It is Shabbat, and Yom Kippur. I have taken on Shabbat this year, baking Challah each week and lighting candles with my family, putting work aside for rest. Yom Kippur, which began at sundown, is the holiest and most solemn day of the Jewish year; it is literally the day of atonement, and over the years, I have tried to practice it as a day to really limit my connections to the outside world and focus on my relationship to Judaism and to God.
But tonight, after putting the baby to sleep and sitting here, waiting for David to come home, my heart and my mind are not on Shabbat or Yom Kippur. For the past week and a half, whenever I have a quiet moment, my heart and mind go to my Aunt Jan, who died just before Rosh HaShanah.
Abraham and I flew down to Pensacola to be with my family for her funeral, sitting Shiva (briefly) and for Rosh HaShanah. It was the saddest day I have ever experienced. With her passing, the world lost a kind, funny, generous, loving, inspiring woman.
She lived in Pensacola until I was 10, when she married Robert and moved to the mid-Atlantic to live with him. Rachel and I knew her best of all her nieces and nephews, spending the night with her at her apartment, visiting her at work, helping her set up various fundraisers. She loved work, she loved her family, she loved helping others.
I don’t know how long she had Lupus (no one talked about it to me when I was a child). She has been unwell for a long time. One summer in college, I was working at a theatre in Southern Virginia, and on my days off I would go visit Ga (as we called her, I couldn’t say Jan when I was a tot) and Uncle Robert. Even then she had doctor’s appointments with regularity, but she could drive, get her nails done (red, of course, to match her glasses), and go out for dinner.
She came to Pensacola to meet David when we visited. She came to our wedding in New York. She never had children of her own, and I think Rachel and I consider her a second mother as much as she considers us her own. It was important for her to be there for my special days, no matter how difficult it was for her to get there.
When Abraham was born, she was too sick to come for his bris, which I think broke her heart. I sent her photos as often as I could get to the computer, and answered all her questions about him.
In July she went to the hospital (at first, I wasn’t too worried, for she was always in and out of the hospital), but her doctor said he didn’t think she would be leaving. She moved to a Hospice care home shortly after. Hospice means the end, but she was determined to go home.
In September, David, Rachel, Abraham and I drove down to North Carolina to visit her. We knew it was to say goodbye, and she did too. Her greatest fear, as far as I could tell, was that she would be forgotten. I kept telling her there was no way, but she didn’t have children and wouldn’t have grandchildren. I promised her that Abraham would know who she was (I am so grateful we were able to visit her with him). I promised her I would say Kaddish for her.
She never complained about being in pain, although she was constantly in pain. When I called her on the phone, even a few weeks ago, she was so cheerful and chatty, even though she spent most of her time lying in bed. I am grateful that I was able to see her twice in the past year, once when I drove from PA to FL with mom when I was pregnant last October, and this trip in September. But I am so deeply saddened that I will not see her again. But that sadness is met with relief for her that she is no longer suffering.
Her life makes me question how and why the world works in the way it does. How can we say, as Jews, that G-d is just when someone so good suffers as she does? How can I say, as a yogi, that the seeds of her karma were planted over lifetimes and this time around just really sucked? How can I say as her niece, as someone who loved her, that anything in the universe makes any sense?
She got to hear Abraham say “Ga.” She will not be forgotten.