The vision of the Angel of Death at work is ugly.
First, there is the loud, oh-so-loud, crazy-loud bangthunk of a car hitting something alive.
Then the loud, oh-so-loud, crazy-loud screams of people in shock, frantically yelling words I can’t understand.
“Kids! Stay in the house!!!”
And in the seconds it takes me to reach the corner of my block, I process so much. There is an accident. Someone is trapped under the car.
And my son is not yet home from the park.
“Is it a child?! Who’s under the car?” I cry to no one in particular.
“No. Its an older man,” I hear someone reply.
So strange and perverse, that kind of relief.
And then I see that which I can not un-see. What it looks like when a car so barbarically hits an elderly man. What it looks like when the Angel of Death wrestles Man. What it looks like when spirit starts to fade from matter.
I’ve never seen someone die before, just been around those I love whither away. My uncle from leukemia. My mother-in-law from the throes of brain cancer. My grandfather, from old age and cancer and lung disease and a sick heart.
For me, my grandfather died twice.
The first time, when I saw him ill in the hospital, a freshly-placed tracheotomy in his throat. His mustache of forty years shaved from his thin upper lip, he looked like another person — a living ghost. So thin and fragile. So sick.
I had just found out that, after a year of trying, I was pregnant with my first child. Me, his first grandchild, carrying his first great-grandchild, standing in that hospital room, watching my strong, stubborn grandfather wither away.
I sobbed. I felt stolen from. I was broken.
The second time my grandfather died for me was when, months later, I visited him at my mother’s home. I was seven months pregnant. He was only thinner and sicker, filled with tubes and all sorts of stuff that sucked away the light from his eyes. He would not eat a thing, no matter who made the food, no matter how much they begged, until I came and he devoured my spaghetti and sauce. (I still think, to this day, that he didn’t want to make me feel bad and refuse my food.)
I remember kissing my Baba goodbye as I was leaving to catch my flight. I remember the sensation of my lips on his cool forehead… I remember his smell… I remember the feeling that likely, I will never see, kiss or smell my grandfather again. That this was goodbye.
Have you ever had the conversation where people ponder which way is better to die?
Option A: a slow death where one is afforded the chance to make amends, take stock, say their farewells and prepare for death?
Or Option B: a quick and sudden death that catches someone by complete surprise?
I don’t know what I’d choose.
Standing on that corner, watching that man lay listless as the paramedics administer CPR, I can’t help but pray that he’ll have more time. That his lot isn’t Option B.
Am I really witnessing a man die?
So much commotion. So many people. So much fear and tension in the air.
Suddenly, I see this little, older lady walk toward the accident. His wife. I instinctively feel like I have to protect her — I do not want her to walk toward the gruesome site.
I hold her arms. Look deep into her hazel eyes. “Your husband was hit by a car. He was hurt very bad. He’s going to be ok….”
It’s like standing in middle of someone’s bedroom. A certain intimacy. Sharing news so heavy in nature, knowing that with the impact of your words, they’ll never be the same again.
Phone calls to her daughter, forced sips of water, lending her my tehillim, rubbing her back, helping her onto a stretcher… Please G-d, not Option B for this man.
For hours after, we stand on our street corner. Neighbors, police, shomrim, investigators. Murmuring our memories of this man who walked up and down our street every day. Who taught tons and tons of Torah to people of our neighborhood. Who just made a trip to the grocery store.
People tell stories. Those of us who witnessed the trauma share words of shock and support. Blacks and Jews, elderly and youth, everyone united in the aftermath of death.
It’s so interesting, how people come together when we’re in pain. How when faced with the fragility of life, we suddenly become so strong, so there for each other. So vulnerable, yet so powerful.
“Mommy, did that man die?” We are standing on the corner, watching the men from Chesed Shel Emes collect his blood from the street.
Our next door neighbor, a middle-aged man from the Caribbean, answers my daughter, “No, he ain’t died. No one dies. There isn’t just one world. He just got ready to move on, to travel to the next world. That’s all.”
Oh yes, Option C. The world where spirit never dies, where bad news doesn’t exist, and where goodbye kisses last forever.
To learn more about the special man who was killed, Rabbi Kutti Rapp, please click here. To donate to his family, please click here.