wife after the third ring.
Bobbie, my dad’s wife, was calling as we had agreed she would in the event of a life-threatening emergency. My father was dying of stage-four colon cancer.
“Alan, I’m taking your father to the emergency room.”
As I learned later that morning, Bobbie had rushed him back to the hospital for severe chemotherapy induced incontinence.
“Dad’s inside,” she said, nodding toward the treatment room.
“My God, what am I walking into here?” I wondered. Bobbie followed me in. The air was fetid. Dad lay atop a gurney wearing a loosely tied hospital gown. He had lost so much weight that his skin fit him like an over-sized suit. His yellowish skin tone reminded me of the corpses I had seen as a Chevra Kadisha volunteer. I trembled in fear of my father’s life.
“Alan?” Dad whispered. He grasped my hand with his still powerful clench.
“Yes, Dad, I’m right here.” We both managed a little smile.
Sarah, the head nurse, suggested that Bobbie and I leave but nodded approvingly when I stayed at my father’s side.
Moments later, the door opened.
“Dr. Busch?” inquired a young resident who had affixed his black suede kippah with two clips.
“Shalom aleichem. I’m Alan Busch, Dr. Busch’s son,” I spoke up.
“I’m Dr. Benjamin Finerman. Aleichem shalom,”he replied. “Dr. Busch,” he addressed my father, “we’re just waiting for the paperwork to admit you. I thought I’d come by and introduce myself.” “May your father have a refuah sheleimah,” he whispered to me as he turned to leave.
We were exhausted after Dad’s first 48 hours. The chronic incontinence had turned the end of his life into a nightmare. It was a battle we fought incessantly for two weeks.
The doctors prescribed several treatments. Their ineffectiveness frustrated and fatigued us.
I desperately called my dad’s gastroenterologist at 5 a.m. “Doctor, the tincture of opium you prescribed hasn’t worked.
“The incontinence is destroying him faster than his cancer.”
“I’ve tried everything I know,” he wearily admitted, “but if the tincture is not working, I do not know how to stop it.” My heart sank.
We requested another consultation with the oncologist. “The prognosis varies with each person,” he explained. “This could go on for 3-6 months, or even a year. There is nothing more we can do for him here.”
Dad was not ready to go home, but the hospital was ready to discharge him the next day. We were running short of time. Dad was worn out. We needed a break. Ron went for a coffee while I wandered over to one of several family lounges overlooking Lake Michigan. It was one of those moments when you just stare out the window lost in thought.
I suddenly heard the voice of my mentor, Reb Isser, zt”l:”Davening is like dialing long distance to ‘De Aibishter.’ Call His number every day and pray with all your heart. You may get a busy signal, as lots of folks are trying to reach Him. So be patient or leave a message. He returns every call.”
“Alan, do you mind if I join you?” Ron asked from the hallway. We sat down together.
“Dad’s situation is so sad,” he began. “His incontinence is causing him so much suffering. I’ve heard him quietly crying.”
That evening, Ron, looking weary, went back to Dad’s apartment to sleep while I stayed the night with our father.
“Is it still okay if your father cries?” I mused while watching Dad sleep at 3 a.m.
“Everything alright in here?” whispered our night nurse Barb, who had poked her head in.
“Good morning, Barb. I’m going to step out for a bit, okay?”
“No problem,” she answered, “I’ll look in after him. You go ahead.”
I returned to the same lounge. No other souls were around. Again, I heard the whisper of Reb Isser’s voice. “Be patient,”he counseled. “De Aibishter will pick up. You’ll see.”
“Ribbono shel Olam,” I began my silent prayer. “My father, Avrum ben Rose, calmly awaits the end of his days. Please heal his bowel so that he may live them out in dignity and peace.”
And so, I waited to hear from Him – “Who heals all flesh and performs wonders.”
My cell phone rang the next day.
“Good morning, Alan!”
“Dad?” I nearly panicked. “You’re still home, right?”
“It’s worked!” he shouted excitedly. “The tincture has finally kicked in.”
“So Dad, tell me how you feel?” I asked, sharing his excitement.
“Sonny Boy, I feel I feel,” his voice cracked ever so slightly. “I feel like I’ve so much to be thankful for.”
Cancer was killing my father – who chose life while he was dying.
The mighty combination of his unyielding determination to reclaim his body and the power oftefillah won out in the end.
Dad died on Shabbos morning, October 18, 2008. I stood at his side, held his hand, and watched as he gently departed this world. All was serene on the face of this man, avi mori, whose dignity had been restored.
Editor’s note: There is a correction to the December 4 Lessons in Emunah column, A Chuppah Tale.
It was the bride’s father who spoke under the chuppah. He told of his miraculous recovery from a two-month long coma, heart attack and case of Legionnaires Disease, which is usually fatal. When he asked his rabbi how he merited such a miracle, his ravasked him if he had ever done anything special for a widow or an orphan. It was then that he recalled the woman who could not afford to pay for the groceries that she needed from his store. He marked everything down and told her she would pay when she could. But when her husband died he told her not to worry about the bill. He was canceling it, but continued to give her food.
But now he was paid back in a way he could never imagine, as the groom standing alongside his daughter under the chuppahwas the grandson of that very same widow.