September 13, 1999
Shana Tova* to everybody.
Today I took Timmi to the hospital for what we thought were only blood tests, and when her doctor saw that her blood counts were pretty much back to normal, he decided to start her next course of chemotherapy today. It turns out that this course will not be like the previous one, but instead will consist of five straight days of high-dose chemo, for which she must be hospitalized. So in she went today, and we simply had to organize for it. (As they say in Greek, Ain Ma La'asot.**) We hope that she will get out on Sunday, but if her blood counts are too low by then she will have to stay over Yom Kippur*** as well, and possibly longer. I had hoped that the next round of chemo would be after the holidays, but the doctor preferred not to wait that long. So far she is taking it quite well, and believes that now is particularly convenient because this way she will miss only one day of school, if her hospitalization is not extended past Yom Kippur.
What else is there to say? It's inconvenient, to say the least, but we all hope the treatments will continue to have the desired effect, so that she will go into her transplant with as few remaining cancer cells as possible.
I wish all of us a Gmar Hatima Tova.****
*Happy Jewish New Year.
**Hebrew for “Nothing to do about it.”
***The Day of Atonement, the tenth day after Rosh Hashana.
****A wish to be inscribed in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur.
September 19, 2004
We've just finished celebrating Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, the day that God opens the gates of Heaven to our prayers and grants us the chance to start over. Another name for Rosh Hashana is Yom Hazikaron, or the Day of Remembering, so named because we hope that God will remember us during the coming year and bless us with peace, health, and a full spiritual and material life. It’s also a time for our own remembering, for us to reflect back on the past year and on our lives to this point.
Holidays are sometimes the hardest times, when the “whole” family gathers for festive meals. It's impossible not to remember how it was when Timmi was alive, and to feel keenly that our family will never be truly whole again. But this past Rosh Hashana, I felt not only Timmi’s absence but also her continued presence in my life.
When I opened my prayer book on the first day of the holiday, the inscription written beside our names on the book’s inside cover (“The Earth is the Lord’s, and its plenty”) jumped out at me – it was in Timmi’s handwriting. At first I felt I would cry at this sudden whisper from the past, but then memories of Timmi filled me, and I no longer felt the need for tears.
For a very long time after Timmi died, I could only remember her as she was toward the end, as she quietly slipped away from us, coming closer every day to her final journey to the other side. The life we had led for years – the life I described to my community in the updates I sent out – also dominated my consciousness. What I felt when I remembered these things was bereft – of Timmi, and of the life I had built around her. What made this emptiness worse was the fear that I would never again remember Timmi as she was before the cancer took her over, Timmi as her essential self. The prospect was truly frightening, because it threatened me with the total loss of my daughter.
Little by little, though, I've become able to see her again in my mind’s eye as I knew and loved her before she became ill. The lively Timmi with the dazzling smile. The impish and witty Timmi, with a ready answer to almost anything anyone said to her. The sensitive and perceptive Timmi who from an incredibly young age could read a poem and see the poet’s soul reflected there. At first these memories were terribly painful. But over time they have begun to bring with them a sense that some parts of her are still with me. When I see a dazzling little girl, Timmi's sweetness is reflected there. My youngest daughter, Aimee, shares Timmi’s facility for snappy answers. When my family reads poetry together at the Shabbat table, I think of the kinds of things she would have said, and it warms me. There are now so many good things that remind me of her.
Praying at synagogue on Rosh Hashana, I felt Timmi from many directions. When I looked forward, I saw the beautiful parochet (curtain for the ark that contains the Torah scrolls) that we had an artist in our community make in Timmi's memory for use during the High Holidays. Its theme is the creation of the world, which according to Jewish tradition occurred on Rosh Hashana, but which is also described in the verses Timmi read in synagogue at her Bat Mitzva. When I looked down at my prayer book, there was the inscription she had written. When we read the Torah portion for the first day of Rosh Hashana, which contains the story of Hagar, Sarah's maidservant who bears Abraham's child, I remembered how Timmi had chosen to play Hagar in one of her school drama performances. When I looked beside me, I missed terribly having her sit next to me as she used to, but felt grateful to have had her there for as long as I did. And all around me I saw many, many good people who had watched Timmi grow up and who mourned her loss. Like me, these people remember the good times and the bad – not at all in in the same way and not nearly as strongly as I do, but still as a community that has lost a precious member. She will remain with them, in some small way, as she will with me.
While the gates of Heaven are still open to our prayers, mine is that God will comfort all those who have lost a child with the sweetness of memory, and bless them with their beloved child’s continued presence in their lives.