- Jodi Samuels
The Unexpected: A Change In Perspective
Covid became real for me on April 17th 2021. I switched on my phone after Shabbat and there was a message from my brother in South Africa. He asked me to call urgently as our dad was admitted to Intensive Care. My heart was pounding. My father had undergone major surgery a few months prior and was still recovering. He was bedridden with carers. He had a bladder infection the week before, or so we thought. He is also a diabetic with high blood pressure. The news was not good. My mom found my dad unresponsive, called an ambulance and they determined he had Covid. His condition was critical. I started mentally preparing for the worst.
My mom and the carer also tested and positive. My mom was stable and home. She did not have existing health issues and was being monitored at home by Hatzola ambulance service. A few days later her stats deteriorated, so she was admitted to the hospital in regular ward. All the focus was on my dad; he was not doing well.
Then a bombshell hit: my mother had a pulmonary embolism. The clot that went to her lung caused a series of organ failures. My father unexpectedly and dramatically improved, and despite all our worst fears went home 2 weeks after entering the hospital. Today 6 months ago I was getting Caila ready when suddenly, I saw 2 missed calls from my brother. My mother had passed away. We were not prepared for this. Over the years my father had many surgeries and health issues. All the mental preparedness was about something happening to my dad! In fact all my friends and tehillim groups were confused: they thought it was an error that was posted. Surely not Jodi’s mom. The last few days leading to her passing were crazy. Israelis were forbidden to travel to South Africa and I was repeatedly denied permission to travel to a Covid hotspot. There were very few flights to SA as it was a forbidden country from many destinations and even with my Israeli, US and Australian passports I could not get on a flight that would arrive before Shabbat! I was still trying to get permission to leave on the next flight when she passed. Even then the bureaucracy over obtaining an exit permit without a death certificate which was not yet issued was insane. There was only one flight that would make it in time for a Jewish funeral which has to be within 72 hours. We were finally in the car to the airport and Hamas targeted the airport with rockets forcing all flights to be cancelled. After delays the authorities allowed two planes on the runway to leave and then the airport was closed. By some miracle I made it just in time to go directly to the funeral.
It sometimes takes a death to see the world differently. I had a contentious relationship with my mother especially when I was younger. I went to Israel at age 18, married by 20 and started my own journey. I had certain narratives about my mother no doubt from my teenage years! During the shiva - the 7 days of Jewish mourning - hundreds of people came to pay respects, joined zoom shivas or sent messages from all over the world paying tribute to her 40 years of being a dedicated teacher. I knew her only as an old school strict teacher that scared my friends. The neighbors shared how she was a community activist, and wondered who would take her place. The gardener who had worked for my parents for 35 years was devastated. He had arrived from Zimbabwe as a young man and she had made sure to help him with jobs and housing.
My mother was the youngest of 8 siblings and I heard from so many cousins how she had hosted their events and family functions in our home. There were so many sides to my mother that I knew but I had not considered. I knew she had a tough childhood. She was from a poor immigrant family and orphaned at a young age. To me she was the scary school teacher and It was hard for her to show emotion. Suddenly I was appreciating so many things I had never even thought about. My first Shabbat back in Jerusalem I was telling a friend about my mom. I mentioned I had to leave as I was hosting guests. She was shocked that I was up to hosting and I explained this is what my mother would have wanted. She commented “Wow Jodi your mom had such an impact on you. Opening your home, fighting for the underdog, community activist”. She continued “You dedicated your book to another lady who impacted your life but I don’t think you realized how much your mom impacted you too!” She made me stop in my tracks. I had never really thought of my mom that way. Perhaps during the shiva I realized there was so much more to my mom than I appreciated but I had not yet seen her impact on me. We are stuck in narratives that are not correct or from a time in our lives when we were different. It’s a great lesson that I learned: sometimes in life we have to change our stories and make room for new stories.