We decide to drive up to our second home in Loch Sheldrake, three hours away, for Purim this year.
When people hear our plans, they say, “How nice for you. You’ll have peace and quiet.” I nod and smile, swallowing the lump in my throat. Who wants peace and quiet on Purim?
Purim is usually a time when our home bursts with friends, family and the lively chatter of our grandchildren. Everyone is in costume; it is noisy, hectic and fun. Toward the end of the day, the extended family sits down to a feast. My husband and I are always right in the thick of things. We prepare gift baskets, map out the best routes so that we can get to all the kids’ teachers, drive around town and cook a meal for a huge crowd. We love Purim. We’ve been doing it for a long time. The thought of exchanging it all for the stark silence of an empty bungalow feels sad.
It is quiet in the car as we drive through town. The streets are empty. No one is out delivering mishloach manos. My husband and I look at each other. He knows what I’m thinking. Softly he says, “Hashem wants a different avodah from us now.”
I can hardly breathe. If he can accept what is happening to him, why can’t I?
* * *
It used to be so easy to be happy. I was brought up in a large, loving family with lots of cousins and friends. My life was full of books, music, home-cooked meals and all the many little things that fill a home with love and laughter. I remember that even as a teenager, when I thought that being moody and conflicted made me seem more interesting, I was essentially happy. Growing up in the ’70s, living among Holocaust survivors, I would sometimes worry if it was right to be so happy.
I was 21 when I got married, and the years flew by, joyous and meaningful. And then my father suddenly died. He was larger than life, and I could not imagine living in a world without him. A year later, while I was still grieving for his death, my mother-in-law passed on. My bright world, shadowed by my father’s death, turned another shade darker.
I waited for the pain to dull, for the dark clouds to lift, for my life to turn bright again. But it was not to be. Shortly after my mother-in-law’s death, I became seriously ill. Disease is a terrifying thing, taking away whatever control you feel you have. Throughout it all, my husband was there with me; he came to every appointment and supported me. He knew how scared I was.
I remember driving to the doctor’s office, exiting the FDR Drive onto East 34th Street. My husband was waiting there, shadowed by the awning in front of the hospital, sweating profusely in his suit and tie in the humidity of New York’s summer heat. He hadn’t been able to get a taxi, so he had run from his office on 47th Street and Fifth Avenue to meet me. He didn’t want me to have to park the car in a garage and then walk up the steep ramp to the street. He peered out into traffic, his brown eyes wide, searching for me, and I thought, “I see you, I see you.”