Today we have a sneak peek from the memoir by author Thelma Zirkelbach: Stumbling Through The Dark.
When her husband Ralph is diagnosed with leukemia, Thelma Zirkelbach accompanies him on a journey through hope, fear and medical mishaps, ending with his death. An interfaith couple, their different ways of coping with life’s greatest spiritual challenge, its end, adds tension to a dark year. But they stumble along together and after his death she trudges on alone, taking as her mantra a Yiddish proverb: “When one must, one can.” After coping with a possum in her bathroom one dark night, she realizes she’s taken the proverb to heart. Although she’s lost her husband, she’s found herself.
And now, an excerpt from Stumbling Through The Dark…
“On New Year’s Day the decree is signed, and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed: Who shall live and who shall die…”
The rabbi spoke the words I’d heard every year of my life, words always spoken on this most solemn day of the Jewish year.
The prayer book depicts God sitting on His judgment seat, with every human soul passing before Him. As each goes by, He inscribes it in one of two books: Life or Death.
In the year 2004, my husband’s name was written in the Book of Death.
The last chapter of our story began on the Eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this night, the Kol Nidre prayer asks God’s forgiveness for sins committed in the past year. The congregation stood as organ music resounded through the synagogue and the cantor and choir sang the moving words. The melody filled me with a sense of reverence and peace. It was the last peaceful evening I remember.
When the service ended and we left the sanctuary, Ralph remarked, “I’m getting a sore throat.”
Nothing ominous about those words. Fall is allergy season along the Texas Gulf Coast, so I didn’t feel the tiniest prickle of apprehension.
I shrugged. “Take some Vitamin C when we get home.”
Sometimes events develop so gradually you only notice later that your life has changed. The lines that deepen in your face, the job that no longer challenges, the energy that wanes over time. But those five words uttered by my husband ripped our lives in two. Later, I would think of life until that instant as the Time Before and starting with the next breath, as the Time After.