My mother, my teacher, fell ill on Saturday night, almost two weeks ago. She was ill for a day and a half before she died. My two sisters, both of them nurses, were by her side till the end. She had asked that her life should not be prolonged by any artificial method. She was 101 years old, and she thought that she had lived long enough. I did not expect to be upset by her death, or very unhappy. She had had a good life. I know that life is temporary, and she lived longer than most. We buried her a few hours after she died. It was raining that day. Listening to the eulogies, I thought of how difficult it is, to depict a life in a few words. So many people knew her, and admired her… yet few really knew her intimately. And now she and her generation are gone… and the world continues.
In our tradition, when one loses a parent, a very specific mourning period is prescribed. There are rules for the first week, and rules for the first 30 days. And then more relaxed rules for the first year after the death. During the first week, the mourner disconnects from the world, sits on a low chair in his home, wears the same clothes he wore at the funeral, refrains from bathing, refrains from study, doesn’t cut his hair, doesn’t listen to music, doesn’t look in a mirror. We are not supposed to distract ourselves. We look inward, and try to fully accept the loss. Friends and relatives come to give support. All your needs are taken care of. And all you have to do, is to listen to your heart, and relate to what has happened. I was definitely ready for that.
And as I thought of my mother, many memories came back. Memories of a lifetime,
of good times and bad; of choices, of mistakes, of disappointments… and the way she handled all those things. Many of my personal intimate memories were mixed together with memories of her struggles and accomplishments. I remembered showing her my senior citizen card… and her amazement. What? Are your already old, she asked. And I said yes, I’m getting old. ‘If you’re old, then what am I’, she asked again. You’re ancient, I said… and we both laughed. As I thought of her, and told my children stories of the past, I realized that even if it was time for her to die, and that had to be accepted, there was pain and sorrow at the parting. And I had to accept that too.
I have experienced the week of mourning before, both personally, and accompanying friends. It works very well. It allows the mourner to work things out in his own mind and heart. People who don’t have the advantage of this process, sometimes suffer pain and sadness for years… having pushed those feelings under the rug. It is a very good thing to work it out right away. But this time, there was an unexpected event that changed everything for me.
On the second day of my mourning, war broke out with our neighbors in Gaza. Rockets struck many of the villages and cities in the south of Israel. A few even came as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In places like Sdeirot, Netivoth, and Be’er Tuvia, people had only 15 seconds to get to the bomb shelter. In Ashkelon and Ashdod you have a half a minute. In Tel Aviv you have a minute and a half. You could see children running for their lives. This is nothing new for us. Seven years ago, we moved all of the Jews out of the Gaza strip, even though Jews have lived there for generations… and even though Arabs live all over Israel and enjoy many advantages of life among the Israelis, they didn’t want one Jew living in their territory. The government saw fit to move the Jews out, hoping that this would bring peace. But it didn’t. Gazans get electricity and food from Israel. They have a common border with Egypt, but send their sick to be treated in Israeli hospitals. Still, they continue to attack us in every way they can. They shot an anti-tank mortar at a yellow school bus, hitting little children, and passed out candies to celebrate the event. They shoot at us from civilian places, using their own children as human shields. And sometimes in the exchange of fire we hit civilians… and this fills us with sorrow. We see it as a failure. But on the contrary, they aim their rockets and terror attacks at civilians on purpose.
So instead of enjoying the peace of introspection, and dealing with my own sorrow, I became distracted, listening to reports from the radio. Even when hours went by, without listening to the news, I would be thinking about it… worrying that some terrible disaster had happened. And torn between mourning for my old mother, and worrying about my fellow citizens who were facing difficult trials, I became tense and troubled. It was a difficult time. Meantime, the week of morning has passed, and the latest military action has come to a close. There is a cease fire now, and we do hope it’ll bring peace. Last night, I visited my mother’s home for one last time. Looking at her possessions, I was reminded of her life long love for my father, and the many years they enjoyed together. Their love played a very central role in her life. I hope to write that story one of these days. May she rest in peace.