Tag Archives: son's death

The Passover Walk

 by Jacqueline Jules (Long Island, NY)

It was his idea to go to Central Park.

 “You love to walk, Mom,” he said. 

He was 26, in law school, and not as a rule, the kind of son who suggested outings his mother would like. I suspected he felt guilty for begging out of the second Passover Seder at his brother’s apartment on the West Side. I could have absolved him. Could have said that one Seder was enough for someone who’d been glancing at his phone under the table all night. He always suffered stoically at Seders, not being a fan of matzah ball soup, charoset, or the long service his older brother liked to lead. His only joys at Passover were the brightly colored fruit slices everyone else criticized as being full of carcinogenic dyes.

“If you can’t come tonight,” I agreed, “a walk this afternoon is a nice trade-off.”

The weather was glorious for early April. Sunny and sixty-five degrees. His step was uncharacteristically peppy, pointing out blooming flowers he said I’d like. I panted sometimes, trying to keep up, not daring to ask him to slow down, afraid he’d think I was too tired to continue. Time alone with a grown son was worth sore feet later on. 

He was a proud tour guide, insisting we visit Belvedere Castle, an attraction I hadn’t seen on any previous trips to New York. 

Reaching the balcony and the panoramic view, he grinned at me, sharing the small endearing space between his two front teeth.

“I knew you’d love this, Mom.” 

We leaned against the railing for a good twenty minutes, admiring the greenery, framed by the Manhattan skyline. I felt so full, so grateful he’d given me these precious hours.  

“When I’m old and gone.” I touched his arm, rock solid under his light jacket from lifting weights. “Remember how happy you made me today.” 

It was a year before his diagnosis. Colon cancer, stage four.  Neither of us ever imagined what kind of gift this day would become, how at Passover, I would be the one left to recall our animated walk through Central Park in place of his bored presence at seder. His strong legs striding beside me, still pulsing with life. 

Jacqueline Jules is the author of Manna in the Morning (Kelsay Books, 2021) and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String, winner of the 2016 Helen Kay Chapbook Prize from Evening Street Press. Her poetry has appeared in over 100 publications, and she is the author of 50 books for young readers including four Sydney Taylor Honor winners, two National Jewish Book Award finalists, and ten PJ Library selections. To learn more about her, please visit her online at www.jacquelinejules.com.

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Condolences

by Rita Plush (New York, NY)

People have surprised me since my son died—and not always in a good way. Some of those I thought would be there with a note, a call, a “How’re you doing?” have fallen by the wayside. Yet others I hardly knew have reached out in a most caring way. One such person called out, “Rita?” as I was leaving the synagogue one Saturday. 

Never having spoken, I knew this man only by sight. And name, if I could ever recall it.

He told me he had read an article I wrote about my son’s death (such a terrible and final word) when I had volunteered as a phone friend to an elderly shut-in as a way of reaching out to someone instead of wallowing in my sorrow. The man offered his condolences. But I sensed in his manner, in his almost hesitant way of speaking, that there might be more on his mind. I waited a beat and he asked if I had a minute, or did I have to get going? I said I had time.  

He shared that his father had died when he was five and a half, and his mother when he was 21. 

“Everyone has their own grief,” I said. “That must have been very difficult for you.” 

I wondered if this was going to be one of those conversations—if you can call it that—where people insist their grief is just like yours, or tell you about someone who has it worse than you (no one has it worse when you lose a child!). Or what you should be doing to get out of your funk.

But then, as if not to take anything away from my suffering, he said, “Losing a child is the greatest loss of all.” He was glad I had come to services and not stayed home brooding, grieving alone. It was important to get out, he said. To be with others, to socialize. “It’s key in the healing process.”

It’s also key in Jewish tradition to perform acts of kindness. The 12th-century sage Moses Maimonides wrote that by comforting mourners you fulfill the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. My neighbor was doing just that. 

“I hope you don’t think I’m preaching or telling you what to do,” he said. “I’m just passing on what worked for me.” 

“Not at all,” I said, taken with his compassion.  

There had been mentors, he said: a neighbor, an uncle, later on teachers, role models who shaped him and became important in his life. A job well done, I thought, considering how he had sought me out, a stranger, to comfort. 

We stood there talking by the exit door but I don’t recall seeing anyone come or go, so absorbed I was in our exchange. And though he spoke more than I, it wasn’t a me, me, me assault. An us talk is what it was. One sufferer (he) trying to make another (me), feel better in the most sincere way. 

How kind. How lovely. How a five-minute conversation, if it was that long, cut to the heart of things. 

“You’re Sam, right?” 

He nodded.  

“Thank you, Sam.” 

He reached out his hand to me. I could feel the slight damp. This had not been an easy talk for him. Then gently, almost shyly, as if the gesture might be too familiar, he drew me in. It did not occur to me then how much I disliked being touched by strange men. Perhaps because it was I who was the stranger, and he had welcomed me, as the Torah says one should. So that when he brought me closer and his cheek tapped mine, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. A complete understanding of what had passed between us.

Rita Plush is the author of the novels Lily Steps Out and Feminine Products, and the short story collection Alterations. She is the book reviewer for Fire Island News and teaches memoir at Queensborough Community College and the Fire Island School, Continuing Ed. Her stories and essays have been published in The Alaska Quarterly Review, MacGuffin, The Iconoclast, Art Times, The Sun, The Jewish Writing Project, The Jewish Literary Journal, Down in the Dirt, Potato Soup Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Backchannels, LochRaven, Kveller, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Broadkill Review, Avalon Literary Review, Jewish Week, and The Best of Potato Soup 2020. 

If you’d like to read more about Rita and her work, visit her website: https://ritaplush.com

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