Do you ever wonder what your reaction would be to hearing something earth shattering in your life? Well, that’s what happened to me as we waited to hear the news of Moshe’s fate.
In my mind, on the way into Brooklyn, rushing dangerously fast down the Belt Parkway, I fabricated a story of what would be. How this scary chapter in our lives would end as quickly as it began.
I did it to protect myself and my mother-in-law, who drove us to the hospital, that they surely would revive my young and healthy husband.
But the longer we sat in that stressful silence, desperately willing the phone to ring with the good news that they successfully stabilized him, the more that fear of “what if” kept creeping up in my mind, inhabiting way too much space to shoo it away into my subconscious or quiet it until it dissolved into nothingness.
I kept repeating these words in my mind:
“We’re not ready.”
“He’s too young.”
“I have a baby.”
“I can’t do this myself.”
“We’re good people.”
“Please, please, please.”
Please bring him back.
Please take care of him.
Please grant him a miraculous recovery.
I made promises.
I made a deal with G-d.
I told Him I’d do whatever it took if he kept Moshe safe and here with us.
I visualized myself walking into a hospital room with an annoyed expression as Moshe would be sitting in a hospital bed on his cellphone checking e-mails.
Alive and recovering.
Alive and here for our children.
Oh, what a scare, but thank G-d, he’s OK and it’ll be fine.
What a world this would be, how uncomplicated, if we had some say, some control, over our future. If we had a clue as to what would happen before it did.
I didn’t lose it on the way to Brooklyn before knowing anything for certain. I was quiet and calm. I was surprised at my composure.
I didn’t speak much except for the occasional mention that we need Moshe too much, he’s needed so much by so many, G-d will watch over him, and he’ll have to be more careful in the future.
In his future.
Because he’s too young and too good.
He’s too busy to die now.
He’s too blessed to not watch the nachas in his life firsthand.
It wouldn’t be fair, and G-d is good and fair. He won’t hurt us like this.
The phone not ringing to tell us that he was OK intensified the deafening silence in the car.
I made excuses for that, too.
I told myself that they just wanted us to arrive safely in Brooklyn and would then give us the location to meet them.
But I knew the truth in the back of my mind. I knew the reason the phone wasn’t ringing, but I wasn’t ready to accept that as a possible outcome on that beautiful Wednesday afternoon.
I should’ve been back at home waiting for my little ones to get home from school while making their dinner. The alternate reality I kept trying to will myself back into as the car raced down the highway to our new unknown.
They redirected us to my sister-in-law’s house, which was the first clue. I should’ve known but I refused to accept. They agonized over who would deliver the worst news I’ve ever had to hear.
She didn’t have to say much because I already knew. I remember the screams and the crying coming from others but the calmness and non-reaction from me, which was to become a source of immense guilt and future sadness.
The root of my guilt in not falling on the floor and losing consciousness right there and then. You think you know how you’d react to tragedy, but you have no idea until it happens.
I walked into another room and started making phone calls. The reactions on the opposite end of the phone were the appropriate ones. The crying, the disbelief, the way I thought I should be.
Unable to function. Unable to walk. But I was strangely fine in the eye of the storm. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. My brain got oddly practical. I called my friend and told her to tell the customers who had placed orders that I couldn’t finish the cakes for Shabbos.
I gave someone else instructions for baking the loaves of sourdough rising in my fridge. I asked about my boys’ whereabouts and how they’d get home. I arranged for someone to be there with Xiomara and Rosie because Xiomara was hysterical.
I remember thinking about my dress being shorter than usual and wondering how I could make a beeline to my room and quickly change without attracting attention.
I remember thinking what the next stop after the grocery would’ve been—getting my nails done. I looked at them and their undone state and wondered if I’d be able to cut them before sitting shivah. I’d have to ask the rabbi. I wondered if he’d look at me strange for asking such a shallow question immediately after hearing of the death of my husband.
I don’t know how unusual my reaction to the news was. In the state of shock, the brain does funny things. Maybe it wasn’t ready for the real feelings yet. Sometimes when there’s a physical trauma to the body, the nervous system goes into shock, in order to block such sudden, acute agony. Maybe that’s what my heart was doing.
It’s like an initial paralysis. The feelings need time to thaw and your emotions need time to settle. Time is your best friend and your worst enemy. And there’s no grieving without feeling.
As much as my mind had always ruminated about the “What would I do if?” question, when it actually came down to it, my brain kicked in with a totally counterintuitive, instinctive response.
It’s like all those preparation thoughts went out the window, and my nervous system broke the circuit so it wouldn’t blow. Then, slowly, as reality seeped in, I was able to begin feeling, processing, digesting, understanding. I had no control—I never did. I had no choice but to let go.
That’s kind of what Rosh Hashanah is. Rosh means head, and shanah means year, but also change. The holiday literally means “mind shift.” A change in mentality.
We had all these plans, thought we knew what we could do. But then I got reeducated. My brain moved from the illusion of control, to shock that manifested in trying to control the technical minutiae that day, to eventually letting go of all that, and needing to feel, grieve, and deal with our new lives.
Mi yichyeh, mi yamus — we really, truly, have no idea. Mi b’kitzo? That wasn’t supposed to be the end. We had plans. We all have plans.
This year in particular is a time when people have had a dose of that terror, that sense of helpless unknown that’s been the theme of my life since that day. Maybe your reactions were different than you would have anticipated.
Maybe you folded your arms like a petulant child and stomped your feet at the unfairness of life. Maybe you bowed your head and accepted the fate of the world and the people who live among you. Maybe you put on that mask and followed along without challenging, questioning, or believing His Hand and Strength in all things in this world.
His decision that happens around this time of year, decreeing who will live and who will die. Who will survive and who will suffer.
And when He decides to send us a virus that affects the entire world, He could snap his fingers and make that happen, too. As quickly as he brought it upon us, he could end it.
It all begins and ends with Him. His plan, His control, His expectation. I learned to surrender the hard way. It hurt so much and also heals.
Just always remember this: it always goes back to G-d. No matter what our initial reaction is, no matter how devastating or unpredictable life can be, just remember that there’s only one thing that can give us comfort at the end of the day, but it requires a mind shift.
Shana tovah — a change for the good.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.