Telling Our Stories of Life and Loss, Volume 2
By Cindy Meek
Bereavement Coordinator, WesleyLife Hospice
October is Diversity Month. Donna Rosenbaum of West Des Moines, the daughter of a WesleyLife Hospice client, has generously offered to share her story about honoring her mother Mary Ann's memory within the Jewish faith.
Donna describes her mother as a "Beaver Cleaver mom", complete with high heels, apron, coiffed hair, and always fresh lipstick. “Mom was very well kept, very smart. Loved games -- Jeopardy, trivia -- and she read lots of books. She taught me to be a good person," Donna says.
One of the greatest lessons Donna learned was to put one's children first. Donna has three grown children, Shirah, Rachel, and Elliot. “I’m always there for them. That’s why you have them," Donna says. "Children are the best thing that ever happens to you.” Donna’s daughter Shirah was born with serious physical limitations and lives in a care community in Minneapolis. Even though Shirah is in a wheelchair and never got to do the little things other kids did growing up, Donna says she never felt sorry for herself. "Shirah especially loves seeing her grandma’s puppy Marshmallow when I visit," Donna says.
Mary Ann called Donna by her Yiddish name, Bluma Rosa. “She was always there for me. We talked every day, sometimes two times a day. When I shared my problems she would say, ‘Wait until you get my bill, daughter,'" Donna recalls.
Donna will always remember her mother as a happy person, full of life.
“She could be a handful sometimes,” Donna admits. “She was a tough cookie, too."
Mary Ann followed her husband when his job required a move from St. Louis to the small rural town of Colfax, Iowa. They were the only Jewish family in town. Mary Ann immediately made friends and immersed herself in volunteer work. Donna fondly remembers her mother hosting Hanukkah parties for the neighborhood kids so they could learn how to play the dreidel, a spinning top game. She made special foods and the children always took home a little gift or two.
Late in life, Mary Ann moved to Edgewater, a WesleyLife community in West Des Moines. Donna visited daily. Following a surgery that left Mary Ann in need of additional assistance, a social worker recommended Donna consider WesleyLife Hospice so her mother could receive more care and special equipment to enhance her quality of life. Mary Ann had a special bond with her social worker because the social worker was pregnant with twins -- and Mary Ann was a twin!
Donna realized when her mom started demonstrating behavioral changes that having Hospice services was a blessing. She remembers braving the cold weather and icy roads to drive over to meet WesleyLife Hospice nurse Elizabeth, who had a heart-to-heart with Donna about her mom's condition. Donna agreed on the spot to all the services that would allow her mother to be peaceful and pain-free.
Donna called the rest of the family when Elizabeth said Mary Ann showed signs of being close to passing away. Six hours later, Mary Ann died. “They (Edgewater and Hospice team) didn’t push us to move mom’s body," Donna says. "I wanted my brother to have time to fly in and say goodbye. I had to do that for him.”
Donna explains that in the Jewish faith, once a deceased person is taken to the funeral home, the family can no longer see the body. Her mother was prepared in the traditional Jewish custom. First she was gently bathed in a special cleansing ritual. Then she was wrapped in a shroud, as embalming is not allowed. Throughout the night, the Rabbi or family prays over the body. This is called "sitting Shiva."
Later, there was a graveside service for Mary Ann at which the family and friends said the Mourners' Kaddish, a special prayer for the dead. Jewish tradition is to put the casket in the ground while family watches. “That was hard,” Donna recalls.
Donna went on to explain that each person at the service takes turns with a spade lifting a bit of dirt, first using the back of the shovel and then twice using the front of the shovel. Family and friends meet after the burial for a luncheon and reminiscing. It is customary to avoid social engagements during the mourning period, so Donna stayed home for a while.
The engraved tombstone is traditionally unveiled 11 months later, and a prayer service is held, but COVID prevented that from happening for Mary Ann’s family.
“I was protected from death; we never talked about it growing up," Donna says. She and her siblings were not allowed to attend their grandparents' funerals as children, something she now knows is not the best idea for grieving children. She attended many Christian funerals in Colfax when she was older, but it wasn’t until she was 19 years old that she experienced her first Jewish funeral of a family member, her uncle. “That was a lot different.” she says.
Mary Ann Rosenbaum’s name will be engraved on a special plaque that will be placed on a designated wall in her temple. On the year anniversary of her death, a light called Yahrziet will shine on her name. Donna will light a candle in her memory.
“She’s having a good time now,” Donna says. “Mom and dad are in heaven. I believe you go somewhere else and see family members.” She imagines the great reunion Mary Ann must be having with her twin sister.
Donna misses her mother as well as her aunt who passed recently, and she knows “Mom was ready to go. I knew she wouldn’t have wanted to suffer.” She describes WesleyLife Hospice as a positive experience for Mary Ann and her family. "Mom was at peace," Donna says.
Donna knows it will take a long time to lean into her grief and come out the other side. She holds Marshmallow close and takes time to cry and remember the amazing mother she loved so much. She is going to move to be closer to her own children and looks forward to the good times they will share during her retirement. Much like her mother, Donna is a happy, kind person with a deep love for her family. We thank her for sharing her story.