But my father was home, and that was a blessing; doubly so as I was seven months pregnant and now he would be with us to welcome his fourth grandchild.
At the end of the evening, Dad called me aside. Acknowledging the often fractured relationship between Manny and me, Dad hinted at his premonition that, for him, the end was near. He wouldn’t be around forever and needed to know that Manny, lonely and fragile underneath his rage, would be cared for. I assured Dad that there was nothing to worry about. Despite all the “craziness” between us, Manny and I had a deep affection for one another; a love that transcended all the fights and recriminations. I would always be there for him; no matter what. Eight days later, on the last day of Passover; my father died.
The funeral service was held in a small Bronx funeral home. The room was filled with family members; some of whom I had not seen in years. There was so much history in the room. You could literally hear it in the air. Hungarian and Yiddish interspersed along with heavily accented English by the now assimilated immigrant members and holocaust survivors of both sides of our family. My friends; one of whom, Fran, would soon be godmother to our new born son, had traveled from our close knit community in Connecticut to be with me. Apprehension about the impact of this painfully emotional experience on my pregnancy permeated the conversation in the room. Friends and family alike hovered over me as if their presence was a talisman protecting my unborn child from harm.
But my thoughts were with my father. My last memory of him just days ago… lying comatose in a hospital bed, yet, as if in some sadistic joke, looking so serene, so alive; his chest moving up and down rhythmically, his cheeks alive with color; an illusion of health as blood from his aneurism coursed through his brain. His doctor gathered our family together, and despite the dire prognosis, suggested we go home for a while; get some lunch and some rest. We protested. How could we leave him? At all costs, he must not die alone. Assuring us that there was still plenty of time, the doctor sent us on our way and we all drove to my mother’s Bronx apartment, a short distance from the hospital. An hour later, the last crumbs of our lunch still on our lips, the phone rang. The voice on the other end announced dryly that “Mr. Rosen had expired.” Fury consumed me; momentarily hijacking my grief. I had been robbed of that last, final loving act; that imperative to be with my father at the very end.
And then, just prior to the memorial service, the time came for my mother, Manny, Harry and me to be heralded into the room where my father lay in a simple wooden box befitting his Orthodox upbringing. This was a reprieve; another chance to say goodbye; for words previously unspoken that needed to be said. “Forgive me for abandoning you to that cold and loveless room!” “Know how much your love and your ideas informed the very essence of who I became!” But more than anything else, “Daddy, I loved you with all my being and you will be with me for as long as I am on this earth.”
I rose to join my family but hands all around me pulled me back. Fran, sitting next to me enfolded me lovingly in her strong arms, preventing me from moving. There was mass consensus; I should not be allowed to go. But I knew that I needed to have this last loving moment with my father; to do what I knew had to be done; for me and for him. Emotionally exhausted, I struggled vainly to loosen my friend’s grip. But then, the Rabbi came out and decreed in no uncertain terms; I was not to be allowed to join my family. It was too risky for my “delicate condition.” And so it was that, once again, I was held back, thwarted by circumstances and forces too powerful to overcome. The doctor who told us we had “plenty of time,” the friends and family who looked to “protect” me and the rabbi, who took it upon himself to invoke his authority to keep me from that last tender moment before the casket was closed forever.
Two months later, our son was born. There was a new Joe in the family; named in living memory of the Joe who was my father. I had found a way to make that last loving tribute; finally.
Ms. Jaroslaw, a retired clinical social worker, mother of four and grandmother of 10, battled over her 81+ years for civil rights, a woman’s right to choose and gender equality. Her memories and lessons learned from the “old” Bronx strengthen her resolve to keep fighting in the days ahead.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.