Home Deathwatch
Home Deathwatch



This is not an article. But once upon a time this was a blog where I would post my unformed personal thoughts. The thoughts eventually became articles. The articles were picked up and reprinted. But this one time, Sultan Knish will return to what it once was in a simpler time.

This is self-indulgent and personal.

Feel free to skip it.

Our lives are defined by numbers. Our deaths are defined by them too.

Somewhere out of sight, in the world or in our bodies, a clock ticks insistently away. Most of the time we are fortunate enough to be deaf to the relentless clockwork march of time.

Until we begin to hear. And are unable to stop.

There are many clocks in the hospital room where she lies dying beneath a plastic blanket inflated and deflated by one of a dozen machines in the room.

There is an old fashioned clock ticking inaudibly on the wall, there are digital clocks and timers embedded in everything. And there is the insistent count of heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen. The numbers keep going down.

The beeping is constant. One alarm, for the heart rate or the oxygen or the IV follows another. The alarms are a count. The numbers they measure are ultimately the only numbers that matter. They are the numbers of life.

I had often heard the term deathwatch, but standing on the plastic pine floor while the nurses come and go, I understand it. I am waiting for a death that I have been told is inevitable. I am waiting and dreading it all at once.

The Rabbi has come and gone. He has said his prayers and words of comfort. And I have said them with him. All the prayers in the end form one greater prayer. A fervent hope that our lives are defined by more than these numbers.

All our prayers are above all else a prayer for the existence of a G-d Whose being transcends the minutiae of material arithmetic. Whatever else we pray for, it is for a father that will never leave us and for a meaning more meaningful than our science tells us is all that there is.

We pray not merely for life but for a meaningful life. We pray not only in hope, but for hope.

We pray that there be something more on the other end of the deathwatch.

We pray that our prayers not be in vain.

Every now and then, I look from the numbers to the prayers, and back again, measuring the material life and the immaterial one, the digital prophecies of science, and the higher truth that I seek beyond the whitewashed walls, the tan blinds cutting off a view of the roof, and the endless ticking of the clocks and counts, the soft sighing of the machines trying to keep my mother comfortable and alive.

And failing at both.

Occasionally medical personnel come and go, donning purple gloves and yellow gowns, and then out again. I and she are both spectators in this play. We are amateurs at death and dying while they are the professionals. When we are gone, they will still be here, divining numbers and playing the odds.

They know secrets, not only of numbers, but of sounds and sights, and revelations of fragility and hope that the rest of us choose not to know.

But then the time comes when we poor amateurs must mount the stage and learn them anyway, when we must stumble through our paces without the benefits of schooling or script, performing poorly in our new parts.

Sometimes they ask me if I have medical training. I have. The studying of it has been more painful and expensive than theirs.

The deathwatch is a graduation. And on graduation, I will do my best to forget all that I have learned here.

After a stormy afternoon, a beam of sunlight slants through the lower half of the window.

The deathwatch has moved into the later hours of the afternoon. Perhaps it will continue on into night. I don't know and I don't want to know.

Deathwatches are always with us.

Those of us who don't fear for our loved ones, fear for our country or our way of life.

There are always things that we love and we fear losing. It is when we become aware of the very possibility of loss, as children or as adults, that we enter the outer rings of the deathwatch.

My current career began with a deathwatch of 9/11. In the ash and rubble, and the poisonous betrayals of the aftermath, the idea that we could lose our country became as real as when I first helped my mother into a wheelchair more years ago than I care to count.

I have not entered into that final deathwatch, the alarms of the end, for my country.

And I hope that I never do.

But to love something, real or ideal, or a mixture of both, is to know that it can die.

Everything we love dies. Except, perhaps our love, and the love of the Creator for his flawed creations caught between the numbers of their reason, and seeking a love and a hope that lies beyond this pale room, the fading houses stretching out in every direction, this world and all the endless worlds and stars beyond.

Hashem Hu HaElohim

The Lord is G-d, is what I will say when the deathwatch ends, and then, like Abraham and Jacob, and all my ancestors who have come before, and passed through that hope and home beyond the stars, I will seek out a place in the holy land of my ancestors to lay my dead to rest.

P.S. If you are interested in attending the funeral near Jerusalem, please contact me.


  1. May the Holy One comfort you and your family.... Baruch Dayan Emet.

  2. Anonymous23/5/19

    Fortunately it never gets easier

  3. Tony from Launceston23/5/19

    I hesitated but then thought ...
    I sat the deathwatch with my mother wishing that I could help her feeling totally unable. My heart is with you.

  4. A beautiful post. My condolences.

  5. Anonymous24/5/19

    I am agnostic. But I believe in the reincarnation of the soul while god or gods are optional. If she is your wife I feel that you will meet her again in the perhaps distant future as I know that I have met my spouse before this time and known this person for millennia. As soon as I saw this person I recognized and realized who it was, although it had nothing to do with looks but only the spiritual essence or aura of my soul mate.

  6. Anonymous24/5/19

    Its very difficult. Mom passed away last June from pulmonary fibrosis. It isn't painful - your lung just lose their function and you slowly suffocate until your heart is no longer able to keep up with the work.

    She held up as best she could but realized she would not recover from this. And so like you, we watched, waited, laughed, cried and said the things we wanted to say before she was gone. Tony from Launceton above - been there my friend. When I asked Mom what she missed the most, she said her cooking. I was surprised and asked her why. She replied it wasn't that the foods cooked were bad, but she missed the everyday little tricks she did to make her meal. It wasn't the same.

    I hope peace comes to you, your family and friends and your person. No one gets out of here alive and it becomes a shock to realize that more people you have known and love are on the other side of the Great Divide as time goes by.

  7. ontoiran24/5/19

    prayers for you and your family

  8. Anonymous24/5/19

    Baruch Hashem; My condolences; May His Peace surround you.

  9. Anonymous24/5/19

    This world is a sad place sometimes. May G-d be with you and your Mother.

  10. You mentioned your mom was sick many months ago. I had her name added for the weekly mishabayrach and for the Tehillim group our local woman have. I never asked again because I was afraid of the answer.

    Of all the wonderful and insightful articles youve written, many of which touched my heart not just my intellect this was by far the most beautiful and eloquent. I wish I was in Jerusalem to help comfort you. My heart is with you. There is nothing like the love of a Mother. She was well aware how wonderful a son she had. I can tell you knew how wonderful a mom you had. What more does life offer us? Hamakom yinachem eschem besoch shaar aveyley Tzion b'Yerusholayim.

  11. I did this deathwatch with both my 18 year old daughter and my elderly father, within 5 months of each other. BDE.

  12. I am so very sorry. Losing ones mother is an extraordinarily painful moment in life. You and all those close to her are in my thoughts and prayers.

  13. Sending hugs and prayers Daniel. I just lost the best Mom in the world May 11th. It still doesn't seem real. Thanks for such a beautiful post.

  14. Anonymous24/5/19

    To know Love is one of our greatest blessings. And to know Love is to eventually know soul searing pain. I recently completed a deathwatch for my dear wife, my Love, my soulmate and best friend for 38 years. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family. Hashem Hu HaElohim

  15. Thank you to everyone for your words, prayers and for sharing your own stories with me.

    I'm sorry that I can't reply to each and every one of you as you deserve, I am still dealing with funeral arrangements and travel on short notice. I am also running on very little sleep.

    This does not in any way mean that your stories haven't moved me.

    I am just marginally functional at the moment.

    It's Jewish tradition and law that the mourning process includes 7 days of Shiva, during which no work is done, so I'm afraid that I won't be updating this blog with my articles or writing any of them.

    Thank you for understanding.

  16. Daniel, Almost too emotional to comment. I have been faced with too many death watches in both my careers and in my family with the result to date making me the eldest. But G-d and time will soon enough adjust that. I am trusting to be at rest with G-d and even hoping for another assignment in eternity's future. But who am I to have any right to expectations. Bless You!

  17. God Bless and Keep you, Sir. Take comfort that she is with Him, and will be there, when the time comes for you to arrive.

  18. Please ignore the comment about WLS, I thought I had switched to commenting on The Diplomad's post about Theresa May.

  19. Baruch Dayan Haemet

    Hamakom yenachem otacha besoch shaar availay Tzion ve Yerushalaim

  20. Anonymous25/5/19

    Daniel, my thoughts and prayers are with you as you grieve the loss of your beloved mother. I do not believe in coincidences....your email with the link arrived on Friday but I did not open it until after midnight...the same day (5-25-2017) my husband lost his mother and I lost the most wonderful mother in law in the world. I told my husband his mother sent us a kiss from heaven via your beautiful writing. Thank you and God bless you.

  21. Daniel, everyone is so actively holding you and praying for you right now.

    You are so well loved.

  22. Anonymous25/5/19

    Daniel, having been a fan and reading your posts for so long, my heart goes out to you. I honor your mother with you from a distance, what a gift of a son she had. I just remember a story you told how she rescued a stray dog that was being mistreated and made it part of your family. That said a lot about her in that story. Bless your heart.

  23. I kept the deathwatch with my beloved father. Your words struck straight to my heart. May God look over you and your mother.

  24. krystyna stahl25/5/19

    I want to come to your mother's funneral if it is not too late.Where do you sit shiva? How can I contact you? Sorry for your loss. May her soul be blessed.

  25. May she find peace, and may her loved ones find healing.

  26. Anonymous27/5/19

    I'm sorry for your loss Mr. Greenfield.

  27. Anonymous27/5/19

    With Sorrow, to learn of your Mother passing on Daniel~~~
    Tears in my eyes over your loss and a tug of remembrance in the place I hold my own dear one~~~
    We were blessed to have them with us for a while, pray they are with G-d, and we'll know both when we arrive~~~
    On Watch~~~

  28. Anonymous27/5/19

    "All our prayers are above all else a prayer for the existence of a G-d Whose being transcends the minutiae of material arithmetic. Whatever else we pray for, it is for a father that will never leave us and for a meaning more meaningful than our science tells us is all that there is.

    We pray not merely for life but for a meaningful life. We pray not only in hope, but for hope.

    We pray that there be something more on the other end of the deathwatch.

    We pray that our prayers not be in vain."

    Of all the beautiful or eloquent or helpful or encouraging words you've written, I think these are the most meaningful to me. My wife of 22 years was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, and the terror of losing her has distilled my fervent prayers down to a single thought: "God, please just be there. Just exist. That will be enough."

    You and I will never meet but I am terribly sorry for your loss and share in your grief.

  29. All that I can offer is my condolences and the promise that you and your family will be in my thoughts.

  30. Anonymous29/5/19

    A friend taught me a phrase I cannot forget, about the meaning of "God's perfect timing". Reading your column tonight, after I returned from my father's Intensive Care room proved the concept. Ten days ago he attended my graduation ceremony - a bit of a farce as I am 60 and he is 92 - but everyone is happy that I have finally stopped collecting degrees. It was a hobby while enjoying a successful career. The theme of graduation and deathwatch, and transformation hit very close to home. Thank you so very much for writing and sharing these essential thoughts. They are universal and reach straight across the world. God Bless You.

  31. Anonymous29/5/19

    As a reader who admires your work, may God console you for the inconsolable, strength to supplant our human weakness, and the will to persevere when weary.

  32. Baruch Dayan Ha'emet

    Hamakom y'nachem etchem b'toch sh'ar availai tziyon v'yerushalayim.

  33. Steve30/5/19

    DG, the Lord be with you and your loved ones.

  34. You and your mother are in my thoughts and prayers

  35. Daniel,

    We have never met but I have long admired your work. Having walked down that painful road with my own Momn, my thoughts and prayers go with you.

  36. Thru the digital divide I hold out my hand to you. You are not alone.

  37. Thank you for your magnificent articles.
    God blessed you with a wonderful mother and you have honored her in every way.
    May her memory be a blessing.

  38. Anonymous1/6/19

    Ah Mr. Fouse another writer/speaker I admire in the 21st century.

  39. Bill, indeed. G-d has His plans. All we can do is hope to meet them.

    Anonymous, thank you, that's a moving thought. I am privileged to be part of it.

    Dov Sar, I think we are meant to know the ups and downs, and the transitions of a life that would be all too material if it were not impermanent. I am truly sorry for your loss.

    BarbaCat, thank you, truly

    Anonymous, I'm so glad you remembered the story

    Bordergal, thank you, I'm sorry you had to go through that

    Krystyna, I'm sorry that I'm only seeing this now, thank uou for your kind offer

    stuiec, thank you

    OnWatch, indeed. That is a good way to think of it

    Anonymous, yes that is what it often comes down to

    Anonymous, there are unfortunately many who can relate to this experience

    Michael, thank you

    Gary, thank you, the admiration is mutual

    WhiteDog, thank you

    Manny, thank you so much

    Chris, thank you for the kind words

  40. Dear Daniel,
    Sorry for your loss. I haven't visited your blog for some time, so I only found out just now.
    What can I say? What is there to say?
    וידום אהרן - Sometimes it's best not to say anything.
    So I'll only cite the traditional prayer from the bottom of my heart, that Hashem shall do the comforting as only he can:
    המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים, ולא תוסיפו לדאבה עוד.

  41. I collect quotes that are meaningful or instructive to me and read them when times are hard (which they are for everyone right now, across this sickened world). This, in particular, spoke to me and left me sobbing:

    "All our prayers are above all else a prayer for the existence of a G-d Whose being transcends the minutiae of material arithmetic. Whatever else we pray for, it is for a father that will never leave us and for a meaning more meaningful than our science tells us is all that there is.
    We pray not merely for life but for a meaningful life. We pray not only in hope, but for hope.
    We pray that there be something more on the other end of the deathwatch.
    We pray that our prayers not be in vain."

    I just want you to know that I still come back here and read this post periodically. It hurts every time I do, but it also gives me something hopeful that I cannot define or understand. If this is the only impression you made on the world during your time here (and it has not been), it would have been good. Thank you for expressing something so beautiful in the midst of your pain, and for bravely sharing it with others.

  42. I appreciate that. I'm glad to hear that it's meaningful and something you return to. That is what writers hope to hear.

    The world is a very broken place now, but we hope for that to change.


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