Thursday, June 02, 2005

To Share or Not to Share

June 2, 2000
This week we may be seeing some progress - Timmi has reduced the dose of her painkilling patches and has somewhat less pain than she did with the higher dose. So we hope that means that the tumors are shrinking. Also, she has some symptoms that may be indicative of GVH, which would be consistent with shrinking tumors. We hope the trend will continue, without her getting too much GVH as in the past.

She is greatly looking forward to her four-day trip to London this coming week, with the "Chaim" organization that does good things for kids with cancer. The only problem is that they will be eating only in non-kosher places, so Timmi is bringing lots of dry stuff with her. Also, the plane leaves one hour after Shabbat goes out, so Don will have to leave with her immediately on Saturday night, deliver her to a special place where someone will be waiting only for her, and the plane may also have to wait for her. All in all, very nice and well-meaning, but it's quite astonishing how some Israeli Jews can be so unaware of the constraints of religious people. But it does work out that she can go, so we're happy about that.

I have continued to be sick this week, to the point almost of physical/emotional collapse (I can't tell the difference), but have started feeling much better in the past couple of days.

Shabbat Shalom to all.


June 1, 2005
A week ago I flew from Israel to New York; today was registration and orientation for the MSW program I’m starting tomorrow.

On the plane, I sat next to a married couple who were on their way to Barcelona for a week. They must have been in their late twenties or early thirties, and were obviously very much in love. After they squeezed past me to get to their seats, the woman (I’ll call her Rona) took off her hat to reveal an almost completely bald head with some sparse, very short hair. At that point I also noticed how thin she was. Ah, I thought, she’s recently been through chemo, or radiation, or both.

My first impulse was to ask about her cancer – What kind? When did she discover it? – and about her treatment – For how long? At what hospital? Will she have to undergo additional treatment? I wanted to connect with her, to tell her that I know what she’s going through, and to express my fervent wishes for her full recovery. But then I thought again. Yes, I could have a sharing conversation with her, full of mutual empathy and understanding. I always get a great deal from conversations like that, and perhaps I could do something good for her as well. But any conversation in which we would share our common experience would also have to reveal the end of Timmi’s story. And that, I believe, is the last thing in the world a recovering cancer patient needs to hear.

I was strongly reminded then of an experience I had shortly after Timmi died. I was sitting in a coffee and sandwich bar in Jerusalem’s main mall when a woman brought in her daughter in a wheelchair. The girl was very thin, and wearing a hat over what was obviously a bald head. I wanted desperately to approach them and compare notes – if only to ask who the girls’ doctor is, maybe trade hospital stories. And, of course, while Timmi was still alive that was exactly what I would have done. It’s so very rarely that I ever get to talk with another mother going through cancer with her child – someone who can actually understand at least a part of my own experience. It’s so very lonely where I am. But I had to stop myself. Were I to go up to them, they would inevitably have asked, “And how is your daughter today?”

As my plane ride to New York progressed, I felt increasingly physically ill. Eventually, I became sick, and unfortunately could not find the air-sick bag in time. I felt very bad for Rona and her husband. Here they are, I thought, off to have a good time after a difficult period, perhaps to celebrate the success of Rona’s treatment. Haven’t they had enough illness and unpleasantness? But Rona spoke to me with kindness and empathy, and even made practical and helpful suggestions. It was so clear to me that her own experience had taught her to empathize with, and respond to, my predicament. But I couldn’t reciprocate by showing her my own empathy for her, by sharing with her what we have in common. My daughter’s story is Rona’s worst nightmare come true.

Since I’ve begun meeting the other students in my MSW program, I’ve told my story many times; I’ll write more about that in my next post. But I’m still left with a lingering sadness for the relationship, however brief, that I might have had with Rona. As I watched her and her husband walk away from me in the airport, I had to restrain myself almost physically from running after her to give her a hug and tell her of my hope that God will bless her with a long and healthy life.

And so all I can do is to express that wish here, and pray that even if I wasn’t able to share it with her directly, it will reach her wherever she is today.


Sharmila said...

I am so very very sorry for your loss. I am not a mother nor do I profess to try to understand what it must feel like to lose a part of yourself but the despair it must have wrought......... Your kindness to others feelings despite where you are yourself is amazing. I wish you peace.

torontopearl said...

Glad to see you back online... even though you're busy with settling in.
What a moving story about your onboard seat mate --isn't it also rather interesting how it acts as a "bridge" between leaving your family and your home and your destination.
There will always be stories to tell, stories to listen to. Your empathy and compassion and tolerance and patience will serve you well in your new career.
Wishing you a bright and peaceful NY Shabbos...

houseofjoy said...

What a beautiful story. Sorry you were sick on the plane. I will echo your blessing for Rona.
We were all talking about you at lunch and miss you. Looking forward to reading more about your big city adventure.