The beauty of lighting candles was always in my home. I am lighting a Chanukah menorah here. I’d guess I’m about six years old.

“Last Night”

My heart was pounding. I didn’t like hospitals at all. This particular hospital that I was entering was the same one where I had given birth to Jason.

I had decided to go to the hospital to see Sonia. I was carrying a brown shopping bag. Inside were my mom’s electric, Sabbath candlesticks. I told her I was “borrowing” them for a very good reason. Also in the shopping bag were egg bread, grape juice, napkins, and little cups.

As I exited the elevator, I saw Sonia. She was with another good friend. Sonia was wound up like a top.

Sonia’s voice was filled with anger as she recounted the endless barrage of difficult decisions that had been foisted upon her with indifference bordering on cruelty.

There was a lot of listening to do. She shared her anguish with a voice that did not reveal the true depth of her pain. The hospital insisted that her dying husband be released to her care tomorrow. She was not prepared.

The doctors felt there was nothing more that could be done for her husband. She was now responsible to set up hospice care. She would need a hospital bed and nurses. Sonia was overwhelmed.

I told her to tell the hospital, “No.” What would they do if she weren’t able to do this immediately?

Sonia said she had asked to see a social worker for an entire week. She was still waiting.

I handed her the bag.

Her voice cracked with a sob as she shared that she had wanted these things for the Sabbath!

I was surprised at myself. My mother is quite religious, but I am not. My mother lit Shabbat candles when our family went on a cruise ship. When she was hospitalized, I became responsible to make sure the candle lighting tradition was carried on. I lit the candles for my mother, even though I normally do not light Sabbath candles.

Sonia’s appreciation washed over me. I basked in it; because I had never yet found a way to thank her for all that she did for my son.

I mentioned to Sonia how my son was upset that I made this visit without him. I decided that he was too young and might not be allowed in. I didn’t want my plan to bring these Sabbath items derailed. I let her know how worried my son was for her.

She said, “You know your son he is my therapy!”

Sonia was torn to pieces. She and her daughter were disagreeing. There was a lot of anger toward the entire hospital situation and the resulting helplessness.

Then Sonia said, “My daughter came in on April 30th, because she already had a ticket. She purchased it a long time ago! Can you believe that coincidence?”

I could.

“She was coming in for a twenty-fifth college reunion. She was going to have fun with her college friends, and she was looking forward to it for months!”

Her daughter did not go to her reunion.

Her daughter’s face had so much pain that I felt like I wanted to hug her. Earlier, she shared with me how this was all so familiar. Her son was close to death once. She had a severely, disabled son at home.

The pain in that waiting room was so palpable that my heart began to ache intensely.

Her daughter said, “Please, mom, you must eat! You cannot keep going without eating!”

Her daughter looked at me and said, “Will you please convince my stubborn mother to eat? She has not eaten all day.”

With some convincing, Sonia, her friend, and I went downstairs to the cafeteria. I decided to eat something also, and called home to let my family know.

As we were eating, I decided to ask Sonia some questions. This was what stood out for me:

She lost her entire, immediate family in the Holocaust.

She was sent to an orphanage and then to a convent.

Her brother and sister might have lived if they had stayed with her. She and her siblings were smuggled out of the ghetto for the summer and were hiding on a farm. For safety reasons, she was going to stay on. She was only eight years old.

Her siblings wanted to go back to the ghetto. She screamed at them before they left and begged them not to go. The next day after they left, they were killed along with 41,000 Jews in a horrible massacre.

That massacre was the day before Yom Kippur. That is the same day of “Yarzeit” (Jewish death day) for my son, Jason. My beloved son’s Yarzeit would forever now be linked with Sonia and her family!

After the war, she was separated from the beloved uncle that had helped save her. That alone was wrenching for her, for now she was alone. She ended up in Israel.

She met her husband on a kibbutz there.

I was glad I had come to the hospital. I was certain I would be spending more time with Sonia. The circumstances would probably be different, as this “crisis” would morph into something more like post-traumatic grief after the crisis.

Sonia’s voice still sounded very strong. That was until she mentioned her most painful moment.

Her voice began to break as she recounted a terrible moment the day before. Her husband pointed at her. He said, “GET HER OUT OF THE ROOM! I DON’T WANT HER HERE! SHE PUT ME IN THIS INSANE ASYLUM AND IT’S HER FAULT!”

Sonia began to cry. She continued by saying in an anguished voice, “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do at that moment!”

Her agony continued as she spun through the decisions that required instant answers. How would she take him to his dialysis three days a week in this condition? The confusion for her was there, because he had an inoperable, malignant brain tumor.

She hadn’t yet processed what that meant, because dialysis would prolong his life.

She choked again as she shared, “He said to his doctor to go ahead and test the tumor if it would help other people.”

His doctor said to him, “Sam, the test is only for information about the form of cancer you have. It is not for research.”

That was enough sadness for me for one evening.

A note from my youngest son to Sonia.

© Judy Unger and 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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