Three women share how they cried out to Him… and felt His presence
Sometimes when we go through a crisis, we’re backed into a corner, with no way out other than turning to Hashem and begging Him to extricate us. Three women share how they cried out to Him… and felt His presence.
iriam Stern had nine children, ranging in age from one to 19, when her 40-year-old husband, Eliyahu, was diagnosed with leukemia.
On a Sunday morning, the Sterns received the disconcerting results of alarming blood work. Miriam and her husband were called in, and Eliyahu was immediately sent to the hospital. “During that awful period, we were waiting on a few different possibilities, all of them devastating,” she says.
When the diagnosis arrived, it was a relief. Eliyahu was ill with an extremely treatable form of leukemia, which would “only” require noninvasive treatment. In fact, they were told by a frum oncologist: “Nobody asks for this illness, but if you were going to have to deal with one, this would be the one.”
With tremendous relief, Miriam and Eliyahu told their children what was going on. They were so grateful. This wasn’t going to take over their lives. He’d undergo treatments, and then life would return to normal.
Eliyahu went through the treatment protocol, with Miriam remaining strong and confident throughout. She wouldn’t allow this “cancer thing” to get in the way of her family’s happiness. She was running on adrenaline, not thinking much, but going through all the necessary motions to keep her family going during that difficult time.
But Hashem threw the Sterns a curveball, and Eliyahu was among the unfortunate three percent who didn’t respond to the prescribed “simple” treatment protocol. Despite their best efforts, the doctors couldn’t offer any subsequent strategy that would offer a clear pathway to remission. They could merely keep the cancer at bay.
And that’s when Miriam fell apart.
She felt like a helpless mother, unable to shield her children from the worst. She worried that her kids wouldn’t trust her anymore, because she’d “lied” to them. She had told them their father’s cancer was treatable, and now it was clear it wasn’t. The weight of hopelessness prevented her from doing even the basics, and there were many days Miriam couldn’t even get out of bed.
During that bleak time period, the Sterns were doing construction. The cacophony of disarray and upheaval mirrored the tumultuous emotions fueled by Eliyahu’s illness. One chaotic evening, Miriam found herself sitting alongside her teenage daughter, perched on the unfinished steps of her house.
Elisheva was sobbing in anguish on her mother’s shoulder and lamenting the heavy burden of fear and stress on her teenage shoulders. The vulnerability and rawness of the moment, taking place right underneath a gaping hole in the ceiling, broke Miriam’s heart. The two of them sat and cried together, their tears merging with the dust and debris.
“If there was anywhere on earth I would have chosen to have this talk, had I planned it, it would have been nowhere near there,” says Miriam. “But that was the impetus to get us into what was so genuine and so real. It didn’t matter what chaos was ensuing around us. It was such a genuine and empowering moment for me, because of where we were, because of what was going on, probably something we both will never forget.”
In that cocoon of authenticity, Miriam and her daughter explored their pain, their fears, their uncertainty about the future. Amid the haze of her own turmoil, Miriam dug deep within herself to find answers that would strengthen Elisheva. Miriam managed to convey a message of strength to her daughter. “Not only can we navigate this difficult thing, but I can promise you that at the end of this process, no matter what it is, we’re going to find ourselves growing so much through it. We’re going to like who we are because of this challenge.”
Because of how impromptu and spontaneous it was, Miriam feels it was the “greatest moment of accessing my emes for my children. It was a moment of accessing my neshamah, accessing feelings and thoughts and beliefs that I knew were really deep inside of me, but were so challenging to reach.”
This incident empowered Miriam to move forward, to give over that message to the rest of her family, even the ones who weren’t able to cry or talk or ask. “It was such a relief that I could come to my children now and say whatever we go through, even if we don’t like it, even if it’s devastating, we’re going to be okay. Even if it’s death.”
Miriam admits that she had fallen very low and into a very dark place. But knowing that her children needed her so badly pushed her to dig very deep within herself to climb out of it.
“Hardships feel less intimidating now. There’s never a complete remission, his cancer is always dormant. We’re living with this hanging over our heads.” But because of her slow, agonizing process of acceptance, Miriam feels like she can get through anything life throws her way, and she is passionate about sharing her message with the world. “Now, when I see my kids crying in front of me, I feel victorious as opposed to fearful. I taught them to be real. This is so good. This is healthy. This is emes.”
“I now know — through this experience — that if You are giving this to me, I have the resources because I found them when I had to. Not that we ask for it, but I would never want to take away from myself the privilege of this growth, the privilege of this nisayon. It has made me and my whole family respond to life with more sensitivity, depth, and understanding. I’d never trade that for anything on Earth.”
hira’s older son, Shua, was all of one year and one week old when her second son, Moshe, was born. She felt both blessed and overwhelmed, but she was coping.
On a hot day in May, when Moshe was four months old, Shira took both boys out to the local JCC for a walk around the track. “Shua wasn’t walking yet, and with these two babies, I just needed to get out. That was the rhythm we were in in those days,” she says. “I’d get everyone up and fed, then go out, and then we’d come home and do naptime.” She remembers lugging her double stroller up the many stairs and began enjoying her walk… until a woman came over and told her strollers weren’t allowed on the track. Shira schlepped her heavy double stroller back down, crying all the way. Her exhaustion and frustration accompanied her home.
Both boys were really fussy when Shira arrived home, and she put them both in for naps. Eventually, they quieted down, and Shira called a friend to help lift her spirits. An hour or so later, Shira went to check on her boys.
Baby Moshe wasn’t breathing. He had no pulse.
Shira called Hatzolah and started CPR. The paramedics arrived and took over. She called her husband, Aaron, and grabbed little Shua.
But it was over.
Shira acknowledges the many kind people who helped them during those awful moments of initial shock and grief: The nurses who played with Shua. The rav who stayed with them and supported them. The frum lawyer who arranged for the release of Moshe’s body for burial.
With a visceral, raw intensity, Shira describes watching her husband struggle to make the brachah of “Dayan HaEmes” with absolute genuineness. “It was like he couldn’t make the brachah until he could say it with complete kavanah. He tried, again and again, but he finally did it. I don’t remember making it myself, but I took the cue from him. I must have done it after him.”
Moshe’s funeral, a quick graveside service, felt to Shira like, “It was like ripping the top layer of skin off my body. I felt so exposed. I had no resources to protect myself. Or do anything other than just be. I only wanted to be around people I trusted completely because I was just so raw. I didn’t have energy or headspace to be polite or put on a good face. I wasn’t there. At all.”
Shivah was a blur, though a comforting one. Shira felt she gave the message, “I’m the one who’s a mess here. You can hold me, be with me, take your cues from me. There’s a whole lot that I can’t do right now.” And everyone accepted that.
The tragic loss solidified Shira’s emunah. The awareness of Hashem as an actual reality came to her as a dawning understanding, and it kept her going throughout the terrible week of shivah. “The dividing line between This World and the Next World is much more flimsy than we think it is. The world we’re in, the one where we’re walking, talking, it’s like a little stage. When someone passes away, you realize there’s this whole other world, all of a sudden. And you realize there must, must be so much more out there.”
Shira and Aaron opened a mezuzah gemach in Moshe’s memory. They were moving during the time of her son’s petirah, and they saw a need for it in their community. She says it gave her and her husband a big nechamah to do something that provides shemirah. They wanted to “increase shemirah in the homes of others and increase the shemirah in our home as well.”
“Through Moshe’s passing, I learned Hashem is so vast, so much bigger than what we see. For me, that is very comforting. When you lose the illusion of control, you realize Hashem actually has your back, and He is the Dayan. Even if it feels like you’re falling, He still has you.”
sti’s teenage son, Yoni, has always been a quirky child. The intricacies of social dynamics elude him. During the last two years, with social awkwardness compounded by teenage angst, school attendance became extremely difficult. School morphed into a place of trauma for Yoni, and every single morning was a challenge. In Esti’s words, “His way of dealing is by escaping, because in sleep, there is no distress. No social pressure, no expectations, no disappointed teachers.”
Patient, empathetic, and unconditionally accepting, Esti sought guidance from experts and advocated for support from the school.
But none of the rebbeim or staff in her son’s school responded or reached out in a concrete, meaningful way.
On the morning of Yoni’s class graduation trip, he was — of course — sleeping. As Esti drove her other child to school, she noticed the one person she wanted to avoid — Yoni’s rebbi. Driving as fast as school carpool lanes would allow, her eyes blurred by an urgent wetness, she finally reached her own driveway.
From the safety of her car’s cocoon, Esti released it all. Ragged sobs racked her body, her tense shoulders shaking from years of carrying the strain. Her son, viewed as a bother and a burden and a Problem with a capital P. Her little boy, choosing to cope by sleeping away his teen years.
“Does anyone even care?” she thought. “Now, not only has Yoni missed days and weeks of school, with barely a blip on the school’s radar, will he miss his graduation trip, too? Is he just invisible?”
She reached tipping point and cried out, “Hashem, this is YOU! This is the pain of YOUR Shechinah in galus. You want us to notice Your absence, to feel the pain of Your brokenness without the Beis Hamikdash. And yet we ignore Your pain, focusing only on our own. Hashem, You must feel invisible! I know Your pain, Hashem.”
Esti and her son’s torment took on an exquisite meaning. She now recognized and internalized her Father’s pain from a gut-wrenching place. And, Esti says, “I’m grateful for that revelation.”
Yoni is still in the throes of his arduous path through teenagehood, so Esti isn’t at a point of resolution any time soon. “I know Hashem is holding my hand, and guiding me every step of the way. And even if I don’t see or feel it every day, I look out for those glimmers. It helps me get through.”
One day, when Yoni is grown, maybe she’ll open a support network for other parents struggling in this way. “In the meantime, it’s me and Hashem, doing this together.”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 861)
Oops! We could not locate your form.