In her last years with her debilitating illness, a Parkinson’s-like syndrome, speaking was increasingly difficult. I would phone her on my way home from work, and though I knew she was listening, because her helper gave her the phone, she could no longer converse. It was painful for both of us because we were so close and missed our daily shmooze. I would carry on a one-sided conversation just so she could hear my voice, jabbering about work, the grandchildren, and padded the strained silence with filler words.
Despite the fact she could barely speak, on occasion she would still communicate. One Saturday her weekend caretaker annoyed her and my mother looked at me and rolled her eyes. I totally got her frustration and a glint of her feistiness and humor. When my teenage nephew came to visit her in the hospital wearing a tee shirt and shorts and she noticed it was a blustery San Francisco day from the swaying trees visible through the window she suddenly piped up, ”Where is your jacket?” Her grandmotherly love and concern could not be silenced by her illness.
Shortly before she died, the young rabbi from her congregation came to her hospital room with a shofar or ram’s horn. It is customary to sound the shofar every day in the Jewish month of Elul before the New Year. The rabbi blew the shofar for her and those plaintive sounds transformed the heavy silence of her sick room and changed her whole demeanor.