It was 13 years ago, in the middle of a frigid winter, when my well-ordered world turned upside down. I watched my husband breathe his last while trapped in a living tomb: a wrecked car on the side of the road, hidden in a remote area. The date was January 24, 2007.
My husband, Ephraim, z”l, had asked me to join him at the wedding of a friend’s child in Montreal. Ephraim had been davening with the baal hasimchah in the same shtiebel for many years and made it a point to attend the simchahs of his friends, regardless of how difficult it was. He would regularly exert himself to travel even in inclement weather, because he knew how much it meant to people.
Ephraim and I were empty-nesters, as our three children were all happily married, our two sons in Eretz Yisrael and our only daughter in Brooklyn. Ephraim was in his early 60s and I was in my late 50s. We were both still employed, Ephraim as an insurance agent, and I as an accountant. We were blessed to have a beautiful marriage, saw lots of nachas from our kids, and enjoyed our peaceful, serene lives. I was glad to accompany Ephraim on this trip, a short getaway to say mazel tov to one of our close friends.
We had made this trip many times before and had it down to a science. We planned on leaving on Wednesday morning and arriving in Montreal in the late afternoon. We would then rent a hotel room to relax a bit, spend some time at the wedding, and then get some rest before driving back through the night. As we were packing up the car, Ephraim, an EMT, reminded me to take a heavy blanket along for the ride, as the weather forecast was in the low teens. This was quite unusual; he had never asked me to take a blanket on a trip before, especially since our car had a good heater.
I had recently purchased a warm North Face ankle-length down coat, which I decided to wear instead of the usual Shabbos jacket I wore to weddings. This was another instance of hashgachah that saved my life.
We left on schedule on Wednesday morning. That same day, my married son, who had come to America for a short visit, returned to Eretz Yisrael, and my elderly mother went to Miami with her aide. I was anticipating a quiet, routine winter. All was calm and well.
Ephraim left his tallis and tefillin behind, as we planned on being back the following day. I took out my mixing bowl and readied a bag of flour on the counter so I could bake challah, my usual Thursday morning activity, upon my return. Little did I know that it would be many months before I could even think of making challah again.
The trip to Montreal was uneventful. We got some rest in our hotel room, as planned, and enjoyed the wedding. Our hosts were very appreciative that we had made the effort to come. At around 10 p.m. we went back to the hotel, where Ephraim took a short nap before heading home.
In the meantime, I changed out of my wedding finery and into a warm skirt and sweater. We checked out of our hotel at around 11:30 and began the long drive back. I reclined the front seat a bit and tried to relax. My feet were ensconced in fur-lined boots and I was wearing a heavy coat. My husband was also wearing a quilted winter jacket and ski pants. Yet despite our many layers, the steam was on full blast, as it was only 4°F outside, with a wind chill that brought the temperature to below zero.