Mitat Neshika (death by a kiss)
“So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. “Deuteronomy 34:5
My mother was seventy-four when she died in her sleep, on a Friday night. She checked into the hospital that same morning for what was described as a routine check-up. The reason for her death is unknown. I knew that she was not healthy, and in the last two years of her life, she was irritated and disoriented. Still, her death was unexpected. My father refused to authorize an autopsy to clarify the reason for her death. He told us that in Judaism death while asleep and on a Friday night, is a privilege kept only for the righteous. People like Moses and his brother Aaron are but two examples. It is called Mitat Neshika, “death by a kiss.”
It was a strained relationship between my mother and me. I felt that I disappointed her. Not good looking as my younger brother, not as successful. She always tried, without success, to understand my life choices; why I married a man she did not think was ‘good enough,’ my career and the ways my husband and I educated our four daughters.
She ended every conversation, and those were many, with the same words; “I do not understand,”
“I do not understand why you married this man;” she said to me a week after the wedding and repeatedly in the coming years. The fact that we had a stable marriage did not stop her from restating the question, year after year.
“I do not understand what it is that you’re doing,” was about my professional choice (a school counselor and learning disabilities consultant). She had no problem with my brother’s profession (an interior designer) even though both her and my father were educators.
“I don’t understand why the kids never eat,” was another favorite one. My daughters did not like her cooking so routinely declared a hunger strike on our visits.
Sixteen years had passed since that Saturday morning when my father called to tell me about her death. He gave me the news and informed me that the funeral would be held on Sunday, as according to the Jewish tradition a funeral must take place no longer than twenty-four hours after the death. My husband and I ‘packed’ the kids and rushed up to Jerusalem from our home in Arad two hours to the south.
There will be no autopsy to clarify the reason of death; my brother told me when we got to my parents’ home. The funeral took place, as planned, early Sunday; we went back to my parents’ home for a light lunch, we stayed for the week as tradition dictates, then we returned to our life.
The unanswered question about my mother’s death was not discussed in the coming years. Once, shortly after her death, when I asked my father for some of her jewelry, for my daughters and I and it turned out that every piece she ever owned mysteriously disappeared, I tried to talk to him about her unforeseen death, but he was adamant in his refusal to discuss the whereabouts of her jewelry, as he was about his decision to decline an autopsy.
Two years after my mother passed away my husband and I left our home in the south part of Israel and moved to the US. Then my father died, and with his death, I had to give up on the hope that I will ever get an answer.
A few weeks ago, I raised the question of her unexpected death once again, this time I asked my brother, the favorite ‘chosen’ golden boy. At sixty-three, his seamless façade cracked a bit, and he admitted to feeling tired of his work and life in general. For the first time, he confided in me and confessed that, like me, he does not know the circumstances of our mother’s death.
“It always troubled me, “he wrote in a rare e-mail that contained several full sentences, unlike his usual telegram like correspondence.
“I can’t get the thoughts of my mind,” he wrote,
“I think of her dying alone, on a Friday night with no family by her side,”
When I read his email, I remembered the legend my father told us of Moses who was not allowed into the Promised Land. How he climbed, alone, up Mt. Nebo to see the land from above, and God took his life with a kiss.
Mitat Neshika, “death by a kiss,” is a privilege kept only for those who are righteous; I concluded my email to my brother.
While writing, I remembered something from the day of the funeral that I did not think about for many years. After the funeral, in my parents’ home, surrounded by relatives and friends, I felt restless, pressed to do something to relieve the pain.
I walked out of the house, took the long bus ride back to the cemetery on the other side of town and walked up to her grave. There was the bare ground; the gravestone will be put in place and unveiled thirty days later. I stood there and looked at the patch of earth mixed with stones; I looked at the view of the city stretched all the way to the hazy mountains of on the Jordanian side, I thought I could detect Mt Nebo in the distance.
In few months, as I do every year since we left to the US, I will ‘visit’ her grave. It is on a mountain- side overlooking the entrance to Jerusalem. At times it feels like the family visits we had in the past; my father’s grave is next to hers and my grandmother’s few rows away. The town is spread below, bigger and noisier with each passing year. White apartment buildings climb the hills around, new roads stretch all the way to the pink, hazy horizon but in the cemetery, time stands still.
I will drive up the steep hills into the city that used to be my home. When I will reach the last curve on the road, I will turn and park at the bottom of the hill then walk up to her grave. I will pick few stones and put them on the grave, then I will update her on my life in the year that just ended.
Still married to the same man,
Kids are all grown up
Not an educator anymore.
Always when I get to the last part, my current profession, I hesitate for a minute. I know what she would say if she was still alive;
“I don’t understand, why you went to school and got a master degree, so you can become an innkeeper,”
When I think of it, it makes me smile.