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My Father's Last Words

My Father's Last Words

Consolation in the darkest moments.

by Yaakov Pullman

The most difficult part of moving to Israel was moving away from my family -- especially from my father who suffered from a rare form of cancer. Amidst my work-related travels across the United States, I was going to spend a few days with my parents and I waited anxiously for that reunion.

As I was walking out the door to head to the airport, I quickly ran to my study and scanned the book shelves, and, without thought, grabbed "Night" by Elie Wiesel.

I began reading the book before takeoff and I could not put it down. The book captivated my attention from beginning to end. And what an ending it was.

Mr. Wiesel's father begged him to get him some water to quench his thirst as he lay dying in the barracks of concentration camp. But Wiesel could not do so for fear of severe retribution from the guards. I gasped as I read that by morning, his father was dead. The story increased my desire to see my own father as quickly as possible.

The reunion with my father was as special as I had anticipated and we spent a few very meaningful days together. The day before I was supposed to head back to Israel, my father seemed weaker than usual and my gut told me that something was wrong. I delayed my return trip and sure enough, my father took a turn for the worse.

He was hospitalized; his cancer had metastasized. The doctors decided to try one last life saving procedure which required first sedating him, knowing that chances were he would not wake up alive. I helped my father say the final viduy/confession and then it was time to say goodbye. It was the most emotional moment of my life. I then had no choice but to part ways with him to enable the doctors to do their work.

As I reached to pull the door, my father called out to me. "Yanky, can you get me some water?"

I froze in my tracks. I turned around to get him some water but the doctor explained that the water would interfere with the procedure. "I'm sorry, Daddy, the doctor won't allow it." And with that, I left the room.

I was shaken by this incident for quite some time. How could it be that just two weeks after reading about Elie Wiesel's horrible last experience with his father, the same exact thing happened to me?

There was no way it was just a coincidence. What message was God telling me?

In the darkest hour of my life, God was right in that room with me.

And then it hit me. God was simply reminding me that He was there. In the darkest hour of my life, in my moment of greatest sadness, He was right in that room with me. And there is some comfort in knowing that.

We are on the verge of commemorating the most tragic date in the Jewish calendar -- Tisha B'Av. We have numerous restrictions during the first nine days of this month to help prepare ourselves to mourn for all that we have suffered and lost.

And yet the name of the month is "Av" which means "father." This is also not a coincidence. The message is clear. Despite all of our suffering and mourning, we have a Father who is there with us every step of the way. While we mourn, saying the word "Father" every time we mention the date "Tisha B'Av" should provide us with the same comfort and hope I received from my father's last words to me.

July 26, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) Anonymous, September 20, 2010 1:49 AM

Similar case, different result

Your story was like that of my late great aunt. When I visited her in the hospital, she was begging piteously for a drink of water. She was surrounded by adult relatives. I was much younger. The adults did nothing. I asked at the nurse's station if my great aunt could have some water, and was told that she could not because she had to take a test, with which the water might interfere. After hearing my great aunt begging even more, for just a little water, I went back to the nurse and asked her to check some more. She did check, and found that the test had been performed many hours before, and that my great aunt could indeed be given water. I was so happy to do something for her. It was the last time I saw her alive. It shows one should not automatically accept things, and should look deeper and further. Had people done so, she need not have suffered so much, or at all. She might have lived longer, or at least more happily..

(15) Welton, September 19, 2010 11:44 PM

Beautiful Story

It amazes me how Hashem gives us all very similar experiences that draw us closer to Him. I helped my dad to eat his last meal. Primary hepatoma (liver cancer) had metastisized and spread to his lungs and he had become so weak he could not feed himself. I fed him his dinner that night and then he asked for something to drink. Shortly thereafter, he went into a coma and became niftar the next morning at 7:30. While a sad time, Hashem intervened and there was no more pain and no more thirst. There is no greater love than that.

(14) Fred, August 6, 2009 9:15 PM

A source in Tehillim/Psalms

I neglected to mention in my earlier comment (#11) that the thought the author concludes with, namely that even in difficult times Hashem makes his presence felt, and that this itself is a source of comfort to us, is found in a famous chapter of Tehillim (Psalms), where King David says that "G-d is my shepherd, ...your rod and your staff comfort me" which is interpreted by our Sages to mean that even when Hashem uses his rod and staff (which symbolizes painful episodes) He makes His presence felt. We are (to some degree) comforted knowing it is His rod and staff and that He is with us.

(13) Anonymous, August 2, 2009 11:27 AM

May the niftar's neshama have an aliyah.

May the neshama of the Niftar have an aliyah in the merit of the author's poignant description of his father's last conscious moments. The love anld respect the author had and still has ring loud and clear throughout this gorgeous essay.

(12) Fred, July 31, 2009 5:06 AM

This issue is discussed by our Sages

A very powerful story. I just wanted to point out that this very issue and quite similar situations have been discussed by our Sages of blessed memory. See the discussion of Rav Reuven Margolios zt'l in his Margoliot HaYam commenting on the Gemara Sanhedrin 92a, at R. Margoilos' item #12 there. Various sources are given there and in Rav Margolios's Mekor Chesed on the Sefer Chassidim. The upshot of the discussion there would appear to support the actions of author of this article. There is further discussion in Nishmas Avraham Yoreh Deah section 240, note 1, and in Otzar Kibbud Av V'Eim, section 136 (pages 180 - 182). While generally, we are obligated to honor our parents, there apears to be a distinction between giving a parent something they demand where it is simply not so healthy or good for them and giving them something life-threatening. Likewise there is a distinction to draw between things that are certainly injurious to the parent versus things that may not be good - but some people are not injured by them. Here, it appears that all factors come down in favor of the author. Not suprisingly, there is still more discussion of this subject by our Chachamim. May we all merit to learn from one another as the Mishna in Avos suggests that "who is wise, he who learns from every person."

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