Lightning Rod

Artwork by Susan Berrin
Artwork by Susan Berrin

I spend a week with my mother in the hospital after her surgery.

For four nights, I sleep fitfully in a foldout chair at her bedside, waking up frequently to listen for her breathing.

Day 1: Relief. Suffering. Shock.

Mom holds her breath; often; most of the time.

I breathe audibly for both of us.

Day 2: It takes two nurses, a walker, and me to help Mom to the commode at 3:00 AM. We call these “activities of daily living.”

I feed her chocolate pudding from a small plastic white spoon. I brush her hair. I smooth lotion on her back and arms, her skin dry and scaly from the pre-surgery antibacterial wash.

That night I awaken to her calling for me, screaming my name.

Night terrors. Flashback; the trauma door blown wide open. “Get off of me!” She wails.

I scramble out of my chair-bed to comfort her. Whether or not I am sleep-deprived, soul-weary, heartbroken, or sad, my voice is steady, patient, reassuring. My hand very gently rests on her shoulder.

I am the grounding force, her lightning rod.

None of my siblings come. We all live in other parts of the country. I am the only daughter. I live the farthest away. They are both fathers I have no children of my own.

Edah is the Hebrew word for witness. I am bearing witness to her suffering.

Day 3: Mom orders a monochromatic lunch: noodles with butter, mashed potatoes, and vanilla ice cream. Mom is diabetic.

She has no well of courage from which to draw strength. Just me, the lightning rod. I request a visit from the hospital chaplain. I need someone to come pray with me. No one shows up. I wander through the hospital corridors to find the chapel, tucked away at the end of an obscure hallway. I pray alone. Hineini.

“Hineni,” appearing eight times in the Torah in a variety of narratives, has been the focus of countless drashot, commentaries, and teachings. I sit in the empty pew with my heart circumcised, in this stark quiet chapel. Hineini.

Day 4: Together, Mom and I bentschGomel” — a traditional prayer of thanks to be recited by one who has survived a dangerous situation. It is typically a call-and-response prayer. I say the words aloud as Mom mumbles in the fog of morphine.

Mom: Blessed are You, God of All That Is, Spirit of Life, who bestows kindness on those who are accountable, and who has granted to me all kindness, selah.

Me: _ Amen._ May the One who has granted you all kindness always grant kindness to you, selah.

Day 5: Deliverance. Release. Transition. This is the day I am leaving mom and flying home to California. I feel torn, as in rent fabric. She looks at me with glassy fear in her eyes. I kiss her forehead, smooth her hair back from her face.

Today, Mom will be transferred to the Jewish rehabilitation center. I must return home, and cannot be her lightning rod. I don’t know how to be the grounding presence for her if I am on the other side of the country.

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