In an emotional and heart-tugging post, Sarah Dukes, wife of Rabbi Yudi Dukes a”h, describes Yudi’s final hours, and the heartbreaking bar mitzvah for her son Baruch.
By Sarah Dukes
This post was probably the most difficult for me to write. You’ve surrounded Yudi with prayers, love, positive energy, and good deeds for 9.5 months. I truly believe that your actions gave us these additional 9.5 months of Yudi’s presence in this world. Each of you chose to be on this journey with us. You never left our side through the highs and lows, milestones and heartbreaks, celebrations and devastations.
The powerful and unified energy you’ve surrounded Yudi with in this world is the same energy you’ve surrounded Yudi with when he left this world. I wanted to share this part of the journey with you because not only have you each played a crucial role in his recovery with everything you have done – you have also been integral in Yudi’s completion of his soul’s mission.
It all happened very quickly.
Yudi video called me that morning very excited. He knew how proud I would be to hear that he had a great PT session, and that he was able to sit up in his bed for 6 full minutes! He had been experiencing a lot of pain the days before which was preventing him from progressing and moving forward with PT, but that Wednesday morning was different. He pushed through his pain. He was determined to work through it all. And he did. I watched his beaming smile as he shared the news with me, and he was right. I was proud. So, so proud. He was one PT session closer to coming home. I was so excited with him and for him, and thanked him for working so hard for us. For his family.
We chatted for a bit and I played a new composition on the piano that I have been working on. He loved it. He knew that things had been particularly more challenging at home with the kids, and between them and the hours spent to, from, and in the hospital, and I needed a day for myself. To reground myself. To regroup. To play the piano. To release emotions. To reflect. To just be. I needed this day to be a better wife. A better mom. A better and functioning human. (I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed this day to prepare me for what was about to come). And Yudi was happy for me. He loved it when I made time for self-care, and always encouraged me to take more time for myself. He was happy when I was happy.
And he was happy.
He knew one of his good friends was coming to spend the day with him and was excited to see him.
About 20 minutes after his friend arrived, Yudi started to not feel well. And this was happening rapidly. I had just arrived at the Ohel and told Yudi I am taking him in with me. I asked his friend to put the Rebbe’s dollar in his hand, say his chapter of Psalms with him, and I video called from inside the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s resting place.
I hadn’t even made it home yet when I got the call.
The attending doctor told me things had “taken a turn for the worse” and, displaying so much compassion, asked how I usually come to the hospital. “I drive.” “Yourself?” “Yes.” “How long is the drive?” “About an hour.” Pause. “Do you think a good friend or family member can drive you in?”
And I knew.
By the time I arrived at the hospital Yudi’s room was filled with doctors and nurses running in and out. I’ve seen this scene before- just a few short weeks ago. I couldn’t believe I was experiencing this…again.
I wasn’t able to walk into his room right away. I stood outside, watching him. Not wanting to accept that this nearly unrecognized man was my beautiful, strong, husband of almost 16 years, and the most loving father to our children. Not wanting to accept that this is how things could end. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to experience this pain. I didn’t want to experience such trauma.
But I knew I had to. Yudi needed me. He was waiting for me. He needed to feel me with him, hear my voice, know I was right there with him. I had to do this for Yudi.
One-by-one family and close friends started to arrive. There were a total of 9 of us that night, including myself, our eldest son Mendy, my sister, Yudi’s father, our 2 rebbetzins, and 3 of Yudi’s close friends.
Watching the struggle of a soul wanting to return to the Heavens and to stay down here at the same time was unbelievably torturous and extremely traumatic (especially because it was the other half of MY soul!). But there was something so holy about that night, about the experience, about Yudi. The spiritual energy in the room was palpable. We turned off the lights, and as I held one of Yudi’s hands (together with the Rebbe’s dollar that he was still holding from earlier) and Mendy holding the other, we surrounded Yudi and sang and sang and sang. Niggun (Chassidic melodies) after niggun, hour after hour, throughout the night. We surrounded him The.Entire.Night. We said Psalms together word for word, Viduy, listened to a recording of the Rebbe saying the famous discourse Basi Legani, and sang some more.
I knew that Yudi was completely surrounded. Surrounded by an unbelievably skilled and compassionate medical team that valued his life and was supporting him physically in every way. Surrounded by family and friends, holding him, filling his room with holy light and energy. And surrounded by YOU with all of your non-stop prayers that night! His soul was completely protected.
At one point in the night, the watching struggle of body and soul was too much for me. I whispered to Yudi that I know he fought with every fiber of his being for his family. He wanted to do whatever it took to take care of us and to fight for us. and he did. He did it. There could have been any additional way for him to show his complete love, dedication, devotion and commitment to his family. He did his job and he succeeded. He made it to the end. HE DID IT. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. And, after nearly 10 months of asking him to and helping him fight, I gave him permission to go. I gave him my blessing to go. I told him there is nothing to fear. He is safe and protected.
But Yudi wouldn’t let go. Even though his blood pressure hovered around 25/15 the entire night (which completely amazed the medical team), Yudi wouldn’t leave. He continued fighting to stay with us…
It was around 10 am the next morning. Almost everyone had temporarily left the room for different reasons, leaving only Mendy and myself in the room with Yudi. And it was then when I saw the numbers drop, faster and faster.
Mendy immediately turned on the recording of the Rebbe saying Basi Legani. We held each other close and cradled Yudi. Mendy and I recited Psalms chapter 20 together, and then the verse of Shema, the declaration of faith, “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One” and then, in the most sacred, dignified, and holy way, Yudi’s soul departed from his body and returned to G-d.
The love surrounding Yudi the entire night prepared his soul to be carried straight to the highest of heights. But Yudi was waiting for that intimate moment alone, with just his wife and eldest son, before he truly felt ready and safe to let go, and ascend to the Heavens.
Three of our other children got there soon after, including our 12-year-old, Baruch. All Baruch wanted was to be able to put his tefillin on for the first time together with his father. He wanted to have his Bar Mitzvah (which is in 3 months) together with his father. He wanted to make his father proud. He wanted his father by his side.
When Baruch was told how serious things were at the hospital, he decided to bring his new tefillin with him, hoping he could give his father so much nachas with his father seeing him in person wearing the tefillin. He was completely devastated when he heard the news. The tears wouldn’t stop. But I looked him in the eye and told him his father was RIGHT there with him. This is the closest he will ever be, and that his father’s soul is RIGHT there, embracing him.
Surrounded by family and friends, his mother AND father, Baruch stood next to Yudi, put his tefillin on, emotionally recited the Shema (see photo below), gave over his Bar-Mitzvah maamer, and then read his Bar-Mitzvah parsha, as if he were reading straight from the Torah. When he finished, we threw candy, sang “Simon tov u’mazal tov”, and danced together. Baruch did it all- with his father right by his side.
I know this is not the Bar-Mitzvah Baruch would ever dream of, but it will be an experience he will forever remember. Because he was able to be with his father.
Today was Baruch’s official hanachas tefillin, and I know Yudi is looking down and smiling. He is SO proud of Baruch. He is so proud of his courage and perseverance. And he is proud of all of us. He is proud of all of Mendy. And Yisroel. And Sholom. And Shaina. And Moshe. He is proud of me. Yudi has always done whatever it takes to take care of our family, and he will continue doing so. He will send us strength.
Thank you for giving Yudi life, thank you for helping him complete his life’s mission, and thank you for keeping him alive, now.
He will always be with us. We love you Yudi.
A campaign has been launched to support the Dukes family following the passing of their husband and father. Please give whatever you can at https://www.charidy.com/dukes/Anash