As I write this, I should be at a funeral. RifkA bat Yishaya died Friday morning. I have watched, read (Coffee and Chemo) and listened as she fought a most amazing battle. It wasn’t fought fairly – the cancer had an advantage, as it always does, but RifkA had one too – her amazing family, the love of so many, and her personality.
On Thursday, on my way home from a client, the radio carried a story about a poem. Background noise as I thought about what I need to pack the next day. Then, I began to hear what they were saying. In a deep British accent, a man read a poem in English and then the Israeli broadcaster translated it into Hebrew. I missed the point of the story, what they were trying to say. All I heard was the poem. “Do not go gently into that good night.”
My first thought was of RifkA – she hasn’t gone gently into that night. But somehow I also knew that the fight would not last much longer. She fought it for years. The ups and downs of cancer treatment – the retreat, the discovery of new tumors in new places. New medications. Interspersed were stories of her life, her joys, a recent vacation and always plans for the future she fully intended to share with her family.
She didn’t ignore her cancer; but she didn’t wallow in as could easily have been considered normal. Instead, she wrote about it, addressed it openly with her family, her friends, her readers and made thousands more aware not just of the illness, but how a family copes with it; how a mother copes. She showed you can have cancer and still laugh, still be positive and happy. She shamed us all into being better parents – how could we not find patience for our children, when she always did? How could we not find time to mend relationships and be kinder and better? How could we claim to be too tired to attend to our children, when she continued, despite chemo and treatments, to challenge herself to try to do just a bit more for her children.
On Friday, my husband and I packed the car and drove to Hebron with our youngest daughter. As I was unpacking our camp site, a friend called. We spoke for a few minutes and then she said, “there’s a funeral Saturday night.” I think I even asked who, but I already knew. RifkA.
We had an amazing Shabbat – I’ll write about that tomorrow, not now. But it was hard. It rained and it was cold and wet in the tent; worse, there was so much noise, we barely slept. Worse, I wrenched my arm carrying too much, too fast, too heavy and rather than admit it and slow down…I just kept at it. Maybe I wanted to feel the pain, I don’t know.
By the time we left Hebron this evening, my arm/shoulder was on fire – as it had been months ago. The road to Hebron has been attacked a few times in the last few months; I felt better driving than letting my husband drive. I know the roads better and to be honest, my night vision is better. We arrived home about 35 minutes before the funeral…the drive there could take more than that, I wasn’t sure with my arm what to do and maybe I’m just making excuses? I can still move the arm, the funeral will take a while. I can’t even be honest with myself. I just don’t think I can drive back into Jerusalem…stand and listen. I know there will be so many there…I need….what can I say?
I can’t count the times I thought of RifkA on Shabbat, each time reminding myself that mourning would have to wait. We do not mourn on Shabbat; it is an incredibly hard thing to do, to put it aside, to delay, to stop the thoughts you want to have. Mostly, I think, I thought of RifkA’s family and what they were feeling, thinking, knowing…Shabbat, I would tell myself – time enough later. I stood by Rifka’s grave…no, not RifkA, but Rifka, one of the four matriarchs or our religion. It was Friday afternoon, so I let myself cry. Shabbat, was harder and so instead of thinking of the loss, I tried to push my thoughts back to discussions I’d had with her.
We shared a hometown and a university experience; a move across the world, the blessings of motherhood and many other things. Mostly, though she was younger – friends with my brother from childhood, mine only as adults and mothers. I respected her for what she had learned in her life, and how she had chosen to share it with others.
RifkA has…had…has…had a sense of the world in its place, of making relationships count. I wanted to pray for RifkA in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron…instead, I stood by the graves of our forefathers and cried for her. Somewhere in the afternoon, as we sat around the lunch tables, one of our amazing Rabbi friends spoke of the death of Sarah – that’s what this week’s Torah portion was about…the death of Sarah, one of the mothers of Israel.
When Abraham heard that she had died, the Rabbi explained, he ran to her and bent to kiss her. He knew that she was gone and yet he realized that there are signs left when the Angel of Death takes the life and soul in our bodies. These signs were missing in Sarah and so he realized that it was God who had come and taken Sarah’s life and soul. This comforted Abraham.
My friend told me that RifkA had gone easily, quietly, I guess. Perhaps, God so loved her that he personally came and took her. I know and believe she is in a better place; that her pain and suffering are gone. I know that she accomplished the task God gave her in this world and I hope someday soon, her family will find comfort in that idea.
For now, I know that there are so many around the world who mourn her loss and wish there was a way to comfort her husband and three children. I’m sorry, RikfA, that I’m not there but I have to believe you are in a place where you can see and know the outpouring of love that is happening now, beyond the tears.
May your loving family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they known no more sorrow.