When my mother was 77, she fell and broke a hip. She had gone grocery shopping with a friend, and as she wheeled her shopping cart out of the store, she assumed there was a dip in the curb. There was not. The cart fell over, taking my mother with it.
At the hospital, my mother endured a battery of tests and x-rays. She met with the surgeon. “Rita, I have good news and bad news,” Dr. Schwartz told her. “The bad news is that you had a nasty fall, and you’ll need a complete hip replacement. This surgery lasts approximately two hours. The good news is that, nowadays, this type of surgery is fairly routine, and you can expect a very good recovery.”
“But doctor!” my mother protested, “I have very serious heart conditions and my heart just can’t manage two hours of surgery and anesthesia.” She asked Dr. Schwartz to confer with her long-time cardiologist. The cardiologist agreed with my mother that her fragile heart could not withstand a two-hour surgery. He brokered a radical deal with the surgeon: a hip replacement surgery to be performed within twenty minutes.
The surgeon prayed as he summonsed all his energy and skill to perform the surgery, which he completed within the allotted time. The surgery was successful; and then my mother’s system began to fail. Late that night the doctors told us to get our mother’s papers in order. We prayed.
Miraculously, my mother rallied. After six weeks in the hospital (which she called “incarceration”), she was allowed to go home. She learned to walk with a walker, navigate stairs, and live with her handicap.
Six years later, her hip began to hurt. Really hurt. My mother was not a complainer, but the fierce, piercing pain became unbearable. I took her to the surgeon, and he x-rayed her on the spot. “Bad news, Rita,” he said. “You’re going to need another hip replacement.”
“But doctor,” my mother stammered, “you told me I would never need another surgery!”
“Nobody expected you to live this long,” Dr. Schwartz replied.
My mother countered that she was not a candidate for more surgery. Her heart could not withstand it. The surgeon explained that the cartilage had worn away, and there was bone scraping against metal. “It’s going to hurt,” he concluded. The only alternative to surgery would be to take heavy pain medication.
“But doctor, that would be dangerous for me!” my mother wailed. “I don’t want to be woozy, because I’m afraid of losing my balance. I can not afford another fall!”
Dr. Schwartz had no other alternatives up his sleeve. He suggested my mother go home and think about what she wanted to do. Upon her arrival home, she phoned her long time mentor and rabbi at the Temple Akiba.
Rabbi Maller offered a solution. “Rivka,” he said, “I will pray for you. Also, get your daughters together, your grandkids, and your friends and relatives, and ask them to pray for you at sunset that your hip pain go away. Sunset is a very powerful time for prayer. A short prayer is fine. You know, the shortest prayer in the Bible was when Moses prayed for his sister Miriam. He said, ‘G-d, please heal her.’ ”
And so it was. My mother recruited all of us for the sunset prayer. Each day she opened the Los Angeles Times to the weather page with the sunrise and sunset times, and rested it on her kitchen table. At first, she would put in occasional reminder calls just before sunset. Then my children would remind me, as they noticed the sun setting. “Mommy,” they would announce, “it’s time to pray for Bubby.” They would look heavenwards and say aloud, “Hashem, please help Bubby’s hip to feel better.”
Not long after we started our campaign, my mother’s hip pain went away. There was no physiological reason for that searing pain to subside. But it did. She was hesitant to talk about it, for fear that somehow that would cause the pain to return. But it didn’t. Once in a while she took a pain killer, but not often.
My mother lived for two more years, until shortly after her 85th birthday. I thanked Rabbi Maller, expressing my gratitude for his suggestion, and his prayers, which improved the quality of my mother’s life dramatically. I was sorry I hadn’t thought of a prayer campaign myself.
So, what I do to help others is I pass along the story of my mother and the sunset prayers. And now I have passed it along to you.