Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Lifetakes: Goodbye for Now

Elana Rothberg

But in the muted, mint-green corridors, I learned how very fallible the body is, how little we can trust it. We humans are always at its mercy

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

 Mishpacha image


T he smell of ammonia and antiseptic assault me before I even cross the threshold of the sprawling gray building. I breathe deeply through my mouth; I cannot stand the smell of hospitals. It conjures up illness, pain, death.

At 17 years old, I have only ever come to hospitals to visit the sick. In high school, it only took a few “chesed hour” visits to realize that I would need a different venue to complete my credits — I was not, and would never be, a hospital-goer.

I simply didn’t do well with the sickly. The sight of blood and tubes made me queasy and on a deeper level, illness frightened me. At 17, I was strong, muscles hewn from years of gymnastics and karate. I trusted my body to obey my commands. I pushed my limbs to the limit, running miles and miles, willing my body to fight its restrictions.

But in the muted, mint-green corridors, I learned how very fallible the body is, how little we can trust it. We humans are always at its mercy. That was a sobering thought.

Now, here I am, face-to-face with the unpredictable whims of the human body.

My mother and I made the hour-and-a-half trek from Long Island to visit my great-aunt in Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital. In silence we ride the glass-encased elevator to the Critical Care unit. I tell myself even though she’s there, she’ll surely be fine. Denial is powerful, and allows me to remain stoic.

In room 621, I glimpse a small movement beneath the hospital-issued sheets, a bird-like creature moaning in her sleep.

Without my realizing it, tears stream down my face, a giant lump that physically hurts forms in my throat.

No, this is not Aunt Mimi. This is a mistake.

This is not the woman who had her hair coiffed every Sunday, who took great efforts to maintain her long, strong nails, her pride. This is not the woman who painstakingly taught me Rummikub, bony, vein-lined fingers carefully combing the downturned, cream-colored tiles in an apartment smelling of potpourri and musty rooms. This is not the woman who would end every conversation with the words “Goodbye for now,” an allusion to another, joy-filled meeting just around the corner.

This is not the woman whose starched lace tablecloths covered every surface in her home, who would slip chocolates surreptitiously into our pockets. This cannot possibly be the woman whose guest room bed was filled with a stash of teddy bears, an enormous collection amassed over five decades. There was a story behind every stuffed animal, and we never tired of hearing them.

This cannot possibly be the woman whose arm grasped mine every Shabbos, as we walked the ten-minute route to my home. She leaned on me, but I always knew it was she who had the strength.

That woman was alive, spirited, opinionated. That woman was meticulous in her appearance, in her speech.

The woman before me is a shell. The woman before me is dying.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 584)

Related Stories

I Dare Me: Friday Night Oneg

As told to Elisheva Appel

They are unanimous in their opinion that no one will make fun of me or hate me forever for trying to...

Map the Starlight: Chapter 41

Leah Gebber

The glass is thick; cheaply made. But there is something inside it, she is sure. She holds it tight,...

On the House: Chapter 8

Faigy Schonfeld

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Kaylie said sweetly. “These are very pretty. But they’re pro...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"