Timmi was hospitalized this last Sunday in the bone marrow transplant department at Hadassah. Because she had a strange blood count, though, the chemo preparation for the transplant did not begin right away, so the doctors could figure out the reason for the abnormal count. This morning, the doctors aspirated and tested her bone marrow, and found that the reason for the abnormality is that, unfortunately, the cancer has spread beyond her bones themselves and into the marrow. This is, of course, not the most reassuring news that we could have gotten, but it was explained to us that this development does not significantly affect her prognosis or her planned treatment, as these already reflected the fact that the disease is active. She took the news in that spirit, and this evening went out with Shari to a movie and dinner.
Tomorrow morning her treatment will start. She will receive chemo that will not have serious side effects during the first few days, and will probably be able to sleep at home tomorrow night but after that she will probably start sleeping in the hospital for at least a month. Next Wednesday Shari* will start receiving daily injections to increase the number of bone marrow cells in her peripheral blood, and then the next Sunday and Monday the cells will be harvested and the transplant will take place.
Timmi definitely does not want adults, even those she knows well, to visit her in the hospital.
As hard as we expect it to be, we are very glad that the process will finally start tomorrow, and pray, of course, that it will be successful. Thank you all for your wishes and prayers as well.
*Lisa (our oldest daughter) was Timmi's bone marrow donor for her first transplant; Shari (number three and just before Timmi) was the donor for the second.
December 25, 2004
Last Wednesday was Timmi’s fourth yahrzeit (Yiddish for "anniversary of death"). This year we put a lot of thought into how to mark Timmi's yahrzeit. On the one hand, it's important to Don and me to hold the traditional ceremony by her graveside, as we have for the past three years. The ceremony is public, and announced to our religious community, friends and extended family. This is important for two reasons – first, the presence of a minyan (quorum of ten men) allows us to say Kaddish, the prayer sanctifying God’s name that is recited by Jewish mourners at the funeral, during the mourning period following the death, and on the yahrzeit of a close relative. Second, it recognizes Timmi as a person who affected many others beside her immediate family, and gives them the chance to mourn her as well.
Some of our children, though, have a problem with the public ceremony. For them, mourning Timmi is an intensely private affair, and they strongly dislike having others – especially adults, and even more especially adults with whom they have no relationship - present at this most personal of moments. For many of the same reasons that Timmi didn’t want adults to visit her while she was in the hospital, the children become upset when people who are almost strangers come up to them, look at them pityingly and try to touch them – even to hug them. Although I understand that these gestures come from a deep caring, the children find the experience profoundly disturbing. On the other hand, they do want a graveside ceremony at which they may express their mourning on the day of the yahrzeit.
So this year, we decided to hold two ceremonies on Wednesday – a public traditional ceremony followed by private time for just our family. Two days later, the girls in Timmi’s high school class also held a gathering in her memory; I’ll write about that gathering in my next post.
At the public ceremony, we observed the traditional customs of reciting Psalms chosen in accordance with the letters in Timmi’s name, the mourners' Kaddish, and the prayer for remembering the departed, “El Male Rahamim” (Most Merciful God). In the middle of the service, the mother of Timmi’s oldest friend, Nechama, read aloud a very moving letter that Nechama had written from Italy. In her letter Nechama (who knew Timmi since they were babies together) expressed her pain at losing Timmi in words that reflected my feelings and those of many others of the many, many people who loved Timmi. The letter opens thus (I’m translating from Hebrew):
“Four years have already passed, years that seem like an eternity. Years without you. Years of explaining about you, and anger at having to explain at all. When you lay in your deep, final sleep toward the end, your mother invited me to write you a good-bye letter. Good-bye!!! To this day, that letter is somewhere in my head, and I haven’t been able to write it the way it should be written. It’s still not everything I wanted to say. When you left, you tore off a huge piece of me. And not only did that piece go with you, but there’s only one person to whom I could explain it, and that’s you – and you aren’t here. But at the same time, something was added to my life – a greater desire to live, memories and scenes that I take in for both of us, things you never got to experience. How beautiful this world is, how many incredible views I see in my head… and how these views fill with sadness every second that you’re not here.”
At out family’s graveside gathering, we found ourselves especially remembering Timmi the writer. Some of our memories were tinged with the sadness of being reminded that some things have been lost forever. Lisa told us that when Timmi was in high school and Lisa was spending a few months with my sister in California, Timmi mailed her a story she had written. “I’m not going to insult your intelligence by interpreting the story for you,” Timmi wrote in the accompanying letter. Lisa remembered that the story was extremely subtle and complex, and that in fact she did find it hard to understand. But she couldn’t bring herself to ask Timmi to explain it to her. “What, here I was, her big sister, whose intelligence she said she wouldn’t insult by interpreting the story – was I really going to ask her for an explanation?!?” But now there's nothing she’d want more than to ask Timmi what her story meant, and to hear her answer.
Elaine also remembered a story Timmi had written when she was in sixth grade, and Elaine was in third. “I can’t remember the details of the story,” Elaine said. “But I remember thinking at the time that it was the most brilliant story I’d ever read. Years later, I wanted to read the story again, and asked her whatever became of it. She told me she’d thrown it away because it wasn’t good enough.”
But not all of Timmi's writing was lost. Thankfully, she left behind many stories, poems and drafts of poems. And so, as the afternoon drew to a close, as the sun set over the Jerusalem hills, Don sang us one of Timmi’s unfinished poems, which he's set to music. The poem, like much of the writing she left us, is beautiful and painful. But I’m grateful for this pain, because it’s one part of Timmi that’s remained with me.
Again, I translate from the Hebrew:
To live this moment
To breathe this time
Not to think what the future will bring, if anything
Not to remember what hurt, what was missed, what was lost
To enjoy the here and now.
To move away from what is
To glide out of time
Toward a dream that was, that will be, that can be
And to forget all the tormented present
Because the truth is unthinkable.