I Think Mom Knew She Was About to Die

I Think Mom Knew She Was About to Die

This is a strange story, I know. But here goes: I think my mom knew that she was about to die, and I think she tried to tell me so during our final real conversation about a week before she passed away.
But first, some family history. When my mom had been 25, her family experienced a horrific tragedy: her parents and grandmother were killed in a car crash when a truck ran into their car, tearing off its roof as they were waiting at a stop sign. The accident had been a terrible shock, of course, but for my mom it actually hadn’t come as a complete surprise. Several weeks before that accident, my mom had dreamed that she and my father were driving in their car when a truck ran into them, tearing off the roof of their car and killing them. My mom had been so shaken up by that dream that she and my father actually went out to buy a new car with a fortified roof. After the terrible accident, my mom believed that her dream had been a premonition of what lay ahead.

52 years later, 2 weeks ago, my mom and dad and I were about to have our weekly pre-Shabbat skype call. I was a little stressed because I needed to share some bad news with them, that my mother-in-law had been injured in a minor car accident that had totaled her car (B”H Annette is mostly recovered now). But when the call started, I realized my parents had already heard the news: “Jenny, I was so sorry to hear about Annette! Please tell her that the same thing happened to me this summer. I didn’t tell you about it at the time but…” and then my mom went on to tell me, with a strange, haunted look on her face, that this past summer she’d been driving home when she ran into an electrical pole, totaled her car, and had suffered minor (but very painful) injuries. “Please tell Annette that during the months before my mother was killed, she had been in 4 fender benders. She had been a bad driver. And then, later that summer she died.”
“But Mom, your mom hadn’t been the one driving during the accident. Hadn’t your father been driving?”
“Right, my father had been driving. But I think it was an omen. That she was going to die. And so I decided, after my accident, that I’m not driving any more.” My mom had always been fiercely, even defiantly independent. No, she didn’t need a cane. No, she didn’t need a walker. No, she didn’t need one of those emergency fall buttons. She was managing just fine, thank you!
But that accident had succeeded in shaking her up, enough to give up her car keys and much of her independence along with them. She felt, I understood, that the angel of death was breathing down her neck, just as he had that of her own mother, A”H, during the cursed summer of 1968.
And then, my mom said something else strange. My parents and I had been having these weekly skype calls for around a decade. And my mom would always end the calls with “Shabbat Shalom” or “Teheni,” the Hebrew word for “Enjoy!” which had become one of her favorite expressions after my kids taught it to her several years ago. But this week, as I was getting up from the chair to call the next in line to speak with Saba and Savta,, my mom said, “Jenny, I love you… I’m talking to you! Do you hear me? I love you!”
Surprised, I sat back down and said, “Thanks Mom, I love you too.”
And as I headed downstairs to the kitchen, I had an awful feeling, like something terrible had just happened. Later that day, I told Josh, “I think my mom thinks she’s about to die.”
And that would be my last real conversation with mom. My mom had been a person with an upbeat disposition, determined, despite the significant hardships she’d faced over the course of her life, to look at the glass as half full. She would regularly sprinkle conversations with phrases like: “Everything is for the best,” or “It’s like a miracle” or “You go to sleep thinking that the world’s going to end, and then you wake up in the morning and the world’s still there!” But the following Friday, during our final skype call just days before her death, mom looked uncharacteristically down, defeated even. When I asked mom how she was feeling she said, “How am I feeling? I’m tired!” and then she went and lay down silently on the sofa for the rest of the call. And that was the last time I saw her.
But it wasn’t the last time I felt mom. During the shiva, my father suggested that my sister, sister-in-law and I go through mom’s clothing to take whatever we wanted. And my dad suggested that (since I’m the only one with daughters) I take mom’s wedding dress.
I had never seen mom’s wedding dress, except in photos. And I’d never noticed it in any of our closets, even though my family had been living in the same home for 44 years. My dad said it was hanging in the closet in my sister’s old bedroom, but I looked several times, and it wasn’t there.
I told my dad that I hadn’t found it in my sister’s closet, or in any of the other closets in the house, and my dad said that mom probably had finally decided to give it away.
I was disappointed. I knew that at least one of my daughters would want to wear mom’s wedding dress, in hopes of catching the magic of her 54-year marriage which had been marked (in addition to the inevitable ups and downs) by laughter, deep companionship, and awe-inspiring shalom bayit.
And then,a few minutes before I headed out the door to the airport, my father suggested I leave some heavy books I’d packed in my carry-on for my daughter (who came for the funeral and is still in America) to take back with her.
That sounded like a good suggestion. But if I was leaving the carry-on with the books, I would need a different carry-on bag. So I ran up the stairs, to the attic. And I looked in the closet, and there it was. Hanging right there, as though it had been waiting for me all that time. A wedding dress. But was it mom’s? I looked at the tag, and saw the name of a dress shop in “Astoria, LI” where mom had grown up and gotten married in her parents’ back yard.
On my flight back to Israel, there was awful turbulence. It was the kind of flight that, when it ends, you say, “Phew! Thank God that’s over and that I’m still alive!” Usually I feel scared when the turbulence is bad like that, and brace myself for a crash and the next day’s tragic headlines. But that flight, I felt supernaturally calm: mom had made sure I found the dress for my daughters, and she was watching over me so I would make it home safely as well. And I did.

11 comments

  1. I don’t even know what to say about this beautiful writing that includes so much tragedy. You are still getting messages from your mother as you process her death. She is still with you.

  2. I was So sorry to read about the loss of your mother. I have been enjoying your writing about her; she sounds like she was an incredible person. Thanks for sharing. Hamakom yinachem eschem.

  3. Chana Schoenberg

    Chana so sorry to hear about the passing of your dear mother. She seemed like a remarkable woman. Take comfort in the thought that she will always b with you. Little reminders: a particular smell, a witty remark her favorite color, music, an expression and more. She will b there with you around the clock. U will feel her presence bringing u comfort, endurance and peace. May her memory b a blessing. BDE

  4. Dear Chana Jenny,
    My Hashem send you comfort.
    What a zechus to have such a beautiful mother!
    Naomi

  5. Ilana Nelson

    Hi dear Chana Jenny, thinking of you and sending love and support. What a bracha to have such a strong connection with your mom and to be able to share her love, intuition and wisdom with others. May you find comfort in your memories and continuing love for her.
    Lots of love,
    Ilana

  6. Dear Chana Jennny
    BDHa’emes
    So sorry – You are an inspiration as your mother, may you continue to gain strength and insight through your deep connection to her. May you and your family always be zoche to bring nachas to your mother and the Aibishter

  7. Your mother seemed like an incredible person and a wonderful mother and grandmother. Like others have said, really what a bracha and a zechus you had- and still have. Baruch Dayan Ha’emes. May you and your family be comforted.

  8. רחל פבלוב

    Chanda Jenny.
    I thought of you today because we came to visit my in-laws. They live in the next neighborhood to you. And then I wanted to check perhaps to meet you in person and wish you a long life and then I realized I don’t physically know where you live.
    So then I thought you are probably still in the states and now I know you have come home.
    I wish you a long life.
    You mom sounds a wonderful lady, may you be blessed with wonderful memories to keep you smiling. And a long long life.

  9. Hi Chana Jenny, Just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you here in Providence. Wishing you lots of revealed bracha and keep writing about your mom. She sounds like a joyful inspiration and we love reading about someone who took a huge part in making you into the you that we all love. May Hashem comfort you among all the aveilim.

  10. ברוך דיין האמת. May her memory be for a blessing. Her love for you never ends. May Hashem comfort you amongst all mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim. Loosing a parent is never easy, suddenly, or drawn out, it always takes us by surprise. I hope that your writing about it will help you to heal and keep her memory alive.

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