Telling Mom’s Patients She’d Passed Away

Telling Mom’s Patients She’d Passed Away

My mom, Gladys Arak Freedman, passed away last Thursday, but that didn’t stop the regular bombardment of phone calls, faxes and Emails for Dr. Arak throughout her shiva.
Many times a day the phone would ring as loud as an old mechanical alarm clock with incoming faxes or calls from patients. At first, before the funeral, I found this deeply irritating. “Mom died! LEAVE US ALONE!” and I would just let the answering machine pick up.
But then, I was appointed the unenviable task of returning those answering-machine messages, which meant telling my mom’s patients that she had passed away.
My mom hadn’t been your average psychiatrist. Unlike most psychiatrists, she accepted all kinds of insurance, even paperwork-heavy Medicaid. Low-income patients without even Medicaid would be seen for a symbolic fee or for nothing at all. Also, my mom had been a board-certified pediatrician before she became a psychiatrist, so she had additional medical knowledge that enabled her to help out those tough cases that other psychiatrists had been unable to crack.
And my mom remained devoted to those patients–in many cases, for decades. Until the very day of the stroke that led so quickly to her death last week, at the age of 77. And that hadn’t been an easy feat for mom, at all. My mom had suffered from MS since her mid-thirties. For decades, she had injected herself every day with medication to control the MS, but during her final years her health had declined steadily and sharply. Mom began to fall and injure herself frequently and was often in pain or very tired. My mom had been talking about closing her practice for several years. But the deadlines she set for closing-down came and went. My mom loved her patients dearly and she knew, for many of them, other psychiatrists wouldn’t be lining up around the block to treat them. And she just didn’t have the heart to do that . So (with, I found out last week, a great deal of help from my father, her remarkably devoted husband of 54 years, and a retired physician himself) she continued working.
So that’s how I ended up, profoundly emotionally and physically drained a few hours after the funeral, with a list of patients to call. The first patient I called had been coming to mom for over 20 years. He had already seen in the Baltimore Sun that mom had passed away, just hours after he’d sat in her office. With a choked voice, he told me: “Your mom helped me so much for so many years. I wanted to tell you and please tell your Dad that I’ve decided to sit shiva for her.”
Another patient with a Southern twang told me: “Me and my family’ve been coming to Dr. Arak since before they discovered dirt. She didn’t love me, I’ll tell ya, I was a bad boy. But if I’d try to pull one over on her she always caught me. I’d always say, ‘Can’t pull one over on Dr. Arak, she’s one sharp lady, don’t even try!’ Your mom was an excellent doctor and an excellent person.”
It’s unusual to hear grown men cry, but I grew used to it this week, as I spoke with mom’s patients, like the young man who responded to the sad news with: “No! You gotta be kidding me! No! No! No! No!,” and he went on like that for around a minute, until he finally said, “I want you to know your mom helped me more than, well, anyone helped me my entire life.”
And each patient I spoke with, I told the same thing, often over the sound of their crying “You think my mom helped you, but I want to tell you that you also helped her. My mom loved her patients so much. And you gave her a sense of purpose and put the spring in her step until the day she died.”
In the end, those conversations I’d dreaded so much became one of my deepest sources of comfort since mom died. But my mom’s patients didn’t only comfort me. They inspired me, filled me with deep yearning, that when I join my mom ((please God, may it be many, many years from now)) there will also be people who say, “No! No! No! She helped me SO much.”

15 comments

  1. This bought tears to my eyes. May you have a nechama during this difficult time.

  2. Mina Esther Gordon

    What an amazing woman! What an amazing couple. Tell your children as much as you can about the ahavat habriot your mother had the Jewish values that was undoubtedly the strong foundation hidden in her upbringing.
    You can explain that they can look up to her example and at the same time Ihey should recognise that they have been privileged to grow up in o frum home and have much more

  3. Mina Esther Gordon

    And every mitzvah that her descendants do in her zechut is like sending a gift to her in local (Gan Eden) currency!!

  4. This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.
    What a special mother you had, Chana Jenny.
    You have strong, generous, loving roots. And you are adding another level to your strong foundations with the incredible things that you are doing with your life – sharing seemingly mundane occurrences from your day-to-day life through your unique way of viewing the world with countless Jewish mothers worldwide.
    You provide us with strength when we really need it and you make me happy to be a Jewish Mom, even while slogging through the tougher parts…
    Your Mom’s soul should have an Aliyah. She must be schepping such Nachat from up there. And I bless you that you find comfort in these painful times.

  5. Thank you Chana Jenny for sharing this with us. Your Mom was able to be there for so many, and connected with so many. May your father, and yourself and family find a comfort in this. Min Hashamayim Tenachamu.

  6. Your mother sounds like she was an incredibly special lady. I am deeply inspired.

  7. It’s so hard to text with tears blurring my eyes. I weep for the huge loss of your mom to you, your wonderful supportive amazing Dad and husband. And I weep for the too numerous people and families she’s helped over her own challenging years. Hashem got back another fine angel. May every persons voice on those difficult phone calls bring you comfort. Thank you for sharing. May moms bountiful life’s memories be for many beautiful life’s blessings for you and all who knew her.

  8. Chaya Basha

    Your writing always moves me, but this – obviously written from the depths of your heart – had me in tears. May her light continue to shine on you and your entire family. HaMakom yenachem etchem b’toch sh’ar aveilei Tzion v’Yerushalayim.

  9. Mirele Rosenberger

    Baruch Daayan HaEmes. May you be comforted among the other mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim. May your mom’s neshama be in a holy place filled with light and love. She sounds like an amazing person. You were both blessed to have each other. She should come back immediately with T’chias Hameisim and Moshiach now.

  10. AWESOME, B’H!! Thank you for sharing the words of your dear mother’s patients, and thank you for what you were able to say back to them.

  11. Janet Waller

    Your beautiful heartfelt writing about your beloved mother brought tears to my eyes. What a gift that you were able to talk with some of her patients and receive their testimonies. Your mother sounds like an amazing, inspirational person. And as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. May Hashem comfort you and your family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

  12. Yocheved Rottenberg

    Chana Jenny, this article touched me deeply. It brought tears to my eyes and inspiration to my heart. May we all merit that which you are yearning for. I am deeply inspired by your mother and know you will bring great merit to her in Heaven.
    Thank you for sharing!

  13. shoshana fischer

    Baruch Daayan HaEmes. May you be comforted among the other mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.
    So sad to hear about your loss,
    May you only have simchas.

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