Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Grief and Resilience

It’s hard to believe, but Timora died ten years ago today. My bereavement is ten years old. Ten years. How can I wrap my head around that number?

So much has happened in that decade that it feels like a lifetime. I’ve gone through and come out of the depression that gripped me for more than a year after my daughter died. I’ve turned my professional life around a hundred-and-eighty degrees by going back to school for a Master’s degree in clinical social work; I’m now officially an ex-attorney (I like to call myself a lapsed lawyer) with a flourishing career as a psychotherapist. Four of my daughters – all my children of marriageable age – are now married. My baby boy is now doing his compulsory military service (as a sergeant, no less). My second daughter has just presented Daniel and me with our second grandchild – a girl named Arielle, who’s joined her cousin Imri in his previously solo role as family darling. And I myself have produced – not another child, that’s no longer possible, but my first book, a memoir. And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones will become available online and in U.S. bookstores in mid-March 2011.

As far in the past as Timora’s death may feel, her life is so fresh in my mind that it also seems, if you’ll forgive the cliché, like yesterday. I’m sure this is partly because I spent six years writing about her. I started out with this blog, which I kept for a year and a half and ended on the fifth anniversary of her death. (The blog was then called “Five Years Later,” so it’s serendipitously appropriate that I’m taking up my virtual pen again today, almost exactly five years after publishing what I thought of at the time as my final post.) Writing my blog helped me process my grief in all kinds of ways. It gave me occasion to sit down and spend time remembering my daughter; to let the world know who she was; to look inside myself and face what I found there; to reflect on how what happened to Timora and to our family has colored the way I see the world; and to share my insights.

“Five Years Later,” baring as it did so much of my soul, became the first foundation of my memoir. As I wrote, though, I found myself turning from my own story to Timora’s, having realized that there was no way I could write what it was like to lose her without relating who she was, and what she went through. So as hard as it was to go back to that time so intensively, I made myself sit down and write, from start to finish and in chronological order, the narrative of her life as she struggled with her illness. In order to get it as right as I could, I read her diary, which I’d been unable to touch since she died. Like the survivors of battle, terror attacks, and terrible accidents whom I sometimes treat in my practice, I was avoiding fully confronting those long, wrong years. Reading the diary forced me to finally face Timora’s suffering, squarely and without illusion. And as it so often does for those trauma survivors, that confrontation opened me to further healing, but at a price – I had to allow myself to touch some of my deepest pain.

Yet my daughter’s diary also revealed something wonderful, in the literal sense of the word – just how amazingly resilient she was. One day she’d be in pain, depressed, lonely, and bored. Then – often the very next day – she’d write how a friend called, or one of her sisters invited her to a movie, or we began planning a family trip, and how wonderful life could be. This optimism, this ability to take even the smallest drop of hope and allow it to expand, to fill her whole being, floored me. A girl whose entire adolescence was devoured by cancer; a girl who underwent endless courses of chemo, a lifetime’s worth of radiation, and two bone marrow transplants; a girl whose body betrayed her in every possible way – that girl was able to find joy wherever she could, all the way to the end of her brief, brief life.

That resilience became the theme of Twice the Marrow, which combines Timora’s narrative with a journal based on my blog, painting a fifteen-year picture of our lives from Timora’s first symptoms up to the ninth anniversary of her death. The story I’ve written is not as much about the hardship she suffered, or about what life did to her, as about her determination to take what she could from life despite that hardship. And it depicts not only our family’s bereavement, but also – even more so – how we loved her, how we lost her, and how we’ve gone on living.

And so it is with this, my renewed journal. I hope to share here what I’ve learned about resilience – that stubborn refusal to let adversity get the best of us – both from Timora herself and from my own and my family’s experience mourning her. From my perspective now, beginning ten years after losing my child, I hope to reach out to other bereaved parents and families, to people who are facing the other, myriad challenges and trials that life inevitably throws at us all, and to anyone else who cares to share my continued journey.


torontopearl said...

Welcome back to the blogging world.
Mazel Tov on the book.

Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...

Pearl, thank you so much - both for your welcome and your Mazal Tov.

Sarah said...

Thank you for making sure I came back here. I look forward to reading your book.

Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...

Sarah, it's just now becoming available in Israel. It should appear soon in Steimatzky and Tzommet Sefarim, but in the meantime can be bought at Hevruta on HaLammed-Hei.

Amy said...

Beautiful post. Glad you are back to blogging.

Congratulations on the book. :-)

Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...

Thank you, Amy. And thank you for linking to me. I hope the blog will live up to expectations!