Once upon a time in the city of New York, there were 'three' Twin Towers. Two of the towers were very tall, measuring thousands of feet in height and exceeding 100 stories each. The 'third' tower was small in stature, measuring only five feet in height, but towering over the 'twins' in greatness.
On September 11, '01 the two very tall edifices, the North Tower and the South Tower, fell and were completely destroyed. On September 11, '01, the five-foot tall tower, named Mrs. Chana/Anna Gluck, was in Manhattan at 8:45 a.m. for an appointment with her oncologist. Her body was already battered and shrunken from previous harsh treatments, and from her returning disease. Her spirit, however, was intact. When those two buildings fell and her daughter, the writer of this essay, called hysterically to the doctor's office advising Mom to stay indoors until 'the dust settled', this brave five-foot tower had already left the doctor's office and had started the long, grueling trek on foot, through Manhattan and across the Williamsburg Bridge. For three and a half hours she walked amidst the fog, smog, and pollution, panic in her heart at the events of the day, but strong-minded as ever. The 'third' tower did not fall; it survived September 11th.
The third tower was my mother, my pillar of strength, my teacher, my example in life, my instructor, my mentor.
In her lifetime, my mother gave birth to four biological children; however she nurtured hundreds others. Cousins, nieces, nephews, customers at the dry cleaners where she worked for many years, friends, community constituents, my school friends, - all felt like she was a mother to them. The size of her heart was immeasurable and the scope of her good deeds boundless. Her smile warmed souls and her compassion healed spirits. Her actions lent support and her character taught 'mentschlichkeit'. What a woman!
And then there was Moishey…
When Moishey was born, and subsequently diagnosed, my mother shed her share of tears, but never allowed the situation to pull her down or get her off her feet. On the contrary, she mustered all the courage she could gather and became a wall of support for us and for the entire family. As a working woman, she was tireless in her efforts to help us both physically and emotionally. She was our rock and our stability, our shoulder to cry on and our comfort. She invited us into her home, albeit it was very small in size (She really proved that 'a home is as big as your heart is'.), from my hospital leave, which was two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, until after Succos, so that we wouldn't go home and wallow in sorrow during the Yom Tov season.
At Moishey's recent Bar Mitzvah, while the family was standing together, reminiscing about those early days after Moishey's birth, my sister-in-law reminded all assembled relatives, that it was my mother who set everybody straight in those days and wouldn't hear of anybody trying to 'better' the situation for us, by preaching denial. Especially, the first three weeks after diagnosis, while we waited for the results of the chromosomal analysis, it was the easiest thing to hide behind the truth and say, "Nah, it can't be; the test will be negative." My mother insisted that all 'ostriches' pull their heads up from the sand, stand tall, be brave and offer support and encouragement, instead of denial, which didn't help anybody.
Mommy's/Bobby's relationship with Moishey was unique. She loved him to no end and he loved her in return. In addition, she was always lending constructive advice and sharing helpful information. As Moishey grew older, she wouldn't accept inappropriate behavior from him because he was 'nebach' and everybody had to close an eye to his improper antics. No, she aimed high and she strived for Moishey to be a 'mentsch'.
When Moishey was an infant and suffered from bad colic for eight months, my mother invited him to her home for Shabbosim in order to give us a break. As a middle-aged 'Bobby' (I am her youngest child) she decked out her bedroom in nursery gear and accommodated Moishey like a prince. From Erev Shabbos until Motzei Shabbos she cuddled him, fed him, sang to him, and was up with him. Then, with great difficulty, she relinquished her 'hold' on him and allowed him to come home to us, his parents, until the next Shabbos. Such were her unselfish ways - a woman who worked hard all week and needed the Shabbos rest for herself so badly.
It was precisely during these Shabbosim that my father and mother started to disagree about Moishey's hearing. My mother suspected that he didn't hear well; my father was sure he heard perfectly. The end result was Boruch Hashem that Moishey heard very well, but the sweetness of the situation was how my parents observed and were concerned over Moishey's well-being. Their 'disagreement' resulted in our taking Moishey for numerous hearing tests, which was important for a child with Down syndrome (since many are hearing impaired).
My darling mother partook in every single school event, ceremony and/or celebration that took place on behalf of her Moishey. She took tremendous pride in his achievements and she looked out for his progress with concern and pride.
She was also a source of strength to other grandparents of 'einiklech' with Down syndrome, and even corresponded via mail with a grandmother/reader of this magazine who lives in the Mid-west.
When Mom was so ill she moved into our home for the last two months of her life. Moishey stood by her bedside, patting her cheek and massaging her legs. He helped her up when she wanted to get off the bed, and gave her a hand when she needed to walk around a little. When called by name, he said, "I am not Moishey; I am Dr. E. (my mother's surgeon)." Every day Moishey would go to yeshiva and daven with 'kavanah', but when it came to 'Refuaynuh' in 'Shmoneh Esra' he would shut his eyes tightly, clench his fists and throw his arms up towards the Heavens, beseeching 'rachmei shomayim' on behalf of his beloved 'Bobby'.
Friday night at 'licht bentsching', Moishey would stand behind my shoulder, as I swayed and wept over the 'lichtelech' and he would murmur into my ears, "Remember, Chana bas Elka Rifka", as though to remind me not to forget my mother in my prayers.
On the 28th day of Iyar, the third tower fell. On the third day of a deep coma, my mother succumbed to her illness, not before leaving a legacy of hope and bravery even in her final lucid, yet weak hours. Each of us, her children, were 'zocheh' to small, fragmented, yet powerful messages of departure. Mine was, "Smile Surika (my baby nickname), don't cry, be brave, be brave. Now go eat a sandwich (even during the darkest hours, she was still looking out for our well-being, be it spiritual or physical in nature)." Another sibling she told with great clarity, "Don't cry and be sad - a generation goes, another one comes…" In her will she wrote, 'At my funeral I don't want to be eulogized. I never did anything special for anyone.'
My dear Mommy, my love, the best 'Bobby' on earth - we will miss you for as long as we live and you shall forever live on in our hearts and memories.
This article first appeared in issue #11 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us