My iPod will be collecting dust over the next year, and my car radio is set to an all-news station. No music while I’m saying kaddish for my mother, who passed away last week after a long illness. But I can’t control what they do at my bank, and when I stopped in the other day, Elton John’s "Circle of Life," with its time-appropriate lyrics, quickly ensconced itself in my brain (the kids today call it an earworm).
There’s more to do than can ever be done in this world, and my mother Sondra Dickter, a"h, didn’t get to do anything close to what she wanted. Had she been healthy for the past 25 years instead of struggling with Parkinson’s disease, she would have been teaching far beyond 1992, when she took disability leave, and if she retired by now she would be spending a good part of the year in Israel with my father, where they’d entertain their visiting children and grandchildren while my mother worked on wonderful art projects and children’s books. As I said at her funeral, she was a dynamically creative person who, even with her unsteady and unreliable hands, managed to crank out dozens of notebooks full of stories dedicated to her family and poems as well as paintings and wood carvings that decorate her grandchildren’s rooms.
While it’s a painful time for my family, there are many silver linings in the cloud. Although she died suddenly, with no family members present at the nursing home at the time, she had the company of her dedicated husband six days a week, including long stretches during Jewish holidays, as well as the frequent company of her children and grandchildren, about the last pleasure she had left to enjoy while trapped in a body that was almost completely malfunctioning.
Now, she’s free of that trapped body to soar with the angels. If we are rewarded in the next world for suffering in this one, she will take her rightful place among the VIPs in the presence of her creator.
I’m grateful that right before she suffered the setback that sent her to long-term nursing care I had a chance to visit her for an extended time, just the two of us, and have a long conversation that would turn out to be our last. I was the last family member to visit her two days before she died, but when I close my eyes and think of her, the image burned in my brain isn’t the person confined to a bed but the one living with her ailment, battling it all along, fighting to wrest every bit of quality time she could from the cold hands of a cruel disease, and for most of 25 years, winning. As much of a tragedy as this is, it’s also an inspiration.
After the surreal week of shiva at my father’s house I went home, and sat with my children, just staring at them, admiring normal moments as they negotiated who would use which laptop or the DVR. My youngest, Jacob, later offered a deep thought. "I wish you could change the channel on a mirror," he said.
The circle of life.