Until 120

Until 120.  Ad Me’ah v’Esrim.

עד מאה ועשרים

This one-line blessing is commonly wished to someone on their birthday.  But why?

The number 120 as it relates to a person’s age is mentioned a few times in classic Jewish texts.  Most know it as it relates to Moses where in Deuteronomy 34:7 it says, “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.”  Commentators believe that the text is clear that Moses lived a full, healthy life until the day he turned 120, and that he died on that 120th birthday. The Talmud and the rabbis within share a bit more insight into Moses living “ad 120”

Sotah 13b
The verse relates what Moses said to the Jewish people at the end of his life: “And he said to them: I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no longer go out and come in; and the Lord has said to me: You shall not go over this Jordan” (Deuteronomy 31:2). The wording is problematic, as there is no need for the verse to state the term “this day.” Moses said it in order to indicate: On this day, my days and years have been completed to be precisely one hundred and twenty, in order to teach you that the Holy One, Blessed be He, completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month, as it is written: “The number of your days I will fill” (Exodus 23:26), indicating that the righteous will live out their years fully.


A Different “Meah v’Esrim”

We know that despite wishing our loved ones a blessing of living a full and complete life until their 120th year, that is is not likely to be fulfilled.  Friday, February 3, 2023 marks 120 days since my mother passed away.   She lived:

  • 78 years, 2 months, 22 days
  • 4081 weeks and 6 days
  • 28,573 days

This is the accounting of Carol Faintich’s full and complete life. And I could articulate endlessly about that life, but for now, I want to focus on the significance of 120 to me – what I have learned, experienced, and felt during this mark of time.


As Grover would say: “Inside. Outside.” “Near. Far.”  “Here. There.”

I think more than anything the last 120 days, I have learned exactly who is INSIDE and who is OUTSIDE the circle of people who will stand by me through anything.  And I have to say, it’s been a bit surprising in many cases.  People who I assumed would very much be inside the day-to-day, have often been incredibly outside my circle as I have been managing the estate, cleaning out the family home of 50 years, traversing my grief journey, and managing my emotional and physical needs,

Community (עֵדָה, קְהִלָה, קִרבָה). 

Hebrew is an incredible language and it’s important to consider how the words in the ancient language describe different kinds of people who surround us.

Most people automatically translate community to kehillah.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (z’l) wrote a profound piece called Three Types of Community.  In it he describes kehillah in that “it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals, so that each can say, ‘I helped to make this.'” For me, it has been a profound experience to see different people from incredibly different aspects of my life come together, get to know each other, build relationships with each other, all through the work of taking care of me.  Seeing my dearest friends from Atlanta now interact with my dearest friends from Dallas, and communicate with my friends and family in St. Louis has been a source of joy for me in a very difficult time. Being able to talk to one person about another’s contribution to my life and now they KNOW each other, has expanded my heart in ways I couldn’t imagine.

But another type of community is edah. The root of this word is “ed” which in Hebrew means “witness.”  As someone who has been single for the entirety of her adulthood, it has been my parents, and the last 13 years my mom, who have bared witness to almost every detail of my life.  So in the last 120 days, it has been this collective of people who have bared witness to every trial and tribulation that I have endured.  They have witnessed moments of joy, moments of discovery, moments of curiosity and accomplishment.  And again, in some cases it has been surprising as to who has stepped up to bare witness and who has stepped back, having very little first-hand knowledge of the journey I have been on.

I translated above a third Hebrew word for community and that is kirvah. This kind of community is defined by proximity and closeness.  Through the last 120 days, I have been reminded repeatedly that geography doesn’t define closeness nor proximity and that sometimes those living the closest are indeed the furthest away.  As a result of having a large extended family as well as moving around the country the last 25 years, and nourishing a career with international tentacles,  I have people in every corner of globe who know me.  Through the blessing that is technology (and sometimes the curse), those who are inside my circle have not let geography impact proximity nor closeness.  And for many of those who are outside my circle the last 120 days, they don’t even have an excuse of time zones or thousands of miles as a reason for being more than an arms-length from me. 

Partners (שתופים).

For those that know me well, you know that I am “an accident waiting to happen.”  I am notorious for ER visits and up until my mom died, she was always the first phone call.

Me from the ER after initial triage:  “Hey mom. I’m okay, but ….”

Her: “Which body part? How soon do I need to be on a plane? Who is with you?”

Leave it to me to land myself in an ER only eight days after my mom passing when I shattered my left ankle which required surgery. How very lucky am I that within the inside circle that I have partners who, because of physical proximity and a deep desire to “get their hands dirty,” dived right in and helped physically with so much.  The first team of seven people (some who didn’t know each other prior to this) managed to coordinate a ton of logistics to get me back to St. Louis (yes, I was on a brief visit in Atlanta when I managed this special trick) within 24 hours of injury where they handed me off to another team in St. Louis who have provided meals, helped with medical care and personal assistance, run errands, done housework, assisted with paperwork, and schlepped me all over.  My mom has always been the person to do all of this when I am in medical crisis and all of the sudden, within eight days of losing her, I find myself desperately needing her.  These people are partners without whom I would have had to enter a skilled nursing facility and delay my return to my life in Atlanta even longer.  And it bears repeating, there have been a few surprises the last 120 days – both on who jumped to be a partner and who turned their back.


Home of Origin (בית אבות).

Photo Feb 03 2023, 1 11 59 AMThis physical home in Olivette, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis), has been our family home for 50 years (as of August 2022).

 I am responsible for cleaning it out, determining what gets donated, what gets passed to other family and friends, what gets sold, what gets shredded, what gets recycled, what gets tossed (I hate putting things in the landfill). Through this process I have learned so much.

I have learned some wild family history: I found my maternal grandfather’s diary of when he and my grandmother dated and learned they “made real love” very early in their courtship (not sure I wanted to know that!); I learned my paternal grandfather flew planes at one point in his life and he was also very involved in local and regional Masonic Lodge activities; and I learned my parents put down $500 escrow for this home in 1972.  

The process has forced me to discover an even deeper sense of self: how I feel about material items, what I have sentimental connections to and what I don’t care about.  It has reinforced my desire to help as many people as I can and value that over personal monetary benefit and the clean-out has driven deeper my priority commitment to the environment versus convenience of time and efficiency. 

In the last 120 days, I have learned what are the best ways to dispose of old photos (it’s actually quite difficult and horrible for the environment); I have learned a tremendous amount about non-profits in St. Louis; I have gained knowledge about vinyl and shellac records, real silver coins and wheat pennies, the estate sale business, on-line sales as a profession (like eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor); and I have learned how to pull property sales records for the county. 

When this home of origin is empty of the physical items it has held for the last 50 years, I will turn the keys over to a developer who will bulldoze it. The land in this neighborhood has become quite valuable over the last two decades and instead of modest ranch homes, million-dollar homes now dominate the properties (one is currently listed for $1.8m).

But, the thing I have learned that hits the hardest as a part of the grief journey, is about my need to now redefine “home.”  As someone who has lived all over the country, home has been two places since 1991: wherever the bulk of my daily belongings are and this house. And since 1998, I have added “wherever my pets live” and this house.  If the timeline plays out, by June 1st,  I will no longer have this house to call “home.”  But even moreso, I haven’t had the hugs that have defined this home in 120 days and I never will again.  Today I uncovered both of these chotckies about four minutes apart (one a hanging sign and one a magnet) and it destroyed me – 120 days of grief (mostly bottled up) erupted.  I spent much of the morning asking: where are the hugs now? 


Honor (כבוד).

In the last 120 days, I have spent so much time in my head and my heart trying to figure out: “Am I honoring her wishes? Am I honoring her value system? Am I honoring her life? Am I honoring the integrity of (insert material item from the house)?”  I have had to sometimes weigh my needs and values against hers and sometimes selfishly put my own as a priority.  There have been moments where I have looked at a piece of furniture or a book or a piece of jewelry and forced myself to consider how to honor its legacy the best that I can while honoring my future (this framing came at the advice of a professional organizer who also helps with downsizing and home clean-outs).  While there is so much that I can say with ease, “donate that to….” there is also a tremendous overwhelming amount of items that I have to have that internal heart and head struggle.


The To-Do List

In the last 120 days, I have had a never-ending to-do list filled with meetings at banks, with the estate attorney, at the social security office, with notaries, and with the financial advisors. I have been on-hold for extended periods for more time than my patience “string is long.” I have learned about RMD’s (Required Minimum Distributions from inherited IRA accounts), I have learned about setting up sub-trusts with EINs, and I am now very familiar with Missouri’s 529 College Savings system.  This is the stuff no one truly even wants to learn about (unless they are working towards becoming an estate attorney).  But I can’t ignore that this has been a major part of the last 120 days.  


Until 120.

Within Judaism, time and milestones are marked in very sacred ways. Within the Jewish mourning timeline, we have seven days of shiva and 30 days of shloshim and, when honoring a parent, we are in aveylut (mourning) for 11 months. However, within the Jewish mourning period, 120 days isn’t marked by anything. But I think 120 is significant in that it’s traditionally tied to a person’s life accomplishments through the story of Moshe, and when you become a mourner, you immediately begin a new normal and you are thrust into a new version of yourself.  So at 120 days, I believe it is important to reflect on what you have learned and who you have become as a result. It is also a milestone to say, “I can do hard things. I’ve made it this far.”  I couldn’t have imagined when I walked out of my mom’s hospital room what the next four months would bring (I honestly thought I would already be back in Atlanta full-time), and as I reflect on this finite period of time, I am so very grateful for the community (all versions of it) and the partners who have held my hand. 


For previous articles in this series about my journey as caretaker, loss and grief:
Sacred Time and Silver Linings
The Perfect Storm


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