Shabbat in a Hotel Room

This year our friend Mark was supposed to come to our place with his Mom and his girlfriend for Thanksgiving dinner. However, on the night before Thanksgiving, his Mom let us know she was taking him to the emergency room because he was experiencing difficulties with the cancer he had been fighting for four years.
We spent the rest of the weekend texting with Mark’s Mom.
Mark couldn’t eat or drink, a sadly ironic situation to find oneself in on Thanksgiving, arguably America’s biggest day for doing both. On Friday, the surgeon did a procedure to allow them to give him nutrients, but later in the day, when they informed him that, even with continued treatment, he would only live another few weeks at best, he chose to receive only morphine and nothing else.
The hardest part for me was, and continues to be, that Mark would not allow any visitors in his hospital room. Even though my husband and I had known Mark for over thirty years, and he was my husband’s best friend for many of those years, he didn’t want us to come see him. His Mom said it was because he wanted us to remember him as he was when he was healthy, as if there were any chance that anything would have prevented us from remembering him that way.
At any rate, through his Mom, we texted Mark our final messages, and he responded the same way. On Sunday night he died quietly in his hospital room.
As if that weren’t enough, eight days later Raj, another friend of my husband, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 41, leaving behind a wife and two pre-kindergarten-age children. Raj was someone my husband had known for over twenty years. He and Mark and Raj used to play on the same softball team, and were all in the same Fantasy Football League.
Within just over a week of each other, they both were gone.
On the Thursday evening following Raj’s death, we had a synagogue Board meeting. I told the rest of the Board what had happened. I also told them that my company retreat would start the next day, meaning I would not be able to go to services that weekend. I told them I feel irritated every year when I have to miss Shabbat for the company retreat, but that it would be harder this year, because I could really use a place to go to for comfort right then.
After the meeting, Rabbi Lezak told me his mother was going to give an azkerah, a speech of remembrance for her husband, and his father, whose ninth yarhzeit would be that evening. I am particularly fond of both Rabbi Lezak and his mother, and he could see how distressed I was that I would miss this special azkerah on top of everything else.
“Since you can’t be there,” he said, “why don’t I call you on my cell phone when services start, and you can listen to it over the phone?”
So that is how I ended up sitting in a hotel room on Friday night, with two candles, a bottle of wine, and a challah on the table, along with a prayer book in my lap and my cell phone beside me. I felt so lonely sitting there, until my phone rang, and I heard familiar voices singing, “Hinei mah tov,” “How good it is for us to all be here together.”
Unexpectedly, my eyes welled up with tears. I don’t know whether it was the familiar voices, or the sense of not being alone, the sense of community or the comforting familiarity of the prayers, the presence of God or something else entirely, but in that moment I was in need, and it felt like a lifeline had been offered to me through that little phone.
When Rabbi Lezak’s Mom gave her azkerah, I thought of my Dad, who died earlier this year. I thought of Mark and of Raj. I thought of my husband in his grief. I cried through the whole azkerah, and through the Mourner’s Kaddish afterward. Then I cried some more, and it was good.
This is how I learned what it can be like to observe Shabbat in a hotel room.