I write these words the week of my dear father’s yahrzeit. Despite the passage of time, the hurt of loss remains. I am left with memories of love and kindness, boundless faith and emunah that can never be taken away.
We wonder sometimes. After all the hours I’ve spent parenting in my lifetime, all the sleepless nights, the carpools, the hours of homework, myriad of appointments, moments trying to sooth hurts, dinners and lunches prepared, what does a child remember?
Dyukno shel aviv – that image of a father and mother remain embedded within a child’s soul, accompanying the child wherever he may go. Years may pass but a parent’s voice endures.
Sometimes it is the quietest of moments that create the strongest impact.
The last days of my father’s illness brought us much sadness. We were shell shocked at the speed of which this dreadful disease had progressed. My father was fading before my eyes, like grains of sand disappearing through the fingers of time.
All of the grandchildren had a most joyful bond with their ‘Abba Zayda,’ as my father was lovingly called. He was more than just a grandfather or zayda. Somehow their connection felt as if he was their ‘Abba’ as well. Abba Zayda filled each home with his towering presence, his laughter, his love of life, his never ending patience and his constant wisdom.
The children were asking where their Abba Zayda was and when he would be coming home from the hospital.
My daughter, Shaindy, was a little child of nine. She had a day off from school and asked if she could visit with her Abba Zayda. I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea. “I know I’ll be a little bit sad Mommy, but I don’t want to be home and not spending the day with Abba Zayda. Please? Can I come with you when you go in the morning?” she asked.
“Of course, Shaindy,” I agreed as I hugged her and brought her close to me.
We trekked to Sloan Kettering and walked into the hospital room. I had a heavy heart. My father’s eyes were closed, tightly shut. His breathing was labored. The only sound in the room was the pulse of the machines beeping. I did not even know if my father realized that we were there. My mother was sitting at his bedside. Her face was etched with grief but the moment she saw Shaindy she lit up with joy.
“Shaindy!” she exclaimed. “Abba Zayda will be so happy that you came! You know how much Abba Zayda loves you!”
We inched closer to my father’s bed and stood there for a few moments.
Shaindy looked at my mother and me.
“Can I sing a song for Abba Zayda?”
I could not speak.
“Of course!” my mother responded. “Abba Zayda would love to hear your voice. What would you like to sing?”
“HaMalach HaGoel…. when Abba Zayda would come over our house and say Shema with me, he would always sing HaMalach HaGoel. Now I want to sing for Abba Zayda.”
What an impossible sight! Just a few short week ago my father had been filled with strength, telling bedtime stories and singing the Shema with my children. Now he lay before me and I was not even sure that he knew we were standing beside him.
Shaindy leaned towards my father. She began to sing. Low at first, and then she gathered her courage. Her sweet voice filled the room. This little girl sang with all her heart for her dear Abba Zayda.
When she was done the room was once again silent.
Slowly, very slowly, my father raised one arm in the air. His eyes were shut tight. He could not speak. I could see that he was using all his remaining strength. What was my father doing? And then, my father slowly raised his next arm. His palms barely touched. Once. Again. And again. It was the most delicate of sounds but it was clearly my father’s applause.
Fatigued, my father’s hands dropped to his sides. Though weary and worn out, my father dug deep to find his last ounce of energy to give his little grandchild a final gift.
Applause. A message of appreciation. I hear you, my girl. I am with you, my child. Know that I love you. And hold onto this memory, this final chesed of mine, forever.
*Lilui nishmas HaRav Meshulem HaLevi ben HaRav Asher Anschil. A giant of emunah and love.