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Lifetakes: A Gift and a Promise

Leah Friedman

Now, suddenly, on this night before bedikas chometz, my old father has reappeared. The father who knew us, who loved us

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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I n my memory, everything is perfect, almost dreamlike.

I’m standing with my mother and my son, Eli, who’s ten, by my father’s hospital bed. My father is sitting up, feeling better than he’s felt in weeks, possibly years. The light is dim, cozy; as night falls, our reflections materialize on the windows.

It’s warm in the room. The scents of hand sanitizer and leftover cafeteria meals mingle. Distant beeping sounds grow louder and fade.

Abba’s face is shining. He’s so pleased to see us. The rage, the coldness we’ve grown accustomed to, are gone, and I’m wondering if they were all figments of my imagination.

This man, this is my father. My real father.

Except he can’t figure out where we are. He asks my mother to please bring him something from the living room. Her eyes meet mine briefly. Calmly, she bends over him. “We’re in the hospital. Remember, Hatzolah brought you here? You’ll be home soon.”

“Oh. Right.” He looks mildly confused.

But then the conversation picks up. He comments on my brother’s recent move to Australia. Again, my mother’s eyes slide to mine. They shine with pain. My brother did not move to Australia; he made aliyah a few years prior. We have no family or friends in Australia; my father has never even been there.But my father has always loved Eretz Yisrael. This is an odd mistake for him to make.

My mother looks calmly into his eyes. “Israel. Avi and Miriam are in Israel.”

“Oh. Israel.” The look of confusion lingers.

“Abba, you know, Pesach is coming.” I aim for a lighter topic.

“Pesach? When?”

“Today is Wednesday. Friday night will be the first Seder.”

My regret is immediate. What kind of Seder will my father have, here in the hospital?

But he doesn’t ask. Instead, he’s reminded of food. “Bikur Cholim sent a whole tray! Did you see it? It was delicious!” he enthuses, gesturing vaguely.

My father hasn’t expressed such delight in years. This disease has been taking him from us, bit by bit. First, the cognitive decline. Then, generosity and warmth were replaced with rage and paranoia. And a deep coldness, a frightening apathy that froze any possibility of connection.

Now, suddenly, on this night before bedikas chometz, my old father has reappeared. The father who knew us, who loved us.

“Don’t we have the best children in the world?” He beams at my mother, an expression of pride mixed with mystery. For a breath, the years fall away and my parents are a young couple, happy.

He sinks his head back onto the pillow, content. I hold his hand, black and blue and bandaged. His fingertips are cold.

Abba asks Eli what he’s learning in school, tells him he is handsome and sweet. Eli smiles shyly, shares some jokes and quotes from his rebbe, delighted with the attention.

“Tzaddik’l.” A shaky knuckle brushes Eli’s cheek. It’s as though my father is seeing him for the first time. 

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 585)

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