Waiting for Peter

Peter, my husband’s step-father, is dying.

After a 6-month battle with pancreatic cancer, the oncologist told my mother-in-law last week that Peter’s four sons should congregate to Kingston from the 4 corners of Canada to see their father before he passes away.

And then on Sunday afternoon, my husband called to tell me that it sounded like Peter had only a few hours to live. So the moment my girls got home from school that day, backpacks still slung across their backs like Ethiopian babies, we dialed Canada to sing “HaMalach HaGoel Oti” for Peter in preparation for the long sleep that lies ahead…

But 4 days later, Peter is still with us. He isn’t in pain and he is in good spirits, thank G-d.

But Peter hasn’t eaten or drunk for days, and he is far too weak to get out of bed. He has said good-bye to his siblings, to his friends, to his colleagues from his decades as a government professor at Queens University.

I already, at my MIL’s request, have filmed my kids talking about their favorite memories of “Saba Peter,” who has been a beloved 3rd grandfather for them for their whole lives. I told my kids that I am making a video to make Saba Peter happy. Too morbid, too sad to tell them the truth, that this video will be shown at Peter’s memorial service.

Peter’s sons and my mother-in-law have spent the last few days with Peter. They have been reminiscing and sharing stories and listening to Mozart and waiting, waiting, waiting…

When I told my mom about Peter’s condition on Sunday, somehow she understood that Peter’s death wasn’t as imminent as everyone seemed to think. She told me: “Jenny, waiting for death from a terminal illness is like waiting for a birth. You know how it is at the end of pregnancy, when you are waiting and waiting for the birth to finally happen? And another day passes, and another day, and another day, and still nothing’s happening? Death is like birth. It takes a long time…”

It’s ironic that this week, of all weeks, my daughters brought home an unforgettable story from youth group on the birth-death connection called “Life after Birth,” which I’ve translated and posted here.

In the meantime, please pray for Peter the son of Kay, who has been a phenomenally wonderful, supportive, and loving husband to my MIL, and a phenomenally accepting, good-hearted, and gracious step-father and grandfather to us and our children.


  1. I am sorry for Peter and for all of you, but also appreciate that he is surrounded by family who love him and are with him…I am sure that, like when waiting for a birth, you will use this difficult time for extra and extra-special tefilot…

  2. he will be in our tefillot.

  3. Tamar Miller

    i actually remember meeting Peter in their log cabin in Canada. i will have him in mind in my davening that he should have a painless and smooth transition from this world to the next. and that the entire family should be comforted during this difficult time.

  4. Peter moved into a hospice and has fallen into a coma. Thank you for your prayers.

  5. This was one of the most moving films I have ever seen. How thoughtfully it is composed. It shows the love for Peter and his family, and the family’s love for Peter. I loved the part when Jenny’s husband asked him to look after the family from the World to Come. So real, so touching. Thank you, Chaya Rivka

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