Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

My mom died on March 25 at age 99. There was a wonderful funeral followed by two days of mourning. Friends and family paid their respects. The outpouring was large and very meaningful to my sister and myself.

And then we, and all who had known and loved her, put the thoughts of my mom alongside all the others that crowd our heads. Life, though not the same, called and we were compelled to answer.

That is except for a woman my mom had never known who lived half way a world away.

My mom's care was entrusted for nearly the last decade of her life to Mary and Nilda, two extraordinary women, both originally from the Philippines. They treated my mom with as much love and respect as I believe they would have if she were their own parent. My mom spent the final years of her life pampered and protected like a new born babe in the arms of an adoring mother.

Both Mary and Nilda were very religious. Very as in VERY. When my mom was still able to leave her home, she loved to be driven around. Often, she and Mary would drive to Mary's church, where, so the story goes, my mom, Jewish, would sing the hymns she recalled. 

In the last days of my mom's life, death beckoned. Mary asked if we would let her conduct prayers for our mom. How could we refuse.

On March 25, my mom's apartment was filled with sounds of love. We stood vigil over her, speaking softly, telling the stories of the day. Mary and Nilda were busy blessing and advising her that it was okay for her to go now. Even as my mom died, her caretakers were hard at work protecting and caring for the soul of a woman whose body they had kept intact for so many years.
The prayers continued after my mom had passed. Mary said this had to occur for nine days  following a loved one's death. I imagine it as a kind of shepherding the body on its ascension to heaven. 

It had been a long and and almost unfathomably difficult journey for Mary and Nilda. And as harsh as the years had been, the last six weeks had been even harder. My mom's condition deteriorated and the attention to her physical needs was unrelenting.

And so, after my mom passed, both of her caretakers took a much, much deserved rest. Exhausted, Mary found herself unable to complete her nine day vigil. But that did not mean my mom's soul would go unattended. 

I have never met Mary's mom. In fact, I only recently discovered that she is the same age as my mom. Alive, well, walking several miles a day. And every bit as religious as her daughter. 

Yesterday, Mary, Nilda my wife and I were cleaning up my mom's apartment, readying it for eventual sale. Mary said she had some pictures on her phone that she wanted me to see. They had come from the Philippines.

The first image was of a beautiful home made cake, white frosting, with chocolate inside. On the top were the words, "Nine days prayers! Dorothy Smith Nussbaum."

There was another picture of a big spread of my mom's favorite foods, including many hot dogs. On my mom's final day, my brother in law and I had gone across the street from my mom's apartment, into her favorite hot dog restaurant, and then brought back one last treat for her to smell. Or what we thought was a final treat.

The last photo was of a shrine, filled with religious images. Sitting beside it was an elderly woman, looking petite, beautiful and serene. Next to her was the following statement: 

"Eternal Rest Grant Unto Dorothy Smith, January 8, 1918 to March 25, 2017."

Mary told me why only my mom's maiden name appeared, but I sadly do not recall. Rest assured this "omission" was definitely not the result of an oversight.

And so, even as all of us had become distracted by our own needs and worries there had been one 99 year old lady in the Philippines who had taken on the responsibility of the continued care of a woman she never met. For Mary's mom, being entrusted with my mom's well being did not end, but merely began, with the death of Dorothy Smith Nussbaum.


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Anonymous said...

Wow that is so beautiful. I am always is awe of people who really walk the walk and not just talk the talk of true union with God. These women are blessed with a beautiful faith that your Mom was very lucky to have had some part in. I really believe in the power of prayer and turning it all over to God. The love, attention and continued prayer of Mary and Nilda for your Mom is a testament to what an amazing woman she was. Even facing what she knew was an uncertain future she maintained her grace and dignity and gratitude that both Mary and Nilda were witness to. You too were blessed with many years of the good times and the not so good ones with an amazing Mom!!!
Thanks for sharing this it has kind of put today in perspective for me!!


Anonymous said...

It warms my heart to know that your amazing Mom was cared for by such wonderful people. The world is a better place because of devoted people like them.--RE

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your touching and beautifully written story. What a blessing for you and your family to know that your mother continues to be loved and cared for. I hope this gives you great peace. No matter how old a parent is when they die, you always want just one more day. Your mother is your mother forever. You are a wonderful son.


LPB said...

Wow, this is such an incredible story. A testament to the love Mary had for your mum, and to the fountain of faith that both her and her mother have. Just beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I loved this story. So nice to know how much your mother was loved.
I will remember Dorothy Smith Nussbaum when I go to synagogue tomorrow for Yizkor.
Not only was your mother a very special woman, but her son and daughter and their families are pretty darn terrific too.