Gersom I Call: Part 1
To Abraham's Bosom
Mother's skin was marbled red and purple, her breaths ragged and slowing by the minute. Her eyes had been closed since the night before and she did not respond to voices or touch. I held her hand and prayed, "Oh Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, please do not let my Mother die. Please, I can't live without her. She's all I have." I curled up on the floor down next to her body and continued pleading fervently, silently.
Old Tirzah placed a cold rag on her forehead. Tirzah had served Mother since Mother was a young girl. "Your mother will fly away before nightfall, Gershom," she said, trying to sound strong. But I heard the slightest quiver in her voice. She put her hand softly on my head. She was trying to prepare me, and herself, for the dreaded moment. But I would not hear of it.
"No, she will get well. I have asked the Lord to make her well. It's not too late." I tried not to cry. But as I watched and listened to Mother failing, I could feel tears building behind my eyes. I willed them to stay inside. But my cold stomach quivered and clenched. I knew If I let the tears come I would be conceding that Mother really was dying.
"Gershom, Jehovah decides when one dies," Tirzah said. "Dying is a part of life."
"No. Mother is too young. So much more life to live," I said.
"That is for the Lord to decide, Gershom," Tirzah repeated.
She left me alone then. She could see I was unwilling to accept her words.
Our home was a dark tomb as we held vigil the next two hours. Then something strange happened. I was lying next to Mother's body, having dozed off. Suddenly, I felt the slightest touch to my head. It came from her finger. I rose my head up, full of hope. "Mother?"
My mother opened her eyes. She looked toward the end of her bed, her eyes sparkling with joy, and spoke. "So beautiful," she said aloud. "Gershom, do you see them, my son?"
I saw no one. "Mother," I said. "You are dreaming."
"So you've come for me? I am ready," she said with a radiant countenance. "Receive my spirit." Mother's eyes stared absently, her chest stilled, she was gone.
"Mother?" I shook her body to jolt her awake. Tirzah touched my back.
"Your mother has flown away to Abraham's bosom, boy." She closed Mother's eyes and kissed her.
I looked at her, so still, a smile still gracing her face. She looked angelic.
And then my sorrow burst like an old wineskin filled with new wine. I never imagined one could weep so hard. Tirzah wept too. As soon as the neighbors began to come I fled the house, running as fast as I could, hoping, I suppose, to outrun my grief. I ran and ran, and did not plan to ever stop. Tears were pouring down my face. I was running so fast and hard they dried quickly in the wind. But soon they stopped and I focused only on my feet, the path directly ahead of me, and the sound of my heart thumping. My arms were pumping hard, my lungs and calves burning, my sides cramping, yet still, I ran like a mad man. Then I tripped over a rock and fell face down into the hard earth. I could feel my lip split wide open and tasted blood. My right cheek, my knees, and hands were scraped and bleeding. I began wretching. When it stopped, I got up and ran again.
A few moments later I heard an explosion and the sky opened up. The rain came down in torrents like my sobs. The power of the rain made crooked rivulets in the now muddy road. Then I slipped in the mud and fell again. I crawled under a tree on the side of the road, curled up in a ball and was asleep.
Journey to Mother's Tomb
I was being carried by strong arms when I awoke. I heard thunder in the distance but the rain was gentle now. I could feel my lip was grossly swollen and it hurt. All the scrapes I'd received from my fall stung, but I was too tired to care. I looked up to see who carried me. Uncle Ehud's eyes met mine.
"Gershom, it would dishonor your mother's memory not to attend her burial." His voice was kind, not scolding. "Do you think you can walk, boy?" He stood me on the ground before I could answer. He put his arm across my back as he guided me home. I was numb from the cold and my grief.
By the time we reached home the storm was over. Sunlight breached the cloud breaks. The sight of it took my breath away. My father used to say such spectacles were God's way of reminding us that Messiah, the Light, would come one day. 'But he is gone,' I said to myself. 'Poor Mother died without Father by her side, not knowing why he left us.' Anger flooded me. A year ago my father left on a journey to Jerusalem and never returned. We still didn't know whether he was dead or alive. I hated him for it right at that moment.
Mother's body had been washed and bound, ready for burial when Uncle Ehud and I entered the house. The heavy scent of burial ointments filled the room. Some of the neighboring women were in the house helping Tirzah. She gave me a scolding for running off but then wrapped her arms around my wet, shivering body, rocking me back and forth, weeping. I remained cold and rigid like a stone.
Tirzah abruptly released me from her crushing embrace. "There now, Gershom, sit and I will tend your wounds, then you can change. You're soaked to the skin. We're almost ready for the burial."
'Burial.' Two days ago I never would have guessed that word would be applied to my mother. The world did not feel real. This couldn't be happening. I pulled away from Tirzah. "I can tend to my own wounds," I said sharply. But I didn't. I just wanted to go to a quiet place to dry off and gather my thoughts. I left the room and changed into dry clothes and returned to where everyone was gathered around my mother.
"Gershom," Tirzah said, "you must help me choose an item of your mother's to bury with her. What, say you, son?"
I could not feel or think. Impatient, Abigail, Mother's older cousin scolded me. "Come on boy, we don't have all day." She picked up Mother's beautiful comb, a gift from Father and I on her twenty-sixth birthday.
"Don't touch Mother's things." I snatched the comb out of her hand. I looked at Tirzah, fighting another threat of tears. Tirzah put her hand on my shoulder.
"The comb, Gershom? Your mother treasured it."
"Yes, the comb," I said. My throat muscles constricted and the pain was sharp from trying to hold back another tidal wave of despair. I knew if I started to cry, I would not be able to stop.
"That's what I said, boy," said Abigail, clearly disgusted.
"It is not your decision to make," I said. Abigail had an overbearing tongue on her. She didn't take kindly to my rebuke and I received a loud tongue lashing. Uncle Ehud stepped in.
"Come, Abigail, he's a young boy who just lost his mother."
"That makes no difference..."
Uncle Ehud met Aunt Naomi's eyes looking askance for her help. "I believe we're ready now," she said, interrupting the flow of Abigail's wrath. She sweetly praised the nagging old hen for her help in preparing Mother's body. Aunt Naomi had a way with people. She could usually quiet the orneriest people. Uncle Ehud winked at her in gratitude.
Within an hour my mother's body was being carried on a bier by Uncle Ehud, Abigail's husband Reuben, and my cousin Joel. It was a long, noisy walk to the family tomb just outside of my village called Nain. The shrill, deafening wails of the hired mourners grated on my nerves. I wanted to scream at them to stop. The dread in my stomach had worsened and I fought the urge to vomit. Uncle Ehud spoke some words, a prayer was said. But it was garbled background noise to me. I remember nothing but the sight of Mothers's wrapped form being laid in the tomb.
Afterword, the house was filled with people. The loud din of conversation was irritating, and the aroma of food turned my stomach. I walked around dazed. People said things to me but it was babble in my ears.
Uncle Ehud took pity on me. "Come, Gershom, let's walk," he said, putting his arm around my shoulder. We did not talk for a while. Finally, he said, "Gershom, I want to talk to you about what you will do now. Tirzah is very old. She can continue to weave, as she did with your mother, but she is slowing down. She can't keep the pace your mother did. You have no income to support her and yourself. With your father gone there is no inheritance. Aunt Naomi and I have talked. I am offering to make you my apprentice in my blacksmith shop. Joel is betrothed to Deborah and they will marry next week, as you know. He will be leaving home so there will be room for you and Tirzah. And you will have a trade to rely on when you grow up and have a family. And I really need the help."
The muscles in my jaw clenched. "I will never forgive him for leaving us," I said.
"Your father?" said Uncle Ehud.
"Gershom, your father was...is a good man. He adored you and your mother. He never indicated unhappiness with his life other than the difficulties of bringing in a better income. As you know, I have tried to find his whereabouts. I often wonder if he may have met with danger, sickness, or something else on the way that has prevented him from returning.
I said nothing. My bitterness was like a hot wind scorching my soul and I felt entitled to it. I wanted to wallow in it.
"Perhaps he met trouble at his destination," Uncle Ehud tried again. "We just don't know."
"Well, I don't care anymore. Mother is gone. I don't want to ever see him again. He is dead to me."
"Gershom!" Uncle Ehud stopped and faced me, angry at my resentful words. "You don't know what happened. This is your grief speaking. I will hear no more hostile talk about your father."
"It's not fair that Mother died so young and without Father at her side. The Lord has turned against me."
"The rain falls on the just and the unjust, Gershom. The Preacher says, 'To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance.' Gershom, you will be ten years old next month. A few more years and you'll be a man. As soon as your mourning period has ended, you will come to work with me. Now let's return home."
But without Mother, I had no home.
A time to be born, and a time to die...a time to mourn and a time to dance.— Ecclesiastes 3:2, 4
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