"I feel so alone,” she sniffed into her tissue. She paused for a minute and looked at me. “It’s not for me to lean on others. Never has been. But I can’t handle this again.”

I sensed the invitation, and took the bait. “What do you mean ‘handle this again’?” She looked past me, as if the window above my rabbi’s study opened onto her past, not the industrial garbage cans behind the building.

“I was 16 when my father died. My mother was a young widow, I an only child. I will never forget the funeral. My mother was being comforted by her sisters. I was behind her. It was so cold…” She paused, and I could almost see an involuntary shiver. “Who had time for the teenager, when there was a widow to comfort?” she said softly, stating these questions as facts. “I knew then I had to go it alone. My husband is wonderful, and I love my kids. My friends are loyal and dedicated, but I have to go it alone. And it’s hard.”

As she clearly needed to process her earlier loss before we worked on acceptance of her mother’s terminal condition and imminent passing, I asked to describe her father’s funeral.

“It was the last week in December, and the rabbi spoke at length about my father and the tragedy of his passing so young. We were all freezing. As the casket was lowered into the ground, I remember the snow beginning to fall, big fluffy flakes, which seemed to muffle the world around me. I stood behind my mother, her hands clasped by her family, and I was so apart, alone. So cold…”

I was speechless. Forty-four years before, Elaine had been taught a lesson. This lesson had probably crept into many facets of her life, robbing her of the support and validation of community. I decided to attempt a new lesson. “Elaine, your mother is about to give you a gift.” “Pardon?”

“The greatest gift one can get. One we pray for, one we all wish for at different times in our lives.”

Blank stare.

“The gift of the do-over.”

“Rabbi… I don’t understand.”

“Your mother is dying, Elaine. This is not something we can change. She cannot give you the love and support you need after she is gone. She cannot comfort you in the grips of grieving her own death. But by not doing that, she is telling you to lean on others.” “Rabbi… I can’t.

“Elaine, you have no choice.”

(excerpted)