T he day I missed my mother’s levayah fiery leaves whirled in an azure sky and dappled light lay lonely scattered in our empty succah.
My mother a pillar of love kindness strength and goodness had left This World surrounded by whispered tefillos and then a resounding heartbreaking Shema. After a grueling six-month battle with her terminal illness and strokes in the wake of my sister’s petirah my mother returned her pure bright neshamah to her Maker.
Although we had brought my mother across Canada to live with us so we could care for her my mother’s levayah was to be held in Vancouver where she was born lived and fostered an enormous loving community. This is where my grandfather her father lives and the synagogue cemetery is peppered with family names going back three generations.
Mommy was nifteres on a Thursday the second day of Chol Hamoed the 18th of Tishrei — which happened to be my sister’s a”h birthday. My husband and I asked my uncle and grandfather to hold the levayah the next day Erev Shabbos but my grandfather felt strongly that we needed to wait to gather those who cherished my mother so much all the way to the ends of the earth. A psak was given to defer to my grandfather who at 91 was already doing the unthinkable in burying his 62-year-old daughter next to his 31-year-old granddaughter.
Sunday morning found us in the airport very early bags carefully packed with kriah clothes and Yom Tov finery. My husband and I brought our five-year-old so we could be together for the chag and our toddler was happily ensconced in Montreal with his other grandmother.
There was to be a four-hour window between our touchdown in Vancouver and the levayah. It was a direct uncomplicated flight from Montreal to Vancouver on a mild sunny day. When the pilot announced a mechanical issue 15 minutes after the scheduled takeoff I jumped up ran to the flight director and demanded a change of flight. Six months of being my mother’s medical advocate had served to hone my assertiveness skills and I implored them to get us off the plane and onto another one headed westward soon.
We were told that the problem was easily fixed. Heart fluttering I eased back into my seat and sent a frantic text to some family and friends: “pls daven! our flight is delayed! what if I miss mom’s levayah?!!!!!!!! pls say tehillim!”
A flurry of distressed emoticons came as my reply and I was assured that people were storming the Heavens on my behalf. Being an onein I couldn’t formally daven but I was madly begging Hashem to get the plane going. After a short delay we were notified that the problem was fixed and that we were pulling away from the gate.
I gratefully checked my watch — we had only lost an hour I could breathe. “THX FOR YOUR TEFILLOS! WE ARE TAKING OFF B”H!!!” As soon as I pressed send the pilot’s voice came crackling overhead. “Uh ladies and gentlemen this is rare but the part that we fixed broke again. We will have to taxi back to the gate.” Another 45 minutes passed on board as I paced cajoled smiled and cried at the flight directors to please book me another flight. There were none available. Two hours after our scheduled departure time we were being ferried off the plane.
Awareness dawned. In seven hours my entire family would be gathering for my mother’s levayah and there was a chance that I wouldn’t make it. The three-hour time difference worked in our favor regarding Yom Tov but the window was closing to make it to the cemetery. We got agents working on our case and in the meantime we ran to the opposite side of the airport to see if there were other airlines with whom to go standby. There weren’t.