Before No Man Bow (a significant revision)
Strengthen us, Oh Lord, as Thou didst Mordecai
Neither before Haman nor any man would he feign bow.
Take my hand, O Lord, in Thine, lest I lose my way,
That I might walk with Thee, so blessed art Thou.
I acknowledge Thy majesty over all, great and small,
May I awaken each morn, before Thee I hasten to stand.
Thou carest for so many My Lord; is there room for me too?
I promise to serve Thee with both my head and hand.
With purity of devotion may thy heart let go to speak.
Have patience for He may tarry with but even one word
Listen for His message quietly,
lest its echoes reverberate unheard.
Sing a new song to Him each morning.
Awaken to see the world renewed,
Acknowledge before Whom thou dost stand,
the fear of heaven hath he imbued.
When to G-d hath thyself surrendered
And selflessness hast thou found
Give back more than thou hast taken
whilst thanking him with but barely a sound.
Kissing Dad’s Nose
Colon cancer was ending my father’s life-an invitability I understood and accepted. He lived the last fourteen days of his life in a hospice. Caring for him on a near “24/7” basis during his last two weeks was the very least and most I thought I could do. It was for me the essence of “Kibud Av.”
Doing the “right thing” requires sacrifice and, with what little time remained of my father’s life, I could not stand by passively and watch as the seconds of his life ticked away.
My father’s wife and I alternated shifts at the hospice. Even before Dad entered the hospital in the late summer of 2008, we had previously agreed that there would be no time when he would be alone. One of us would be with him whether in the hospital, at home or in hospice at all times. The only day I would not be there, barring a life or death emergency, was on Shabbat, but I had previously instructed her that should a life or death crisis occur on Shabbat, she was to call me without hesitation with the understanding that the sanctity of life superceded the holiness of Shabbat.
The only significant break I took was on the first of two “Shabbats” during his hospice stay. When I returned to the hospice on Sunday morning I learned from my father’s wife that the hospice’s doctor recommended to her (in my temporary absence) that we gradually stop feeding and hydrating my father.
I was stunned. Weren’t doctors sworn to first “do no harm?” Who was this man to recommend that we hasten my dad’s departure from this life?
Like most fathers, I suppose, Dad had a stubborn streak. Call it obstinacy, mule-headedness, whatever you like. Dad wouldn’t open his mouth even for ice cream, his life-long favorite. I persisted. It didn’t discourage me though there is something profoundly sad about feeding your father with a plastic spoon. Whatever I found on his tray I fed him as long as it required no chewing. Ice cream, pudding, mashed potatoes and crushed popsicles worked well for us. Oftentimes it was enough just to wet his lips.
Dad ceased speaking as soon as he entered hospice. G-d does the right thing at the right time. No man is exempted from His awesome governance. However, the corollary is that we must never be lulled into the false belief that doing nothing or the morally wrong thing is an act of righteousness.
Kissing Dad on his nose turned up the corners of his mouth the tiniest bit. It was all he could manage. Gone his cheery disposition, his handsome face now gaunt, frozen and expressionless. He no longer smiled.
‘This is how he’ll look when he dies, I suppose.’ I tried unsuccessfully to block this thought, but it proved itself to be as persistent as my determination that Dad not suffer from either hunger or thirst in his last days.
I was home the morning of the second Shabbat when the phone rang. I picked up reluctantly.
I espied him even before I entered his room, located almost directly opposite the elevators. Asleep, wrapped tightly in clean white blankets, he lay absolutely still. Seconds, only a few remained. I couldn’t get any closer than from where I stood at his bedside. His breathing was like that of a whisper. These final moments were as serene as the quietude of a country pond at sundown.
I checked his feet. He had always complained how cold they were. I hovered over him, looking very closely at his face just one more time. I inhaled his scent.
As varied as our lives may be, they lead to one common end. On this there is no difference of opinion. In moments of mortal extremity—whether it be the sadness of a father’s death or the tragedy of a child’s, we pray its imminence does not terrify our loved one before he draws his final breath. This appears to have been true in Dad’s case.
The Talmud relates the story of the deceased Rabbi Nachman who appeared in the dream of his student Rava. Rava inquired of his master if he had suffered much while he died. “As little as when you remove a hair from a cup of milk,” Rabbi Nachman responded.
Like Rabbi Nachman, my father seems to have suffered little or no discomfort as he departed this world for the next. He had always been readier than I. I grasped his hand, but with as much effort as one requires to remove a hair from a glass for milk, he slipped away.