The shabbos before my brother Shalom a"h was niftar was shabbos nachamu. That year, my sister and her husband were planning to go with their little daughter to Los Angeles, California for shabbos. They tried to make arrangements but in the end, it did not work out. They still wanted to go away for shabbos, so instead, they went upstate.
That year, Visiting Day came out on Tisha B'av. Some camps scheduled their Visiting Day for the Sunday before Tisha B'av and other camps pushed it off to the Sunday after Tisha B'av. Shalom's camp, Camp Stolin, pushed it off a week. Since the boys were scheduled to come home a week and a few days later, my mother did not go visit him. Our family did not have a car and it was hard to find a ride to his camp; it was further out than most other camps. "I'll see him in another week," she thought to herself.
That Sunday, my sister and her husband went along with their baby and visited Shalom. They met up with my other brother and went out for pizza. While they were there, my sister decided that she wanted to take pictures. However, she left the camera in her car and it was parked quite far away. After all, it was Visiting Day and even when only half the camps have Visiting Day, the small lot gets full quickly. At first, her husband didn't want to hike to the car just to get the camera. But after nudging him a bit, he took the trip.
He came back with the camera and they took some pictures. Pictures of Shalom holding their little gorgeous baby.
You can see Shalom's gentle touch in the way my niece has her little fingers wrapped around his. You can see the serenity in Shalom's face. You just see it.
They also took some pictures together. My sister, her husband, her baby and my two brothers.
The last picture was one of Shalom with a huge laughing smile on his face, his lips spread so wide from the joke he had just made. The person taking the pictures was a friend of Chaya Sara. When she said that Shalom looks like Chaya Sara, he chuckled and said, "Which part? The beard?" And everyone burst into a fresh round of laughter while she quickly took that shot. That's the last picture taken of him on that camera.
He passed away the following day.
We didn't know these would be the last pictures we'd have of him. We didn't even know about them until after he passed away. That's when my brother in law ran to develop those pictures. We had them during the shiva and were able to show them to people who came to be menachem avel.
Those pictures were so comforting for us. They still are. Those pictures showed us how happy he was on the day before his neshama was taken from us. There is a certain calm on his face. An inner calm. A happiness and contentment that you could see on his face. It is visible in his smile. It is there.
If my sister had gone to California for that shabbos, we would not have those pictures. We would not have that comfort. Additionally, she would have missed his levaya. We know this because another relative of ours who was in California was unable to make it to New York in time for the levaya.
So we see that there was a plan. There is comfort in the pain. Even though it was time for my brother's neshama to leave this world, Hashem did it with gentleness to our family. He left us with these pictures and they give us some measure of comfort. Seeing his picture is like a soft cream upon a delicate wound. The wound hurts from time to time, but the cream makes it easier to bear.
We know he left this world happy and at peace with where he was in his life. We can see it on his face. In the last pictures we have of him.
You can read more about Shalom a"h and the story behind his sudden death. Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2 and here for Part 3.