Monday, January 26, 2015

The Last Ride Home

We lost a good woman, a great lady, and a pillar of our family this past week. Pesh was the poster woman for grace and fortitude, honesty and compassion, acts of loving kindness and feats of loving cooking. She was an Aishet Chayil...a true woman of both the classic and modern senses of those verses from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 32:10-31.) 

She had done so much for me in the years since that evening I called their home to ask: "Do the names Peshe and Shlomo Sweet mean anything to you?"  Her answer, "I'm Peshe, but I think you mean my husband's grandparents," changed our world forever: I had family in St. Paul. We had crossed into being part and parcel of our little community by virtue of being related to them.

Senior son with his favorite rock star
It is hard to write down all the lessons from Pesh. There was the soup-skimming lesson and the floating matzah ball lesson; the bite-your-tongue-and-say-nothing lesson, and the NFF*-eat-nothing lesson when more people than expected showed up for a festival meal. Life, she used to tell me when I was mired down, was meant to be lived, not frozen in time. "Snap out of it!' was her best admonishment....and my favorite. 

Jewish tradition calls for Kavod ha'Met, the act of honoring the dignity of the dead. This is a sacred obligation, the last thing you can do for a person, something that can never be repaid.  When asked to accompany Pesh home to where she would join her husband, my incredible cousin Bud (z"l), in the family plot, I was humbled by the request to be her shomeret from Minneapolis to Madison. Riding with her was such a small thing. A long ride, sure, but a flash, a split second, barely a moment when compared with time she had given not just to us, but to our entire community. 

Those four hours, much of it spent with my hand resting on the corner of the covered plain pine casket behind me, seemed much too short. Pesh was still with us, above ground, and I wanted so much for her to knock on the box to tell us to stop and go back. For those hours, my job was to protect her, but she was still protecting me; I could hear her voice in my head telling me this was enough already. Time to let go. 

Letting go is not easy. No matter how prepared we think we are, no one is ever really prepared to say a final farewell. We cling to the memories we want to cling to, we selectively remember the words, the phrases, and the sighs that make up a relationship between two people. There may be photographs, or even videotapes that let us linger with a presence for a moment or two, but at the end of life's day, letting go is all we can do. However reluctantly.

If you are lucky enough to have a Pesh in your life, or to have known one, consider yourself blessed. The Peshes of the world are rare as fine rubies; they step up and do what needs to be done without grousing or pretense. They walk the walk without ever having to talk the talk. Through action, they show the rest of us not how to behave... but why to behave.  

Kavod ha'Met isn't just about protecting the dignity of the body. It's also about honoring the person who was, and seeing them off on one last journey. They should be accompanied by respect, honor, and wherever possible, love. I had the privilege to share the last hours of Pesh's time on this earth with her. I can only hope that she knew just how big a difference she made in my life, my husband's life, and my kids' lives.

May Pesh's memory forever be a blessing for her family, her friends, and all who had the great, good fortune to know her. And to my cousin Laurie, her husband Tom, the kids and the grandkids: May you be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Honor and respect are earned;
they are far more precious than rubies.

*NFF- not-for-family. Just in case something might run out. 


  1. A beautiful eulogy to a cherished soul.

  2. A great honor was bestowed upon you, Susan. So incredibly well deserved.

  3. Thank you Susan for expressing so beautifully what we all will remember about our friend, Betty Sweet. I am happy that you could be with her on the trip to Madison.

    Lorraine Hertz