On Yom Kippur, It Is Time To Reconcile With Our Fellow Human Beings, Ourselves, And God
For my mother, I will try.
My mom has been gone for thirteen weeks. I am in the middle of the Jewish holidays and she is not with me. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when we talked about being inscribed in the Book of Life, I realized my mother would not be inscribed.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I think about atoning but I don’t feel like it. I think about forgiving all the people I am angry at: the doctor who forgot to prescribe the steroids my mom needed to keep her eye pressure stable, the assisted living facility that left her to ring her button over and over again before anyone ever showed up, Jewish Family Services who told me my mom wasn’t eligible to get a psychologist to visit her, even though she was newly blind and so lonely and kept asking for a psychologist to visit her. I called the counselor she worked with at the rehab center but he didn’t visit the senior living facility. Neither did any of the psychologists I called who practiced nearby. When I called Jewish Family Services back they told me to log onto Psychologytoday.com and search there.
I think about how the assisted living facility couldn’t find anyone to sit with my mom at meals because the tables with the ladies were “full,” and they couldn’t pull up an extra chair. I think about how lonely my mother was and how she told me if she had to eat another meal alone, she would scream. When the aides sat my mother with other seniors who were nonverbal, my mother would panic, desperate to socialize for the brief time she was not alone in her room. She started approaching people and asking, “Do you talk?” which didn’t help in finding a pleasant meal mate. But I didn’t blame her. She was tired of being isolated — this was before Covid.
I think of the assisted living facility and how my mother fell while she was there two more times, including the very first night she was there. I ran to the hospital at three in the morning to kiss her black-and-blue face and fume. I could feel the ball of fury winding tighter and tighter inside of me. I would find an overstuffed laundry basket at her place and call and email because they forgot to do her laundry. Occasionally, they forgot to shower my mom on her designated shower day, and she would get so frustrated. The staff did not like to read my mom the daily schedule of activities over and over again. They said my mom pressed the button too often or kept the staff in her room too long. But my mom was blind and her memory was poor and that schedule was like a lifeline.
I remember when I moved my mom to a Board & Care home and she went on hospice. I had no idea what to do or what to expect or what to tell my mom. When my mom died, I had no clergy with me and, yes, it was Covid and, yes, it was a crazy time and, yes, someone’s beloved mother was dying — mine.
When my mom was taking her last breaths, I was leaning over her singing the Shema in my off-key, cracking voice. I noticed the hospice nurse was packing up. She was unplugging things and wrapping a chord around her hand in a nice circle. She was stacking up her notebooks and getting her water bottle, as if to say, the second your mom goes, I’m out of here. I tried not to notice.
I turned my face back to my mom’s face. These were her last few moments on Earth. Later, I asked my husband, who was the only other person in the room, “Did you notice the hospice nurse was packing up?” He said, “I wish you didn’t see that.” I said, “I wish I didn’t, also.” But I did.
I haven’t let myself think about this in my grief. I think of my beautiful, radiant mother and how much I love her and how much I miss her and how lonely I feel at the soul level without her. But it bubbles up. My anger. My guilt.
After my mom died, I did not know what to do. Even though she had been on hospice for weeks, no plan had been made about what would happen after my mom ceased breathing. I kissed her hands and her face and laid my head on her lap and cried. Then I left. A few days later, I couldn’t stop questioning myself.
Why didn’t I stay with her body until they came to get her? Why didn’t I dress her up in her leopard shirt and black sweater with the tie, or her favorite purple, velvet sweat suit? Why didn’t I fix her hair and put on her favorite fuchsia lipstick? How did I let her body go without changing her out of that plain, white t-shirt? My mother never wore a plain, white t-shirt in her life.
Now, it is Yom Kippur. According to reformjudaism.org, it is the time to reconcile with our fellow human beings, ourselves, and God. “As both seekers and givers of pardon, we turn first to those whom we have wronged, acknowledging our sins and the pain we have caused them. We are also commanded to forgive, to be willing to let go of any resentment we feel towards those who have committed offenses against us.”
My mother loved Judaism, Jewish people, and any novel or film that featured a Jewish protagonist. I know that not only would she forgive me for the mistakes I made, for the services I couldn’t secure, for the clothes I didn’t dress her in, I know she would staunchly demand that I stop thinking there is anything to forgive.
And yet….it is hard to let go of wishing I had done more. Wishing that somehow, someway, something could have been done and she would still be here. But she is not.
I hear her voice, saying, “You did everything you could, daughter. It’s time to move on, be happy.” There is nothing my mother loved more than me. On this day, I will try to let go of my anger and my blame and my remorse and my regret. I will try to forgive everyone, including myself. It’s the Day of Atonement and I will try, Mom, I will try.