Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Last Shabbos

[Aaron's Story - Part Two]

As Debbie continued to speak to me on her cellphone from the MRI office, awareness of reality returned in waves. With one part of my mind still numb, another was already being practical, listing and planning everything that had to be done before Shabbos. Some people panic worse the bigger the emergency. I'm just the opposite; I tend to lose it for minor crises, like a messy spill in the refrigerator. When the situation is truly urgent, I become oddly, even frighteningly methodical.

Get the food going. Call Debbie's mom and my mom to let them know what was happening. Help Debbie pack for the hospital. Drive her and Aaron there. Contact the Rabbi to arrange for their Shabbos food in the hospital. Make sure the other kids shower for Shabbos. Set the lights. The jobs ticked themselves off in my head. At least this was something to focus on, an area where things still made sense.

After what felt like an eternity, Debbie and Aaron came in the house. Debbie's eyes looked haunted, but Aaron was his usual cool, composed self - maybe just a bit quieter than usual. He slipped downstairs to his room to pack. Debbie dashed upstairs to shower, pack - and sob her heart out. I feebly tried to comfort her, not yet able to cry myself. The situation still felt too fresh, too raw, too unbelievable.

We chatted together as we drove to the hospital, trying to talk our way into a solid foothold in these sudden, unbalanced circumstances. After all, I said, we still knew very little about what we were up against. Testing was to be done over the weekend; there was a lot more to learn before we could decide on next steps. This had all just been discovered today, so it had to still be at an early stage, didn't it? Difficult decisions and risky procedures seemed several steps ahead of us. Aaron even grumbled about having to miss his senior trip to Florida that Sunday. I left them at the door of Admitting, and drove off feeling more alone than I could ever remember.

As I headed back home, I realized another, uncomfortable task that had to be done immediately. My Friday night minyan was already scheduled, and I knew I just couldn't handle a house full of people that night. One by one, I called each of the attendees who had RSVP'ed for that week. Which means, in explaining why I was canceling, that I had to share at least some information about what was happening - something that went against my deepest instincts. I hadn't wanted this situation to spread any further than absolutely necessary - not so soon!

Shabbos arrived. Just a bit earlier, Debbie's mom had unexpectedly, but thankfully, arrived from her home down the shore. Her help watching the other kids was a big relief to me, allowing me to feel freed up to spend Shabbos day at the hospital with Debbie and Aaron.

I spent that night alternating between a nightmarish doze, and much more terrifying wakefulness. Aaron hadn't even been admitted when Shabbos started, so I had no way of knowing what tests had been done yet, or what new information had been discovered. In my mind's eye, just about anything could be happening.

When morning finally arrived, I went to the earliest minyan, and walked straight from shul to the hospital. My friend P. kept me company for this walk; the first of what would be innumerable kindnesses that he, along with Debbie's friend E., would do for us over the next few days, as they would again and again serve as our respective anchors in our own personal hellstorm.

At last, I made it. Tearing up the stairs to Aaron's room, in nothing less than a full panic about what I would find. I entered the room, and a degree of relief flooded into me for the first time since that call yesterday afternoon (or was it a lifetime ago?). Aaron propped up in bed, looking like his usual self. Debbie sitting in a chair, reading. It almost seemed like he was there for nothing more serious than, perhaps, a tonsillectomy. For the first time during the ordeal, I smiled.

Debbie told me that they had learned little so far. An hour or so later, a doctor arrived to speak with us - a junior partner of the pediatric neurologist who was to be assigned to Aaron after the weekend. The doctor didn't seem to have much more to share, but did tell us the following:
The tumor was on his cerebellum, which controls balance, but not cognitive function. It wasn't clear whether it was benign or malignant. Another MRI was scheduled for that afternoon. For the present, the doctor concluded, it was too early to talk about surgery, implying - to my hopeful ear at that so confused and vulnerable moment - that even the need for surgery was in question!
My relief and optimism stepped up another notch or two. Maybe we would come out of this all right after all.

Debbie and I were unfortunately quite familiar by now with the fact that hospitals are essentially in a holding pattern on weekends. We were ready - and based on the doctor's implications - we were expecting, a rather tedious, but uneventful couple of days, with the real activity beginning Monday morning.

So Shabbos day progressed in that cozy private room in the hospital adolescent wing. A special Shabbos day for the core of three that, so many years ago, had constituted our entire new little family. Back to our roots, back to the beginning, just me, Debbie, and Aaron, our first born.

Aaron davened the morning prayers, and I made kiddush for the three of us. Aaron showed me the proper way he had figured out to wash hands in the bathroom, using the shower head since the sink ran on an electric eye, and thus was forbidden for use on Shabbos. We had a lunch of sorts, though Aaron was having trouble keeping food down once again. We played board games together, read books. Aaron was working his way through Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons", which I had finished a few days earlier. I tried to get him to guess who the villain would turn out to be, but I wasn't about to spoil for him - he wanted to find out for himself!

By afternoon, visitors began to arrive - and so did Aaron's headache. At 3:30, he was whisked away for his scheduled MRI. I accompanied him down to the room, and sat nearby while he lay motionless in the tube for a full hour and a half. Afterwards, the technician complimented Aaron on how still he had kept, despite his obvious discomfort and pain. For the thousandth time - for, unknowingly, the last time - I told Aaron that I was proud of him.

Back in the room. More visitors showed up, including Debbie's brother, bringing Ben and Shalom in tow. I headed back to shul and then home for a couple of hours, planning to return by car after Shabbos to possibly relieve Debbie for the night, since there was room for only one parent to stay over at a time.

When I made it back that evening, things had changed. Aaron's pain had grown steadily more intense, and intravenous pain medications had been introduced - though apparently, in far too small a dosage. Meanwhile, I learned, Aaron had rounded out the afternoon with his characteristic control, meticulousness, and good humor intact, if strained. He insisted on davening mincha standing up, even though Debbie and her brother urged that this was clearly unnecessary in his medical state. When his buddies showed up and asked him how the morphine was, he replied in his usual dry way, "ehh, it's overrated!"

But that night, there were no more visitors, and Aaron's pain passed beyond the point that even his cool and self-restraint could manage. He began crying out aloud, sounds that frightened me out of my wits and will never, ever leave me. Debbie and I frantically tried to get the on-duty staff to up the painkiller dosages, or try some alternate medications, without much success. Coverage was poor even by the usual hospital weekend standards.

Every few minutes, I would ask Aaron if the pain was getting better, and he's say "not really". Finally, just after midnight, it seemed to lessen somewhat and Aaron appeared to relax a bit. It looked likely that he would finally be able to sleep soon. Debbie had no intention of leaving his side, so at that point, I felt like it was safe for me to head home for a couple of hours of sleep - such as it was - and come back in the morning.

I said goodbye to Debbie, who was rubbing Aaron's feet, for the first time since he was a baby. That scene seemed to open a door in my heart. Turning to Aaron, I told him, "feel better, kid." Then I added, "I love you." Aaron replied, as he seemed to drift off to sleep "love ya too, Dad".

How many years since we last said those words to each other, how many years since I told my cool, mature, independent son that I loved him? Not since his bar mitzvah, surely? Maybe even much longer. But that evening, never too late, I broke an emotional barrier. And amidst all the later anguish, that's a ray of joy that I hold on to with all my might.

to be continued

Link to Aaron's Story: Part Three


At 9/2/05, 12:00 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

That was very powerful. I wish that I could say something more profound other than I am so sorry that this happened to you and your family.

At 9/3/05, 1:57 AM, Blogger JC said...

I am sorry, but I really don't have any words. I am here, though and will be reading on....this is a daunting and brave task that you have set yourself. I will hold a good thought.

At 9/5/05, 12:34 PM, Blogger momof4 said...

I found this extremely powerful and moving. May God give you Nechama for your terrible loss.

At 9/6/05, 1:03 AM, Blogger benros52589 said...

i find it amazing in crisis situatuions ure more relaxed i would b a wreck

At 9/6/05, 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I do understand why this is cathartic and feel privileged to have a window into your soul. Though I am all too familiar with the details of your story, I await each new segment eagerly. Write on...

E (the E)

At 9/7/05, 9:05 AM, Blogger swiftthinker said...

I already told you that I gain inspiration from your telling of your story. Here again, while my father is currently on his deathbed, I started saying I love you to him instead of just receiving it. It's not so easy to do but I don't want to miss my small window of opportunity.

At 9/7/05, 2:50 PM, Blogger Glen Holman said...

From your words, I feel as if I am there with you. May Hashem give you the strength and courage to continue.
It is a dim reminder that we should never stop telling our kids that we love them.



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