It is six in the morning and time for Charles to wake up and get ready for his dialysis treatment. It had been another restless night and I had been trying to catch some sleep in the next room. I call his name softly and touch his face, it is ice cold and I suddenly realize that the end has come. Charles finally got his wish, he died in his sleep. A terrible sadness grips me, but at the same time I feel relief that his suffering is over. For a few minutes I sit by him and silently say good-bye. I know this is the last time we’ll be alone together. What to do first? None of my children are in the country, Irit and my granddaughter Tamar are with Yael and her husband Ken in New York for Hanukkah and my son Gil has been working there for the last few months. I call Magen David Adom and a girl answers. I ask for her help, telling her my husband has died. First there is a short silence, and then she asks “How do you know he is dead?” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I have to say something, so I tell her he is not breathing. I also mention that he was very ill and that I am alone at home. Immediately she becomes very solicitous and promises to send a doctor and a nurse right away. Within minutes they arrive, accompanied by three burly policemen. I am informed that if a person dies at home the police have to be there in case of foul play. The doctor examines Charles, asks me some questions and writes out a death certificate.

Meanwhile, after some phone calls, our closest friends begin to arrive. Zelda and Leon first, as they live only a short distance away, then Ofra, Uri and Phil. Suddenly the place is becoming crowded and everybody is trying to be helpful. The policemen offer to contact the Burial Society, but I explain to them that Charles had made arrangements to donate his body to science. Obviously this is a first for them so they come up with another offer, to take him to the Forensic Institute in Abu Kabir. Patiently, I tell them this is the wrong place, it is supposed to be Hadassah Medical School. Finally they leave, taking with them by mistake the death certificate.

Meanwhile, my friends have taken over, doing whatever has to be done. Uri is running into problems with Hadassah, they can’t seem to locate Charles’ documents. Finally it gets straightened out and they are sending an ambulance from Jerusalem. When they ask to have the death certificate ready, we realize only then that the police have taken it with them. Zelda and Uri rush to the police station and after a lengthy search find it and bring it back. It is now nine o’clock, three hours later, when the ambulance arrives to take Charles’ body away. More friends have come and gone, I have spoken to the children in New York and persuaded them to remain there except for Yael, who will take the first plane out. Since there won’t be a funeral they can come home later. I am in a bit of a daze, but all the activity d has helped me to get over the initial shock. Now it is beginning to sink in, I am truly alone for the first time in my life. Charles and I were together for forty years, but before that I was never entirely on my own, there were always people surrounding me. As a child there was my family, later in the camps masses of strangers, then the Army and finally marriage and children. Now I am facing an entirely different situation. I know my life will be drastically changed from this day on. I am unable to think straight, so I do what I always do when I am under stress – I pull out everything from my cupboards and start tidying up. It keeps me from thinking and calms me down.

Later more friends come, and late at night Yael, the first of my children, arrives from New York. I am not expecting too many people, as I had printed under the death notice in the newspaper to refrain from condolence visits. I don’t need people, who never bothered to visit Charles when he was ill, to pay me a visit now when he is dead. To my surprise many old friends from our days on the Moshav come to see me as well as the hospital staff where Charles was a longtime patient.

The days go by. I have many ups and downs, but mostly I feel lost. I find it difficult to deal with the sudden freedom thrust upon me. Nobody needs me anymore. When I return from some errands the house is empty. I can still hear Charles asking what I did in town, he always wanted a blow-by-blow account (as he called it) of everything I did. I miss him, I miss looking after him; he was never a burden to me. He always had something nice to say to me, how much he loved me, how good I looked and how happy he was with me. I miss that.

A year goes by and I am a different person. I have adjusted to my new life after undergoing many changes. My children and my friends have been of tremendous support to me during this period. Now comes the last and most difficult part, Charles’ funeral. Hadassah Medical School contacts us, they will release the body and we have to make arrangements with the Burial Society. My daughter Irit comes with me and we ask the man in charge, a most unpleasant individual, what the procedure is. When he hears that Charles had donated his body for research, he becomes very aggressive and informs us that Charles has to be buried in a separate section. When he realizes how angry and upset we are, he changes his tune and assures us that the plot is in a nice part of the cemetery, only it has to be near a wall. We know now that it is a special place for suicides and people who died under questionable circumstances according to Jewish law. The funeral takes place exactly a year after Charles’ death. It is a short, dignified ceremony, with our closest family and friends. Afterwards we all d come back to the house and reminisce about Charles and old times, a fitting closure after a sad and difficult year.

Charles will be forever in my thoughts, I will always remember his words, which he repeated so often: “Just be patient, you’ll have a ball when I die.” Well, I am not having a ball, all I can think of are the last years of his illness. I even have trouble remembering what he looked like when we were young. Even in my dreams he looks ill and sad. A few times I have the same dream: Charles comes looking for the newspaper, asking me what I have done with it. I tell him that I cancelled the subscription. He gets very angry and tells me to get it back immediately. When I wake up I feel sad and even a little guilty!

Now three years have passed. I rarely dream and when I do I see Charles as he was before his illness. I can remember again the good times and the many happy years we spent together. I am certain that Charles would be pleased that I have made a new life for myself. You were right, Charles, I may not quite be having a ball, as you put it, but I do enjoy every moment as much as I can!

Lucy Mandelstam December 2000