I met Nirit for the first time when she was thirteen. Her enormous blue eyes took me in as we shook hands at the door. It seemed like she lived safely back in behind those eyes somewhere, which wasn’t surprising given her Mom was dying of ovarian cancer.
The family meeting had been arranged by Nirit’s mother who wanted to talk with her three children and her husband about what lay ahead for her, and for them. I feel it is an act of great love and courage when a dying person takes care of their family in this way. Many people understandably shy away from these excruciating conversations. Nirit was quiet throughout the meeting, present and absent, at the same time. Her two older siblings, her Dad and her Mom talked and cried, and talked some more. They were preparing.
The second time Nirit and I met was ten years later, soon after she called me out of the blue.
“Hi Janie, I don’t know if you remember me?” she said on the phone, her voice bright and warm.
“Of course, I remember you,” I said. I had heard a few stories about her from her Dad, and her brother and sister whom I continued to see from time to time, but had often wondered how Nirit had really fared after her Mom died.
“I’m in first year medical school at UBC,” Nirit said. “And I have a six-week flex course which I can design myself and I wonder if I can spend time with you to learn about the non-medical ways to help families living with cancer. They won’t teach me those things at medical school.” Her words tumbled out with excitement. She had found her words now at twenty-three and I could hear the self-confidence in her voice.
“Of course, I would love to have you here at Callanish,” I said, my eyes filling with surprising tears. I could feel her Mom’s pride for her daughter ripple through the airwaves to meet mine.
She told me that when her Mom was very sick, she used to leave home every evening by herself and walk and cry, and walk and cry, and she always wondered why no one ever stopped a thirteen year old out at night by herself, crying, to ask if she was okay. Until one day, a man with a deep voice asked her kindly, “Is everything alright, dear?” Nirit told the man she was okay because she couldn’t talk about her Mom to anyone then, especially not to a stranger. She also described how in that moment of connection, waves of gratitude flooded through her, for being cared about by someone who didn’t need to know her story to offer her a moment of kindness.
Nirit told me that her Mum had recorded audiotapes and written an ethical will for each of the three kids to have, after she died, and that her Mom’s wisdom had guided her in every challenging decision she had made in her life, so far.
Her Mom wrote, “My legacy of who I was as a person will give them guidance in life and facilitate kindness, goodness and love that will embrace them in their journey through life.”
In her six weeks with us, Nirit met with mothers who were beginning the agonizing process of preparing to leave their children because of cancer. She encouraged them to write letters and record audiotapes because she knew how much those children would benefit from their mother’s guidance, as she had, on the long road of grief that would accompany them for the rest of their lives.