As we approach each New Year, we fervently pray for health, happiness and many blessings. But since the loss of my parents, I find myself contemplating the years that have passed, the years when I had my parents. I lost my mother seven years ago and I often think about all that she has missed – the great grandchildren she never met, the simchas she didn’t attend, the holidays we could not share. I think of all the things she has missed, and of all that I missed in not having her with me to share in my everyday life, the eventful days as well as the mundane.
It will be soon be a year since the loss of my father, Arthur Loschak (Asher Anshel Hakohen). Every day, and especially every holiday, celebrated without his presence brings back so many memories. He came to live with us after my mother passed away. During that time he became a member of our shul where he was loved, admired, and greatly respected by everyone he encountered. He was the Zeidy of the shul, but he was not just your run of the mill zeidy. People referred to him as a “walking miracle.” He was famous for his push-ups, which he did everyday until he was 92. He told wonderful stories his time in Romania and in the Russian army. He was loved and will be remembered for his jokes, his sense of humor, his two thumbs up, and his one-liners, such as, “My complaint department is closed!”
Invariably, my thoughts are directed to the two months he spent in the ICU at Columbia University Hospital, where he remained until his final days. Though it was an incredibly difficult time, and painful to think about, I would like to share a couple of small miracles that occurred while he was there. In fact, a wonderful volunteer from the organization Chesed 24/7 said to me at the time, Someone has to write this story! I told him that I would.
Not long after we transferred him to this hospital, my father had to undergo a very delicate procedure and his course of treatment would be determined by the results obtained from it. After much soul searching, and with rabbinic guidance, we agreed to the procedure. All seemed to be well at first, but then things started to go wrong. A few days later we were told that my father had gone into septic shock. Suddenly, they began monitoring his brain waves, as they were convinced he was no longer responding. This went on for a couple of days.
One day, as I was sitting alone by his bedside, a Tehillim in my hand, a young woman walked into my father’s room and introduced herself as a hospital chaplain. I just wanted to be alone and was not in the mood for analysis or pep talks. Nevertheless, we spoke for a while. Though she was very sweet and genuinely seemed to want to help, I was hoping she would leave as I was feeling too drained to continue the conversation. Focusing on the Tehillim I was clasping, she asked me what my favorite psalm was. I told her it was Psalm 23. She asked me why. Resigning myself to this not being the quick visit I envisioned, I explained that it makes me feel at peace, for it tells us that Hashem is always with us even in the darkest of times. As it says, “Though I walk in the valley overshadowed by death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.”
Undaunted, and in spite of (or maybe because of) my obvious discomfort and reticence, this caring young chaplain suggested, “Why don’t we say this Psalm out loud together for your father?” Not feeling able to share this personal time with her, I declined her request. “I’m not up to it right now,” I told her, “but maybe I will say it for him later.” At last, she wished me well and, after assuring me she’d be back to see how we were doing, left.
Though I spent much of my time at the hospital quietly saying Tehillim, in truth, I had never said it aloud. The chaplain’s suggestion lingered in my thoughts and I decided to stand beside my father’s bed and say this psalm out loud. I told my father how it helped me through difficult times, just as it would help him now. I stood there reciting this short Psalm #23, out loud.
When I was done, I looked up and was astonished to see my father’s beautiful clear blue eyes staring up at me! He had opened his eyes! The psalm I recited had pierced a barrier! Later, the nurse removed the brain monitor and commented, “It must be that the medicine we gave him yesterday (with no results) has finally started working.” But I knew better. I also now knew why Hashem sent this particular hospital chaplain to see me at just this time, and why she started questioning me about my favorite psalm.
Though I wanted to tell the chaplain, who had became my new hero, I did not see her again that week. And then, “coincidentally,” I literally ran into her about a week or two later, as I was exiting an elevator which she was about to enter. She explained that she had been away, but was happy to see me and anxious to hear how my father and I were doing. As we walked, I told her how I had hoped for the chance to thank her for her amazing visit. I was sure she was a messenger from G-d, sent to my father’s room at a very critical time. She greatly appreciated what I told her and thanked me for sharing this wonderful story. She told me I made her day. A few days later, the Chesed 24/7 volunteer came to my father’s hospital room to ask me about the “Tehillim story” which the chaplain had shared with him and the other chaplains in the hospital. It seems my father and I were not the only ones affected by this short visit.
My father never did recover, but we had time to spend with him, to daven together and communicate our feelings and thoughts. Sadly, my father was never able to answer us, as he had been intubated, but whenever he opened his eyes, I knew he heard us. There were many ups and downs, but when he heard my brother singing Lecha Dodi on Friday nights, and opened his eyes at the sound of his favorite tefillah, I knew he was davening too.
As my brother and I davened at my father’s side Shabbos morning, the 6th of Adar, a day before Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrtzeit, another miracle occurred. Like a candle giving off a bright spark before it is extinguished, sunlight lit up the room, shining brightly over my father’s bed. Startled, I remember looking out the window, marveling at how sunny it had suddenly become. Minutes later, he was gone, leaving my brother and me alone, at his bedside. The sunlight that had flooded his bed, lighting up his room only moments before, had faded. Again I recalled Psalm 23: “And I shall dwell in the House of Hashem for long days.”
May his memory be a blessing.