At age 90, in the middle of the night, my father took his last breath as my mother slept soundly by his side. For 63 years, every night, my mother and father lay side by side–she always very still, he always snoring. Throughout those years they were apart rarely, neither liking to sleep alone.
After waking to find him dead, she stayed by his side for hours. HIs cold, stiff body did not frighten her. Instead, she found comfort in stroking his ashen face, touching his lifeless hand. What frightened her was the thought of leaving him to others. What frightened her was his leaving her. She knew only a life where he took care of everything–the house, the finances, the plans for each day. Now, at age 87, her eyesight was nearly gone, her body crippled and mangled by arthritis, her mind forgetful. She believed she was truly dependent on him.
After his body was taken away, she cried. “What will I do without him?” she said. “He should have lived longer!”
My brother, sister and I stayed by her side night and day. We planned his funeral, bought his casket, arranged his burial site. Every day she cried, “Why did he have to die?” as if pleading with us to bring him back, fearful of how she was going to manage.
On the day of the funeral, in the traditional Jewish fashion, he was laid in a simple, closed coffin. Just before the mourners were invited into the chapel, my mother demanded to see my father one last time. The funeral director stammered, “Ah, I don’t know. That is not usually done. And the body will look, well…” Obviously uncomfortable, he turned to us in a tacit plea to reason with our mother. But she was insistent, and we supported her wish.
And so, without much choice, he agreed. We helped my mother walk over to the casket. And with bravery and love, she reached in and stroked our father’s cheek one last time. Tears ran down my face as I watched her, full of admiration for her strength in letting her love overcome fear of touching death. I knew this strength would also help her carry on in her new life as a widow.
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan