Jul 23, 2013
My Mother's Final Hours

In a touching account, Yaacov Behrman recounts an intriguing encounter his mother Mrs. Sarah Behrman OBM experienced in her final hours.

By Yaacov Behrman

I spent my first Shabbas in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on March 2nd. Just a week earlier, my parents had hosted a large Purim celebration for family and friends. My mother, dressed in surgeon's scrubs an Israeli doctor had given her when she took my father for a procedure at NYU Medical Center, and my father dressed as the "Laughing King," entertained our twenty plus guests unaware of the devastation about to begin.

On February 24, we were rushing to Sloan in the back of a Hatzalah ambulance. My mother was in terrible pain. The doctors at the hospital told her that the problem was likely scar tissue. But my mother felt otherwise. I was still trying to be naively optimistic.

She was admitted into the hospital and instructed not to eat or drink. On Friday my dear friend Yanky came to spend Shabbas with us at the hospital.

My mother insisted that we eat in the lounge and not in her hospital room. She set the table with a lovely white cloth she had ordered, hoping to create a spirit of Shabbas in this hell hole. Although unable to eat or drink, she held the bread to her nose and slowly smelled the bread saying "Lekovod Shabbas Kodesh oy Lekovod Shabbas Kodesh- In honor of the Holy Shabbos."

We had a guest that Shabbas afternoon. My mother had invited a Jewish woman she met in the hospital hallway to join us for the meal. The woman's husband was in a room a few doors down, very ill.

The woman poured out her life story.

"My husband survived the Holocaust. He married me and started a new life in America. The beginning was hard but eventually we became a successful, happy family. Than we lost a grandchild and another was born with severe physical disabilities.

"Now my husband is very sick and in constant pain. Wasn't the Holocaust enough? Why did g-d create a world where there is a need for a hospital like Sloan in the first place? Why are there three floors for pediatrics?"

My mother held her hand and a had a deep meaningful conversation. She didn't try to answer her questions, but with humor and wit cheered the woman up and conveyed to her the importance of being a strong support for her husband.

In the course of the conversation, my mother asked this woman where she bought her stylish watch. The woman, eager to comfort someone suffering, said, "I bought it in Italy; you like it, please take it." My mother accepted her gift.

When the lady left, I said, "MOMMY, PLEASE GIVE BACK THE WATCH! This woman is emotional, and you can't use the cancer card to take that watch."

The woman returned and became extremely upset with me. "How dare you tell your mother to give back the watch! No one asked you. We tell our children what to do not the other way around." My mother, clearly enjoying the spectacle, agreed.

Two days later on my parents' anniversary, the woman attempted to give the gift again, and my mother accepted.

Three weeks before Mother passed, her oncologist at Sloan told her, "Mrs. Behrman, you've started to die. There is nothing that can be done."

We came home that day, bought two new yellow chairs for the porch and spent an hour gardening. The following day our dear friend and family doctor came over to discuss her prognosis. Mom was very clear with her medical team that she wanted to be involved in all decisions related to her health. She explained to me that making her own decisions gave her some feeling of control over a situation that was out of her control. Mommy understood this well, she had spent the last 18 years advocating for people with disabilities. No matter how severe their disability, Mom always tried to empower her consumers to make their own decisions and take some control over their lives.

On June 17th, my mother Sarah, Bas Baila Rivkah, Behrman (nee Steffani Moss) passed away at the age of 69. She passed wearing makeup and a brand new dress. It was exactly how she wanted it to be. She passed in her own home, proud and beautiful, with her dignity intact. I was with her, and we spoke an hour before she passed.

To me, the watch story will be always very special. Mom was so sick, yet still able to comfort someone else. It will serve as a reminder of how blessed my dear mother was to have had the ability make her own decisions until her last hour. She focused on the little control she did have rather than obsess over her imminent death. Regardless of what we, her family, her doctors or her nurses told her, she chose her own path.

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Opinions and Comments
Thank you
May we have Moshiach Now!
(7/23/2013 2:46:38 PM)
(7/23/2013 3:11:56 PM)
Dear Yaacov,
I can tell you that I never met your mother, a"h, nor you. However, I am certain that she derived much nachas from you. Your moving letter attests to a son who truly loved his mother, cared for her, and was there for her in such a terrible time of need. I am sorry for your loss and hope that her memory serves as a source of strength to you and your family.
(7/23/2013 3:34:20 PM)
No words!
(7/23/2013 3:52:36 PM)
Thanks for sharing. It gives a perspective on life. we can all use that! May your mother be proud of you
(7/23/2013 3:56:21 PM)
brave son
(7/23/2013 4:11:35 PM)
thank you for sharing
beautiful, touching sad story
(7/23/2013 4:42:48 PM)
Beautiful story
(7/23/2013 4:55:23 PM)
I remember your mother...very sweet lady!!
(7/23/2013 5:17:10 PM)
This was the best thing I have ever read on COL.
(7/23/2013 6:28:54 PM)
Will miss her friendly face
Did not know her personally but feel like I did .
For many years I met her in the street , week
days and Shabbos and she always said hello
And Gut Shabbos with a smile .
(7/23/2013 7:21:04 PM)
A precious gift
Your mother was a precious "GIFT" to anyone who knew her!!!!If she can't bring Moshiach????
(7/23/2013 8:01:10 PM)
Moshiach Now!
beautiful and touching
(7/23/2013 8:26:51 PM)
The deeper watch story
I once read an interesting psychological research study that found that people have great satisfaction when others accept their gifts or offers. In other words, more than you might want to humbly turn a gift away, it may be an opportunity to have Ahavas Yisroel and make the giver feel good about giving. She knew her time was coming and would have no use for material gifts, yet she looked for a way to give someone the joy and satisfaction of being able to give. What a wonderful lesson. Tehei Zichrah Baruch.
(7/23/2013 9:01:09 PM)
Your neighbor
We need moshiach now! In zechus of your mothers hachnsos orchim, ahavas yisroel and your kibud av vaim,,, we shall merit to be taken out of golus immediately!
(7/23/2013 10:16:17 PM)
G-d Bless You Yaacov
And the rest of your family.

there should be only simchas...
(7/23/2013 11:42:27 PM)
Your mother was there and will always be there! Great article!
(7/24/2013 12:10:43 AM)
You are a strong, brave man
Born of a strong, brave mother

May we be reunited with our loves ones with the Redemption now.
(7/24/2013 12:39:03 AM)
I don't know you
but from the way you write your mother has left a beautiful legacy behind... I wish I could have known her
(7/24/2013 6:26:11 AM)
Penina Metal
I did not know your mother well, but when we both participated in the only performance of a N'Shei Choir (1987), she was so much fun to be with! From that time on, I always enjoyed meeting her and greeting her on the street because her joie de vivre made everyone feel so good.

I second one of the commenter's: If anyone can "persuade" der Aibester to bring Moshiach it will be Sarah Behrman!
(7/24/2013 9:24:02 AM)
I knew your Mom
... I don't know how I met her but I remember her chatting away to me outside 770.. I found her fascinating .... she didn't need to know who I was... a fellow human being on this planet and that was enough to share with me her love for gardening.. her love for life... it was so lovely to chat with her. You should be comforted with the ultimate comfort Moshicah and T. Hameisim so you be reunited immediately!
(7/24/2013 10:28:03 AM)
Esther Fass
Your mother's imprint on people will be for everlasting ! May we be joined with her with Moshiach Now!
(7/24/2013 10:48:19 AM)
Miriam Karp
Yaakov, Thank you for sharing and inspiring all of us.
What an amazing woman, to give to the other worman, to make a Shabbos atmosphere in the middle of such a painful place, etc etc.
When I think about it, I really only spent a little time with your dear mother A"H here and there, but each moment was so memorable, full of laughter, chayus and warmth, that it feels as if she was a close friend, and I'm sure so many others feel that way too. Moshiach now!
(7/24/2013 6:32:55 PM)
Fruma Mehl
My mother ob'm is most likely gardening near your mom ob'm. I gave mine my rosequartz and druze stone necklace to wear before Shabbos chazak Bamidbar. Chazak, guys.
(7/24/2013 11:58:05 PM)
I didnt know ur mother passed away--the story is reflective of a woman with strong character--now i know where u get it-only simchas from now on
(8/5/2015 2:10:55 AM)
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