Sick, stuck… and surprised: A recuperation leads to a reconnection

As told to Chaya Silber

My husband, Mendel, was receiving outpatient treatment for cancer in a prestigious Florida hospital. We were itching to get back to Europe for our granddaughter’s wedding, which would take place ten days before Pesach. However, a week before Purim the doctors told us we needed to stay a few more days for one more round of treatment. The timing was tight, but if it all went smoothly, we could still make the wedding. Then reports of the coronavirus began dominating the news.
By Purim, we began to realize that getting home might not be as easy as we thought, if it were possible at all. Mendel was immunocompromised, and we were advised to avoid a commercial flight at all costs. In fact, the doctor warned us that if we did take a plane home, it might be Mendel’s final journey.
So there we were in a villa in Boca, far away from family and friends, with no way to get back home; on top of that, the owner had made it clear that we had to leave by Pesach. He had been exceptionally kind to us, allowing us to extend our stay over and over at a markedly reduced price, but now he needed the place. Every Pesach his daughter came with her family from New York, and as gracious as he was, he was not about to give up on that.
We needed to find new accommodations fast. We decided to go to New York, where a relative had offered us a basement apartment.
As for my granddaughter’s wedding, we took part via Zoom, smiling and wishing the kallah and chasan mazel tov through a haze of tears. My granddaughter was exceptionally mature and accepting, but I couldn’t say the same for myself. I was weepy and emotional for the next few days, missing my family desperately. This was the first family simchah we had ever missed, and it made me realize just how much my husband’s illness had impacted our lives. Of course, I was grateful he was alive and well, but I desperately longed for our family and regular life.
Within days, the world as we knew it had changed even further. The rise in COVID-19 cases had begun to affect everything, and there was barely a flight to be found. That meant driving instead of flying to New York—a city that everyone was saying we should stay away from as it wasn’t safe for a sick man with a compromised immune system. We realized it made more sense to stay in Florida. But where? We needed to find a place, but nothing was available, and the hotels were closing.
The week before Pesach, our landlord reminded us again that we had to leave. There was no choice. We would head to Brooklyn; at least there we would have a roof over our heads. We planned to rent a car, and my husband and I would split the driving. Our children, however, were up in arms. How could I take responsibility, they cried, for bringing their sick father to New York, where hundreds of Yidden were fighting for their lives in overcrowded hospitals? It was risking his life!

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