For Penina bat Frieda V’Chaim…May her neshama have an aliyah!
It was erev Rosh Hashana, when I ended the call that I dreaded to receive, my mind whirled with flooding cherished memories, my heart aching with profound sadness that’s unique to losing a loved one.
My Aunt Phyllis, a”h, was truly, an amazing woman. I was blessed to have known her so closely! She was one of the kindest, sweetest people I’d ever met! In all the many years I’d known her, from my earliest memory, to now an adult, I can never remember her angry. She embodied a special gentleness that came from her neshama.
Aunt Phyllis, along with her husband, my Uncle Maury, both made the time, to make a personal relationship with me, a lonely little girl of ten years old! Their efforts, as the years continued, left a lasting seed in my turbulent childhood.
I didn’t grow up in a frum or stable household. My mother, a”h, a child survivor of the Holocaust, had severe untreated mental illness. My childhood was filled with a tremendous amount of stress and abuse. By the time I was three years old, that stress had manifested in a physical illness, Crohn’s disease. In the 1970s doctors knew very little about how to treat it in children. Thus began a childhood filled with continuous painful hospitalizations, and treatments with awful side effects.
Years later, after drifting apart, I found myself living within walking distance to my aunt and uncle. I had long since become frum, had my own family, yet I was lonely for functional family. So, I reached out for the love my aunt and uncle had planted many years ago. They lovingly embraced me back, no questions asked! I gained family, and my children, healthy loving pseudo-grandparents!
Aunt Phyllis and I began our truly meaningful relationship. She saw that I needed a mother in my life, and simply filled the role! We talked weekly, if not more! We laughed a lot. We talked a lot. We shared a lot. We never ended a conversation or visited without exchanging I LOVE YOU’s. Her spirituality and connection to G-d was something to admire! Though her and my uncle lived their lives as traditional Jews, she told me many stories about her growing up in an Orthodox Jewish home. She was an only child when her mother had a later-in-life baby – a little sister that my aunt just adored! Their mother tragically died young, so when Aunt Phyllis’ sister was just twelve years old, my aunt, already married, wound up taking her sister and raising her from bat mitzvah to chuppah, being both mother and sister! Apparently, being a foster mother to motherless neshama’s came naturally for her. No wonder she took me under her wing seemlessly!
She always impressed me how close to G-d she was, how she firmly believed that Moshiach was coming, and she anxiously awaited his arrival. Since she was little, she’d always kept a packed suitcase under her bed, waiting to go to Eretz Yisrael. She couldn’t wait to hear the shofar blow around the world, heralding Moshiach. I admired her steadfast amazing faith! Even me an Orthodox Jew, hadn’t quite reached that level of faith to have a packed suitcase on hand – ready!
Once, a few hours before Rosh Hashana, our areas weather siren went off, the radio alerted us that there was a tornado spotted, we were advised to take cover! As I stuffed my kids into the tiny basement bathroom, I called my aunt and uncle to make sure they knew to go down into their basement to be safe. Aunt Phyllis, answered the phone oddly happy.
“Amy!” She cried excitedly, calling me by my English name. “Do you hear the shofar? Moshiach is on his way – I have my suitcase!”
I was taken aback at first. I expected them to have simply not heard the siren. I was horribly sad to be the one to let her know that Moshiach wasn’t here yet! That the “shofar” she heard was a weather siren alerting us to a tornado. My aunt’s amazing faith never ceased to astound me.
Our connection was so strong, all I needed to do was think about her or need to talk to her and she’d call me! And vice versa! We talked about it and qualified we must have a special intuitive connection together – an unbreakable bond between us. We never ever argued or fought. There was just pure love and friendship between us!
Shortly after she died, I had an amazing dream about her. I was in the most brilliant garden filled with rows of red roses. I met my dear aunt in one of the rows, with another woman I’d never met in life. She introduced me to her mother! I was embraced by her, then by my aunt. The absolute love I felt from both of them was so pure! It was serene and peaceful there, they both looked happy and content together. I had no doubt I was in a level of shamayim, being assured my aunt was okay and at peace. I woke up after the embrace.
I miss my dear aunt tremendously. I will miss her as a mother, as an aunt, and as my friend. The special and unique relationship I had with her, is one I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I know in my heart I will see her again, as it’s promised in the Torah, when Moshiach comes there will be t’chiyat hameitim (resurrection of the dead) and we will be reunited with our loved ones! So, until then, as I pack my suitcase, to store under my bed – in her honor, as we all wait for Moshiach to take us to Eretz Yisrael, I will savor all that I learned from her and all the love she gave me.