23 Kislev 5782 / Saturday, November 27, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeishev
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My Eighteen Days of Emuna    

My Eighteen Days of Emuna

Eighteen days is a long time to wait for a verdict of life or death. My daughter spent that exact amount of time in a coma while I in turn hung in a twilight zone of waiting...


Eighteen days feels like a long time to wait for a verdict of life or death. My daughter, Shani, spent that exact amount of time in a coma when she was 16, while I in turn hung in a twilight zone of waiting.


Shani had been on her way to a babysitting job one winter afternoon and I was lagging behind her with my youngest daughter, who I was taking to a school fair. Shani had run ahead of us so she wouldn’t be late. Two minutes later we caught up to her. She was lying unconscious in the road having had a sudden Cardiac Arrest. Until now she had always been perfectly healthy.


Hatzala arrived quickly with an electric defibrillator and my husband spent the next 45 minutes sitting on the curb sobbing into his Tehillim. I paced back and forth like a tormented animal repeating “Please Hashem, please! Give her back or take her but don’t leave her half-alive.” I didn’t think I could bear for her to be in a vegetative state. Such an ugly expression for a human being, and how utterly imaginable it would be for her to be caught somewhere between this world and the next.


The subsequent hours spent at her bedside went on and on. I prayed and cried daily with such intensity it left me completely depleted. I understood for the first time how prayer really is spiritual work. With my own shattered heart I begged God to save the heart of my daughter.


Shani was the baby of the Cardiac Unit. She was hospitalized alongside people four times her age, sedated and on a respirator. It was horrendous to watch this machine do her breathing. She was fighting a fierce battle for her life. And I was fighting a fierce battle with my faith.

When she was taken off the respirator after a few days and the sedatives wore off, nothing happened. She did not wake up as predicted. The minutes passed and she did not come around. A new horror rolled over me, a new wave of terror and disbelief. I began screaming her name, yelling at her to wake up until one of my sons told me “Ema, stop. Stop.” I was engulfed in the incomprehensibility of my child lost in some other dimension.


As the days and nights passed, I wasn’t spiritually gracious. After a few days the hurt settled in like a deep splinter and my evil inclination began to seethe and fester. Hashem is punishing you! Why weren’t you a better person? You don’t deserve to be happy. She will be in this coma forever… I knew I might not survive if I did not grab hold of my faith from the quicksand of my imagination. After so many years of working on my belief in the oneness and goodness of God, now was the time to experience all that I had learned. In my imagination I was teetering on the edge of sanity. I was groping in the dark for my loving Father. And I knew if I didn't find Him I was very close to jumping off.


So I began my Hisbodedus, my personal prayer. Each morning I found a quiet spot in the hospital and told Hashem that I was hurt, confused and angry. I told Him I was terrified and suffering at the sight of my pretty teenage daughter in such a horrible state. It was creepy to have her staring right through me. She was somewhat conscious, in what they called an “open-eyed coma” with the appearance of someone awake, yet she was completely disconnected. She moved restlessly, often trying to climb over the rails and out of the bed, yet unable to see anything and seemingly deaf to our voices.


Maybe spiritually I was reflecting her condition. I was disconnected from God and deaf and blind to His compassion for me. I felt beyond God's reach the way she was from mine. I used Hisbodedus to plug myself back in. It became my spiritual resuscitation.


My next decision was to demonstrate my Emuna outwardly because we are taught that the outside affects the inside. For 18 days I got out of bed in the morning, dressed nicely, put on make-up and brought in treats for the nurses. I always thanked them before I left for the night and waved good-bye with a smile. I tried to conduct myself as befitting a Bat Melech, with confidence and composure.


The third thing I did was to express gratitude! I thanked Hashem for the good care Shani was getting. I thanked Him for His confidence in me. I thanked him for my many other blessings. I appreciated so much that I was surrounded by love and support. I remember sitting one morning in the cafeteria of Hadassah hospital, with a table full of close friends. One was Chaya Malka Abramson, the author of Who By Fire, who had survived a terrible inferno and despite severe burns managed to re-enter her apartment again and again to rescue her children and grandmother.


Another good friend had lost an older sister, who died leaving four young children. Another woman's young son had died in a tragic accident. Another friend had a severely disabled child. And yet another friend was a cancer survivor. All of these women were God-fearing and kind. And all of them had gone on with their lives, raising families, working at their jobs, living Torah lives.


As we drank our coffee I realized that although we weren’t eating Wheaties, I was having a Breakfast with Champions! I was running in the Spiritual Olympics and my friends were trained athletes, sleek and powerful in their humility and their faith in the Creator.


It wasn’t a club I wanted to be part of but it was an honor to claim these women as my friends. Their message to me was, “We will be with you in whatever may come. And you will survive.”


What a tremendous gift! I thanked Hashem for my friends and their faith. And I still do.


On the 18th day of her Cardiac Arrest, Shani came out of her coma. It happened on Shabbos. My eldest daughter Sarah called me right after Havdalah to tell me that Shani had woken up. We drove to the hospital and Shani walked up to me shakily as I came through the door of her unit. She said hoarsely “Hi Ema,” and we hugged while the nurses wept. I had not heard her voice for nearly three weeks. My broken heart got up off its knees.


It has now been over ten years since Shani’s heart attack. She has spent many years in recovery and has healed beyond all medical predictions. She is a miracle walking. I try to think of her as “new and improved” according to God’s view of things. Because she is not exactly the same as she was. But neither am I.  I'm a newer, better version - a better brand of me. I have learned that no matter what I'm going through can still be happy. I can still be grateful. I can still find comfort. I can still believe.


God-willing my husband and I will walk Shani to the chuppah before too long. And God-willing she will be a mother herself, who will raise children who are believers, children of believers.


In the meantime I continue to cultivate my own belief with Hisbodedus, Gratitude and Prayer as I continue my journey across Life's Narrow Bridge.


Won't you join me?

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