June 23, 2000
This morning Timmi finished her last "internal" Bagrut (for those of you who are non-Israelis, those are matriculation exams taken during and at the end of high school). So she has completed her exams in
Literature, Theater, Hebrew Language and possibly Bible (we have to see whether the units she took last year can stand on their own). This means that next year she will need to take exams in Math, English, History and
Citizenship (and maybe Bible) in order to get her certificate. Luckily, in Israel one can always make up and it's not held against you when applying to University.
Her physical condition continues to improve; she once again reduced the dose of her painkilling patches without that resulting in added pain, so it seems that the tumors are continuing to shrink. And she still does not have difficult side-effects from the GVH, though she does have some discomfort apparently from going off the steroids she was taking. If things continue in the present direction, we will be very happy.
Going off the steroids is mostly good, though, because she is sleeping better, her puffiness from fluid retention is going down (too slowly for her taste but still going down) and her mood is gradually improving - still up and down but with more "up" than before.
I can't wait for next week's vacation. We are leaving on Monday and returning on Thursday - three nights away! Lisa is returning from abroad Monday morning, so she and Shari will between them keep things running at home. And because Timmi is in relatively good shape, we can go with a clear conscience. We are very grateful indeed for this gift.
Shabbat Shalom to all.
July 9, 2005
There seems to be a human need to direct our actions toward some purpose. This need grows within us as we grow. As children, we’re content to take each day as it came, hoping and trying to have as much fun as we can that day but not really giving much thought to long-term goals. As we mature, we begin to think about the future. Even if we don’t consciously think about it very often, the question, “Where am I going?” preoccupies us increasingly as we get older. Eventually, we get to the point where life seems meaningless without a sense of purpose; that sense becomes so central to our being that without it we may well despair.
During the entire course of Timmi’s illness, she was determined to live as normal a life as possible. And, like all adolescents, she gave a great deal of thought to her long-term future. The future could be short-term, as when she meticulously planned activities for her Scouts group. It could be long-term, as when she debated with herself whether she wanted to be a doctor, a writer or a theater director. Or it could be medium-term, as when she needed to get through a prolonged and uncomfortable treatment for her leukemia, in order to resume her normal life afterwards.
This sense of purpose fueled Timmi’s will to participate as fully as she could in school activities even after her cancer returned. I’ve already written of her performance in her drama class’s production just before Passover (see “The High Point of a Life,” April 2005). She came to school whenever she could manage it physically, always putting on her makeup, dressing carefully and arranging her wig so as to look her best. She refused to let her physical condition limit her any more than the absolute minimum. One of her friends told me that when some of the friend’s paintings were exhibited in the 12th-grade art show in the school basement, Timmi insisted on slowly and painfully walking down the stairs to the exhibition, and took the time to look carefully and comment on each painting.
Timmi chose some school subjects on which to concentrate (a full course of study was out of the question by twelfth grade), and did as much as her condition allowed. And at the end of the year, she took as many matriculation exams as she possibly could, even when she was hospitalized for treatment. I can see her now, sitting on her hospital bed, legs crossed, concentrating on writing her final exam in Literature. She was not one to go easy on herself; if she had set a goal, she was going to attain it.
I believe it was Timmi’s sense of purpose that kept her going. As long as she was working toward her aims, she was able to push herself beyond what should otherwise have been the limits of her energy. I also believe that it was due to her determined activity that her physical condition kept improving as she neared the end of high school.
After she finished that last exam, though, when there were no more classes to attend and no more projects to complete, Timmi was left adrift with no clear direction. Her schoolmates were preparing to go into the army or national service, neither of which was an option for her. She could have begun studying on her own in order to take the exams she needed to in order to complete her matriculation certificate. But this goal was no longer part of the larger context of a normal life for a girl her age. Soon after finishing high school, she suffered the last, massive relapse that was ultimately the beginning of the end that came half a year later.
For a long time after Timmi died, I lost much of my own sense of purpose. Were it not for my children, who needed me, I don’t know how I would have been able to go on. It was only for them, and for Don, that I found the strength to get out of bed every morning. But as hard as it was, I did get out of bed every day, and never sank into the bottomless depression that beckoned me.
Recently I’ve read more than one book written by bereaved parents, met a bereaved mother whom I hadn’t known, and heard still other parents' stories. Of course, many of my struggles are similar to theirs, and the great part of what I hear and read resonates with me. But what also strikes me is that – incredible as it seems to me – I am in a somewhat better place today, almost five years after Timmi left this world, than many mothers who lost their children many more years ago. I read and hear of mothers who did not get out of bed for months after their children's deaths, mothers who since their children died have been unable to initiate anything new in their lives, and mothers who will not accept comfort or companionship to this day. I am not, thank God, in any of those positions, even though the pain is still with me and (I believe) will always remain with me. Timmi’s illness and death have fueled in me a desire to help other families who are going through experiences similar to mine, and have been the impetus for a mid-life career change. I have partly made my way back to "normal" human society, and can once again enjoy friendships and other relationships. I’ve even made several new friends here in New York, whom I look forward to seeing again next summer.
There may be many reasons for this. The early traumas of my life taught me how to separate myself from my pain in order to go on living. I belong to an incredibly supportive religious community. I also think that Israeli society is, to my great sorrow, familiar with the reality that children sometimes die; every time a child or young person dies in the army or in a terror attack, every Israeli feels a small part of the loss. I see now that the “wall” of which I have written in previous posts, which separates bereaved parents from everyone else, is at least a bit lower in Israel than in the United States or, probably, elsewhere in the Western world. I've also had the advantage of excellent therapy, which is readily available in Israel for bereaved parents.
But I also believe that my ongoing recovery is also due to my belief that God put on this Earth for a reason. Although I can’t understand why I have suffered, I can at the very least try to give my suffering meaning. I can transform the agony of losing my child into an intensified appreciation of just how precious my children have always been, and remain, to me. I can use my experience of pain to help other people who are also hurting. And, perhaps, by writing of my journey, I can give hope to others who, as I did in the aftermath of Timmi's loss, can see no road ahead of them other than the bleak prospect of life as a bereaved parent.
I pray that all of us will discover within ourselves the purpose in life with which God has blessed us, and the strength to do our utmost to fulfill it.