Kissing Dad’s Nose, His Last Two Weeks
Kissing Dad’s nose turned up the corners of his mouth the
tiniest bit. It was all he could manage. Gone his once cheery
disposition, his healthy, handsome face now gaunt, frozen and
This is how he’ll look when he dies, I suppose. I try to block such
thoughts, but they intrude upon my privacy nonetheless.
Caring Caring for Dad in the hospice entailed an enormous emotional
burden. His body was busily shutting itself down. Our every
effort to make Dad as comfortable as possible only accentuated
the reality that he would not be going home again.
Bobbie and I met with the hospice social worker. Despite the
awkwardness of making final arrangements in advance, we
agreed it was the wise choice to make. Several hours later,
a funeral home representative I had contacted arrived to help us
make the awful final arrangements for Dad.
I measured my father’s physical decline by the waning strength
of his handshake which remained powerful until the time
he entered the skilled nursing facility. He stopped smiling. No
longer able or inclined to speak, I think Dad’s silence was his
way of saying there was nothing more to say. It was a time of
Dad’s appetite declined precipitously. His refusal to open his
mouth, even for ice cream his life-long favorite, did not
discourage me from feeding him. Even to wet his lips was
often enough. He expressed his feelings through his eyes.
There was still a tiny sparkle. He was glad I was there.
It became clear to me as we approached the High Holidays how
difficult it is to honor one’s terminally-ill parent. I was unsure
whether I should be in shul or at Dad’s bedside.
“I’ll be staying here with Dad for Rosh Ha Shana,” I told Ron
who had postponed his flight back home several times, but
could no longer do so. “If you can’t take care of your father
at a time like this, religion isn’t worth much, is it?” he observed
pithily. His face brightened. “You’ve made the right decision
“I couldn’t agree more Ron,” I replied. My brother wept. I guess
there is a first time for everything. I turned aside. “Hey,” he said,
gently draping his forearm on the back of my neck and
shoulders. “Thank you.”
The eve of Yom Ha Din approached. Who would live? Who
would die? Who would be sealed in the Sefer Ha Chaim? I
found myself wrestling with a more intense moral dilemma
than the one I had faced several days earlier. The awesome
uncertainty of Yom Kippur filled me with dread. How would
I live with myself tomorrow if I were not at my father’s bedside
Or should I plead for my father’s life before the Aron
Kodesh? I needed guidance. I called Rabbi Louis. We chatted
for an hour. I learned how he had cared for his dying father
years before but could not bring myself to ask him what he
would have done had his father been dying on the eve of Yom
Kippur. Time was running out just hours before Kol Nidre.
“Hello Reb Ephraim?” I called my friend in Atlanta, an
orthodox Jew whom I had met in an online yeshiva. “This is
“I apologize,” Ephraim began, “but I’ve been so busy with my
mother. She’s eighty-six and is dying from stage four cancer.
I’ll be with her at home on Yom Kippur.”
I was thunderstruck. I knew what I had to do.
Alan, how can I help you? You had a question?”
“I did but you’ve already answered it.”
“The Aibishter sends messengers to help us make the right
decision,” Rabbi Louis remarked when we spoke in the evening
after Yom Kippur had ended. I was certain I had made the right
choice at this time of extremity in my father’s life. Together, Dad
and I had reached closer to The One Above than either of us could
have done separately.
I was called to his bedside in the late morning. My wife and I left
immediately. A nurse informed Bobbie that she had thought
Dad’s end was imminent. Dad, wrapped tightly in clean white
blankets, was asleep as he had been for the better part of two
weeks. I stood at his bedside. His breathing was unlabored.
A final calm overcame him. We were ready, I suppose. This time
had arrived. The nurse confirmed my suspicion. I looked down into
his green eyes to see them close. He appeared as if he were almost
smiling. Dad’s face, to which I had always looked up, no longer
bore the grimace of pain, no more the discomfort of having eaten
too many green apples
He suffered no apparent distress that Shabbos morning,
October 18, 2008. Though I held his hand, he slipped through my