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Chapter Seven

The Rocky Road

    Several months after Tovah was born my mother injured herself while she was exercising. This was unusual because my mother was in better shape than most women half her age and she had been exercising as long as I could remember. It sounded like it was just a pulled muscle that would get better with time. My mother went to her internist and he couldn't find anything wrong with her. She started going to one doctor after another, and none of them thought anything was wrong. My mother suffered greatly from the pain her injury was causing her and she became more and more convinced that something horrible was wrong inside her body. This was all happening during the time when my parents had bought a new house in a different part of town and they were in the middle of fixing it up. My father tended to buy things when he got bored and I wasn't sure my mother really wanted to move to this new house. She often talked of having a place in Boston to live in for part of the year but my father said his business was in Miami and he couldn't afford to take off that much time, so whenever they came to visit it was for only a few days at a time.

    My mother began talking as if she felt like she was going to die. She even started talking about suicide but I was never completely sure how serious my mother was. She came up to visit towards the end of 1985 and also to see some doctors, but again there didn't seem to be anything wrong with her. My father took her to the Mayo Clinic and the doctors there also couldn't find anything wrong. My mother was actually in the best physical shape she had ever been in but something inside her was making her crazy. Not one of the doctors she went to realized how suicidal she had become.

    In June of 1986 my mother and father came up to visit and to see another doctor. He thought maybe there was some sort of nerve problem but the tests didn't show anything wrong. My mother and I usually had a good time together. She had a lot of enthusiasm for life but something was different now. She told me she was tired of having to look good all the time, tired of flossing her teeth and she kept insisting she was dying. She talked more and more about suicide and she kept telling me that she needed to know I would be all right. I didn't know what to say to her. I knew that my mother had always been overpowered by other people and I felt strongly that she was using the thought of suicide as an effort to finally take control of her life. I knew that suicide was not the answer but I didn't know what the answer was.

    I spoke to my friend Chanie Perlmuter and she told me strongly that I should tell my mother that I needed her and she shouldn't kill herself. But I couldn't do that. I felt it would be so selfish of me at that point to ask my mother to do something, anything, for me. How do you ask a person who is in such enormous pain, whether it is physical or emotional pain, to continue bearing that pain for someone else's sake.

    One day my friend Arlyne Litvin (Lew and Jeri's daughter) dropped by. Arlyne was her usual delightful and creative self and my mother liked her right away. Later my mother told me that if anything should happen to her she wanted me to fix my father up with Arlyne. She thought Arlyne would be great for my father. Actually, Arlyne was a lot like my mother in many ways and I think that they felt some kind of instant kinship.

    By now my mother was getting me really worried so I spoke with Pinchas Krinsky's brother Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, who was one of the Rebbe's secretaries. I told him that my mother was talking about suicide and that my father was worried and had hidden away the guns he kept in their house. I asked Rabbi Krinsky to please speak to the Rebbe and ask him what to do. Rabbi Krinsky later told me that the Rebbe said he would mention my mother's name at the Ohel. I asked Rabbi Krinsky if the Rebbe knew if my mother was going to die and if he did would he let me know, but Rabbi Krinsky felt that the Rebbe wouldn't give an answer to that sort of question.

    My mother asked to speak to a Rabbi and I knew it would have to be just the right one, so I called Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin and he came over to the house. I don't know what he said to her but she felt a lot better after she spoke with him. When it came time for my mother to go home my husband suggested to her that she stay with us for awhile and let my father go on home. For a moment she looked as if she was actually considering it, but then she said goodbye and left.

    It was erev Shabbos when my mother flew back to Miami and it was a little strange because I was used to her calling me every erev Shabbos to wish me a good Shabbos. After Shabbos was over I called her and she sounded terrible. She sounded really depressed and distant from me. But then all of a sudden she blurted out, "Oh Leslie I didn't hug you enough when I was there." I got really worried and I told her I was going to call someone to help her and I would call her back. I called a psychologist on Miami Beach that someone told me about and I spoke to her about my mother. She said she couldn't call my mother as a therapist but she offered to call my mother as a friend. I told her I thought it would be better if I gave her phone number to my mother and I would ask my mother to call her. I called my mother back and gave her the number and she said she would call the psychologist the next day. I didn't remember saying goodbye.

    Early the next morning the phone rang and it was my father. He apologized as he said, "I'm sorry baby, she's gone." She had really done it. She had found one of the guns my father had hidden away and she had really gone through with it. My father was just sitting there with her and I told him I would call someone to help and I would call him back. I immediately called Kasriel Brusowankin, whom I had spoken to previously about my mother and he told me he would take care of everything. Then I called up everyone I had spoken to about my mother because I thought they would want to know. After that Dovid and I packed up the kids and went to the airport.

    It was an exceptionally difficult time for everyone. My mother had kept a journal the last few months of what she was going through. She said she didn't really want to kill herself but she was so confused and so convinced that she was dying. My father handled the situation fairly well but I was worried about him because I knew that my mother was possibly his only connection to anything decent in his life. My sister was having a hard time and I didn't know what to do for her. If my grandmother was having a hard time she didn't show it. She was one of those old people who just knew how to survive and go on with life. She had already outlived two husbands and I knew even though this was different she would be all right.

    And as for me I had assured my mother I would be all right so I figured that's exactly the way I would be. Even though I thought that suicide was not the answer there was a part of me that felt happy for my mother that she had managed to release herself from the pain. I sent a copy of her journal to the Rebbe along with a very long letter explaining my feelings about the whole situation. I wanted the Rebbe to know that I was going to be all right and that I understood there was no greater way to honor my mother than by continuing to live my life according to the Torah.

    I was worried that her death, and especially the way she died, affected the Rebbe on a much deeper level than it affected me. For me it was only a personal loss, but because I knew that the Rebbe truly cared about and was strongly connected to every Jewish soul, I knew that the loss of my mother must have saddened him in a way that no one else could have possibly understood.

    I suggested to my father that he move in with us for awhile. He began coming up for a couple of weeks at a time and he even found himself a job. He continued to run his business in Miami and during the weeks he came up to Boston he did the same kind of work only for someone else. I fixed my father up with Arlyne like my mother wanted me to and my father fell in love with her. The only problem was that Arlyne was very independent and my father liked having someone around to do what he wanted when he wanted. But even so they got along pretty well for awhile, although my father, who had always been quite unconventional, made Arlyne's father a little nervous.

    One Shabbos when we were over at the Litvins, Arlyne and my father were on their way out to take a walk. My father was carrying a rather large shoulder bag which he kept all his stuff in, and I'm not sure if it was my father's 'purse' or the fact that he was carrying it on Shabbos that bothered Lew. But before my father and Arlyne got out the door Lew suggested to my father in a calm and careful tone, "Neil, maybe you want to leave your 'purse' here when you go out?" Normally an incident like that would have made me laugh hysterically, but I just sat there staring. Life had changed. My mother, my best friend, was gone, and nothing seemed normal anymore.

    After awhile, Lew began to accept my father when he saw how good he was to Arlyne and how happy she seemed to be with him. The last time I saw Lew was at the kosher grocery store where he worked. Before I left he smiled and said, "Listen, if Arlyne is happy . . ." About a week later, our friend Lew Litvin passed away. It was only a couple of months after my mother passed away and I can't even describe how depressed and empty I felt.

    Eventually my father and Arlyne decided they weren't really right for each other, but I was thankful Arlyne had been there for him. Not only had she provided comfort to him after he lost my mother, but she had taught him about friendship between a man and a woman. I knew my father had never understood how to be a friend to my mother and I hoped that he would be a better husband if he was given another chance.

    After the relationship with Arlyne was over my father kept searching for the right woman for him. He found his search a little difficult because most women had gotten a lot more independent since he had met my mother. He had trouble finding Jewish women who were interested in him so he went out with a non-Jewish woman, and this worried me. So I wrote a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and I asked him to please read it at the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's grave, as he often did with people's letters. In this letter I asked the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe to please find my mother and ask her to help my father find the right Jewish woman for him. Well believe it or not, soon after that, my father met a very special lady who was exactly the person he was searching for. I was really happy for him when they got married. I knew that my father was very fortunate to have been blessed with two such devoted wives in his life.

    In August of 1987, a little more than a year after my mother passed away, our second daughter was born whom we named Devorah Chaya. Devorah was my mother's Jewish name and we gave her the name Chaya for three reasons: because she was a new life and Chaya means life, because my mother always wore a necklace with a big Chai on it and because my husband had a great Aunt Clara whose Jewish name was Chaya. Aunt Clara had lived to be a very old and was a very sweet woman.

    Devorah Chaya's birth was both beautiful and terrifying. Her birth was a C-Section, and as she was being born she grabbed onto me and as a result I lost a lot of blood, and at one point I actually thought I was G-d forbid going to die. Although I felt overjoyed that I had a daughter to name for my mother I felt strange because I knew that my life was in danger from the way the people in the operating room were talking. I had thought a lot about dying since my mother had passed away, but at that moment when I thought I might actually leave, I thought about how my husband and children would feel and I started to feel badly for them. In the next moment I began to feel that it was okay for me to want to stay alive. At that instant I really wanted to live, and thanks to G-d and to my extraordinarily gifted doctor, I did. Devorah Chaya turned out to be a very bouncy, bubbly and chatty little girl. She's a lot of fun to be around, a lot like my mother was before she got depressed. I'm so thankful that I'm around now to enjoy Devorah Chaya as she chatters and bounces her way through life.

    Sometime after Devorah Chaya was born, my in-laws decided they no longer wanted to own the house in Brookline. They offered to sell it to us, but we didn't want the responsibility of owning a multiple-family house. We tried to find a house in Boston or Brookline but everything was so expensive. We couldn't afford anything there, even though Dovid now had a good job as an attorney. Then one night at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva dinner, a friend of ours, Rabbi Chaim Wolosow, who had moved to Sharon a couple of years earlier, suggested we come out there and take a look. At that time several Orthodox families had moved to Sharon, which was out in the country about 20 miles southwest of Boston. It was cheaper to buy a house there and it was a beautiful town as well. Dovid went to look at a few houses and I asked him to choose one that we would both like.

    The reason I didn't go with him was because I wasn't really ready to deal with the thought of leaving the Boston area, although I did agree that Sharon would be a great place for our children. And besides, they would still be going to the same Yeshiva and we would still be able to see our friends in Boston. In the eight years we had been there I had grown close to so many special people. One of those people was someone who Arlyne had suggested I talk with after my mother passed away. This wonderful woman, Leah Scheiner, instantly became a very special friend to me. I knew from the first moment I spoke with Leah that we would be friends forever. She was tremendously giving of herself, especially with her time. She had also unfortunately experienced tragedy in her life when she lost her mother at the age of nine. Yet Leah was an amazingly strong woman and always ready to help another person at a moment's notice. She was also exceptionally and brilliantly learned in Torah. I thoroughly enjoyed learning with Leah as well as just hanging out with her and laughing about the absurdities of life. I knew I would continue to see her but I was still worried about moving to Sharon.

    The night before we moved I hadn't even really packed yet. I had such a strong connection to that house. I think what I was really afraid of was moving to a place where my mother had never been and would not be able to see. She had always needed to actually see the place where I was living because it made her feel better being able to picture it in her mind when she wasn't with me.

    But somewhere inside of me I sensed that it was time for us to move to a new place, somewhere beyond the rocky road. And although I still found myself somewhat hesitant I knew G-d was right there, just as he always was, leading me to the next place I was supposed to be. All I had to do was put my trust in Him, and the only way to do that was by following those life-saving words Rabbi Samuels had spoken to me so many years earlier, "as long as you continue to remember Mount Sinai and fulfill the promise we made there, your life and the lives of your children will always be on the right path." And with those words echoing in my mind and embedded in my soul I packed up my memories, leaving plenty of room for all the beautiful new ones to come. When it came time to leave I held on tightly to my connection with Mount Sinai, and only because of that connection was I truly able to move on beyond the rocky road.