Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gratitude

Juggling Frogs is setting up a Carnival of Overdue Thanks. She writes:

...there is a pile of unacknowledged appreciation that festers in the periphery of my consciousness. Sometimes, the most heart-felt and deep thanks are the most difficult to express.

What could be acknowledged in a timely sweet note, swells by neglect into a long letter, perhaps with a few photos, to a token - and then large - and then significant gift to the person, or to a charity in that person's name... It grows from something doable to the chronic ache of failure.

It's possible to wallow in "why haven't I done it" indefinitely. But, let's not.


Her post got me thinking about recent experiences in my life that have showed me the meaning of community. Community is a word that gets thrown around alot, but I didn't really understand the meaning of the word until I was put in a position where I so desperately needed mine. And there were so many circles within circles of "community"--my family, my friends, my synagogue, my colleagues, my friends in Israel, my "old" friends from college and Bnei Akiva, the Jewish Community at large. As time went on the concentric circles just grew and grew...

Three days after her bat-mitzvah, Liat was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. As a survivor of the disease myself, I knew that it was a beatable form of lymphoma and I had faith that this was a struggle that Liat would win. But I also knew what she would have to go through to win this struggle: the fatigue, the nausea, the hair loss, the isolation, the pain, the knowledge that suddenly you are not a healthy person, the pitying looks and comments that are thrown your way. I was devastated for her and for her sisters whom I knew would also suffer because of this disease. And I worried about how my family would manage this. I was working full-time at the time, because we needed my salary, not to supplement extra vacations. Would we be able to stay afloat?

I needn't have worried.

My mother-in-law, who was visiting at the time, extended her visit indefinitely, stating she would stay with Liat during chemotherapy appointments, babysit for the other two, and just plain be around to make sure someone was always home.

My friend showed up ten minutes after she heard; she cried with me and comforted me. Her and her husband offered us their car, so that during Liat's treatment, we always had two cars available to us.

Other friends came over and held my hand. They took Liat for chemotherapy and radiation treatments. They brought us lunch or coffee at the hospital. They bought the kids presents, and me magazines. They came over to the house to keep Liat company when she was recovering from treatment and took her out for lunch when she was well enough to do that. (Because of this, Liat has a relationship with my friends that is unique). They took Tali and Orli to Target and bought them stuff they didn't need. They drank coffee with me on Shabbat morning before I went to Shul. They baked cookies with Liat. They baked cookies (mushrooms!) for Liat. They brought over Haagen Daaz Dulce De Leche milkshakes (how ironic for me to have to fatten up a child of mine). They stayed by my side. They kept me sane. They propped me up when I was so low.

My friends in Israel stayed in touch. They made special trips to the Kotel to pray for Liat. I heard from people I hadn't heard from in years, all special to me, from special times in my life. They called or wrote to tell me they were thinking of us and praying for us.

Chemotherapy compromises the immunity system, and Liat was not allowed to go to school to be exposed to who-knows-what. This applied to days between chemo that she felt well. Chai Lifeline sent tutors to the house for her Hebrew studies, and the Lawrence-Woodmere School District sent teachers over for secular studies. This didn't cost us a dime. These men and women were dedicated, compassionate teachers who cared about Liat, and gave her so much.

The executive director of HALB, the school our children attended, called us and told us not to worry about our tuition payments. He called me, I didn't have to call him. !!!!!! He spoke to me at length, showing me that in spite of its size, HALB is a school with a heart, and this man in particular is a real mentch.

My friends got organized and food was dropped off daily at the house. I didn't cook for almost six months (and then didn't have to cook for the next six because there was so much stored in the freezer). When Liat was first diagnosed I didn't eat for days, but as the situation "normalized" my appetite returned (somehow, it always does). Let me tell you something--Five Towners know how to cook.

There were people who called me and said, "This is what I'm going to do to help"--and did. This was new to me, as I am the type of person who says, "call if you need me". I never want to be intrusive. But wow. People actually knew what would make my life easier. One woman, a mother of a kid in Liat's class, organized visits by Liat's classmates. She completely arranged a schedule, making sure the kids weren't exposed to anything contagious. She always checked with me to see if Liat was up to and wanted visitors. Liat's friends, classmates and teachers stayed involved throughout her treatment, never forgetting that she was home.

Another friend organized a mass tehillim. Hundreds of women showed up at her house and at our shul, Congregation Bais Tefilla of Woodmere, to daven for Liat. She decided to permanently host a weekly tehillim group that is still running today, in honor of Liat. The Rabbi and Rebbetzin of our shul were also an immense source of support for us.

High school kids from SKA came over to do homework with Tali and Orli and to give them the attention that I could not. They made my two little girls feel special. One of the girls has become a close family friend.

Chai Lifeline sent over clowns one Saturday night, just to make our family laugh. The timing of this was particularly good as Liat had just lost her hair, and well, she needed to laugh. We all did.

My sister won a wig in an auction (one of those custom, expensive deals that I know little about) and gave it to Liat. The wig-lady spent hours with Liat to make it as perfect as possible.

Strangers dropped off cakes with encouraging notes.

My sister-in-law flew in from Venezuela to be with us, leaving her own kids for a week. While here she showered the kids with love, and with presents.

Chai Lifeline became a part of our lives. Our caseworker, Chanie, was in constant touch, making sure we had what we needed, that insurance was covering treatments, that Liat was being schooled, that we had Chanukah and Purim parties to go to, that we had enough to eat. They even sent Liat to camp!

My sister's sister-in-law, whose father is a prominent hematologist at Sloane Kettering Hospital, arranged an immediate appointment with her father, who was extremely gracious, caring and gave us excellent advice.

The doctors, nurses, PA's, social workers, child-life specialists and fellow patients at Schneider's Childrens Hospital became like a second family to us. It's hard to think of a hospital as a comforting environment but the Hem-Onc clinic was...

At P177Q, where I worked, the principal took me to the secretary (we know who really runs the place) and said to her that I was to have carte blanche as far as coming in late and leaving early. She was amazing about it. I tried not to take advantage of their generosity. Schneider's was only minutes away from work, so the routine was that I would drop Liat off at chemo with my mother-in-law or one of my friends, go check in on things at lunch, and then pick them up after work. It was a finely tuned machine, which could never have worked without every cog in its place.

Our pediatricians came by to visit Liat at home and to make sure everything was okay. They were our advocates when we needed them and were dedicated to the day-to-day care of Liat. Other doctors who lived in the neighborhood, (who we were NOT patients of) stopped by at the hospital to see if there was anything we needed.

A man who lived in a neighboring community called me to tell me about Sibs Place. Tali and Orli spent countless hours there making friends with kids who were going through the same thing and being allowed to express their fear, guilt, anger or any emotion in a safe, therapeutic environment. Amazing.

There were so many.

And then, a year after treatment ended, when we were starting to recover from the trauma of this illness, she got sick again. Not cancer, but just as serious. And in the blink of an eye, everything churned into motion again. Just like that.

She's fine now, Thank G-d. But we will never forget what it was like to be a part of that, to be swept up by family, friends, and strangers. By concentric circles of communities.

How can you say thank you for this kind of support? How do you thank people for saving your life? Your family's life? Did I ever thank anyone for what they did? I must have. "Thank you s-o-o-o- much". I must have said those words. They are meaningless words. How can those words convey what I truly feel? How can people know that their actions have changed the essence of me? How can they know the depth of my gratitude and how I always carry it with me? It is never far from me. And I don't know what to do with it. Because I can never be for these people what they are for me. There is a little shame in that. I have taken so much and given so little. What did I do to deserve so much grace? Is it possible that this is just the human spirit--to give and give and give?

It must be, and I am in awe of it...

17 comments:

SuperRaizy said...

Baila-
That was so moving. I am almost in tears.
It is indeed difficult to adequately express appreciation for people who have done so much for us, but with this post you have done a masterful job of it.
You need to add a postscript, though. The only one that you didn't thank is Hashem, for restoring your little girl's health.

ilanadavita said...

This is very moving Baila. Great tribute to your friends.

Baila said...

Raizy,

Every day I wake up and Thank G-d for the blessings he has given my family. He is of course the Ulimate Healer. I thought about this while I was writing. But Juggling Frogs specifically said in her instructions: "Let's stipulate that there are plenty of reasons to thank G-d, and leave Him off the recipient list. While it's okay to mention being grateful to the Almighty in passing, the point of this carnival is to work on our relationships with other people, and to work up the courage to express gratitude to people that Thanking G-d is a given as we are indeed all grateful for all that He does..."

So I chose to focus this piece on the human aspect; G-d Himself can't fault me for that, can He?

SuperRaizy said...

Baila-
I'm sorry. I realize now that I came off as sanctimonious and obnoxious. My apologies.

Baila said...

SR,

No way, don't apologize, I didn't mean to be snarky in my reply....just letting you know what my thought process was, and that your comment did occur to me.

Friends, right?

And thanks, Ilana-Davita...

Leora said...

Lovely and heart-felt. So sincere, the words just flow out of you.

Anonymous said...

no thanks are necessary, like the song says "that's what friends are for"

nw

SuperRaizy said...

Baila-
Yes, of course friends. (-:
I think I will try to write a "gratitude" post as well. I never could have gotten through my divorce without the help of my family and friends, and I would like to try to express my feelings about that.

Anonymous said...

We did it because we love you, and we know you would do the same for all of us.
It is heartwarming and comforting to know that when you need a helping hand this community and I believe the jewish community as a whole is always there for you.
Sharon

Phyllis Sommer said...

baila this was a wonderful reminder of how a community can truly come together! and how each action adds into the next to just simply be incredible. i, too, was moved to tears by your post. thanks!

ilanadavita said...

Shabbat Shalom!

Juggling Frogs said...

Baila, thank you so much for posting this.

I'm honored you submitted it to the carnival. It is moving and beautiful and exactly what I hoped the carnival would attract. Thank you.

Shabbat Shalom,
CLKL

rutimizrachi said...

Wow. You take my breath away. Your generally positive nature makes whatever you write taste like champagne. And the last paragraph of this piece is the best "thank you" note I have ever read. You and I came on aliyah at roughly the same time -- I with teenage boys, you with teenage girls -- and you inspire me. I just happened in, to get to know some of the fellow Trep commentators prior to the bloggers' convention. So glad I did! I will be a regular Baila reader, just to get my fix of cheerful attitude with life's little challenges.

Jacob Da Jew said...

Really moving post. Thanks for sharing.

Gila said...

Amazing. Obviously, it sucks that you all had to go through this, but I am really glad that so many people were there for you and helped to share the burden.

westbankmama said...

What a wonderful post! Please remind me when the Carnival is published so that I can link to it.

westbankmama@fastmail.fm

A Living Nadneyda said...

Baila,

Wow.

Thank you so much for sharing your thank-yous.

I'm on the "other side," i.e. I work as a therapist-educator with kids like Liat and parents like you (we even have a couple of mothers who really are like you: They had cancer, and then they found themselves the mothers of a child -- in one case, children -- with cancer).

Some of the most meaningful conversations I've had are with these mothers who, like you, know the story from the inside. You've been there, you've survived, you know the pain, anger, fear, isolation and suffering is hellish but somehow manageable. But now you've had to live through a similar but different kind of pain, fear, and intense disruption, all over again, through your daughter.

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, and your thank-yous, which no doubt give strength in return to those who have given to you. I say this as a person who gets a lot of strength from thank-yous of the parents and children I work with. I understand how sincere they are being, because they know I love their children too, in my own way.

I wish you and Liat continued health and wholeness.