Sacred Time and Silver Linings

Some might have been wondering why JewishGPS and this blog went silent for many months. Out of respect for my mom’s privacy, her heroic battle against cancer (diagnosed June 2021) was never shared on social media and never talked about in public spaces. As a result, my role as primary live-in caregiver was also not public. Carol Faintich took her last breath a little before 2 a.m. on Thursday, October 6, 2022 with me holding her hand and whispering “pleasant dreams forever” into her ear.

I defended my doctoral dissertation March 4, 2020 and as you are all aware, this pesky thing called a global pandemic hit about a week later. JewishGPS’s work mostly came to a screeching halt and I had no opportunity to leverage my newly minted EdD. By mid-summer 2020, it became clear that my teen nephews were going to be virtual schooling for the foreseeable future, and with a full-time teacher mother, they would need extra support in their academics. So August 19, 2020, I loaded my car in ATL with basic items and my cats and we “temporarily” relocated to my mom’s home in St. Louis.

Fast forward to the end of May 2021, and our family had a successful closing-of-the-school-year celebration. Five out of six of our family bubble members already had a dose of the vaccine and the sixth was scheduled for mid-June. I started packing up for my return to ATL when we accidentally discovered my mom had a malignant gallbladder tumor.

My parents taught us, and more importantly role modeled for us, the value of family and unconditional love. There was no question that I was going to stay in St. Louis and stand with my mom through this journey. I promised her that I would do four things:

  • Keep her safe. Pikuach Nefesh and Shmirat haGuf. I promised to go to every medical appointment, help her process information, keep track of all of her medications, manage her care at every level, make her home physically safe for her, and advocate for her as hard as I could.
  • Protect her dignity. Kavod Habriyot. When a person goes through cancer treatment and a decline from the impacts of cancer, so much of their basic independence and dignity are infringed on. I wanted to be sure that even in the moments we (her paid caregivers, medical staff and I) had to physically expose her body in uncomfortable ways, that we were emotionally “keeping her covered.”
  • Stand with her. Lo Ta’amod, Bikkur Cholim and Rachamim. While there is no way to physically take the burden and pain from her, I wanted her to know that she would never experience discomfort and fear alone. I promised to hold her hand – physically and metaphorically – every moment that I possibly could.
  • Elevate every “good” moment. Hiddur Mitzvah, Hakarat HaTov, Shalshelet Hamesorah, and V’samachta B’chagecha. From the first day of her diagnosis, it was imperative for us (along with her grandchildren) to take advantage of her “good” days (eventually only moments) and maximize them to the fullest. Sometimes those were framed in Jewish celebrations (Shabbat and holy days) and sometimes they were in the mundane of watching our favorite sports team or visiting a park.

Perhaps more than anything else, my commitment to elevating her good moments gave us so many silver linings embedded in this very difficult experience.

Growing up, bringing in Shabbat as a family was very hit or miss and when it happened, it was always with a last-minute store-bought challah. Every Shabbat since September 11, 2020 we marked Shabbat together (most of the time just with us, sometimes with others) with a homemade challah, sweet wine or juice, and candle lighting (even if with electric candles and even if over FaceTime).

Our family has a strong commitment to the St. Louis Cardinals, and while my mom didn’t make it to any games in-person, we watched dozens (hundreds) of games together since my arrival in Fall 2020. Any time I would be at a game in the stadium, I would FaceTime her at least once so she could join in the spirit of the crowd.

Three of the best days she had this past summer were the birthdays of her two grandsons and her birthday. Jack’s birthday in June marked his 16th. We ordered dinner to the house and the boys brought over their cornhole set. While the boys had to hold onto MeMe’s pants so she didn’t fall over while tossing the bean bag, she joyfully engaged in the game. Her 78th birthday in July involved lots of immediate family time (a hysterically funny game of family edition Cards Against Humanity and dinner ordered from a favorite restaurant) and concluded with a surprise dessert party for her in her yard with her closest family and a few friends. Evan’s 18th birthday in August included dinner on the patio of a family favorite restaurant (a place we celebrated her 70th birthday and many other simchas over the years). She had eaten out of the house (always outdoors) only a handful of times since pre-Covid.

By the time Rosh haShanah 5783 rolled around, she could barely eat. But she came to the table and had a sip of juice, a bite of apple and honey, a bite of challah, a small bowl of soup and a 1/4th of a matzo ball and two bites of brisket. But she was determined to be present for this holy day meal.

(continue reading after photos)

Two Jewish obligations (mitzvot) framed this entire experience: Hiddur P’nei Zaken (honoring the elderly) and Kibbud Av V’Am (honoring parents). For me, taking the time away from my home in Atlanta and my career was a no-brainer but I want to acknowledge that Judaism actually required it of me. At some point I will write a more robust blog about the “perfect storm” that allows a person to stop their life to take care of a loved one, but at the end if all things align, we ARE OBLIGATED.

My mother’s funeral was Friday, October 8 and we honored her memory and her legacy through our truncated shiva (thanks to Sukkot) in ways that I couldn’t even have imagined. What I know is that beyond the traditional Jewish ways to remember someone, one of the best ways I can honor her is to pursue my life fiercely. It will take me some time to close out the affairs in St. Louis (her home of 50 years) and to then do some “Robyn Reset” traveling (during which she will be deeply remembered and honored as it’s something we did together), but my goal is to pursue my health journey, my social journey (where is my b’shert?) and my career journey with the gusto my mom would have wanted.

Donations in Carol’s memory can be made to Saul Spielberg Early Childhood Center at United Hebrew Congregation, KidSmart, ReadyReaders, or OASIS Tutoring.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sheri Gropper
    Oct 10, 2022 @ 17:18:24

    Love this touching blog, and how you share the emotional journey you experienced along with Judaic teachable values tied to your caring actions of these past few years. Also love that you can find the silver lining throughout this process, while also focusing on your next steps. Like your mom, you are a master teacher (and daughter.)
    Wishing you fulfillment of your life goals as you transition to your next chapter, Robyn.


  2. Miriam Van Raalte
    Oct 10, 2022 @ 19:40:50

    I keep thinking about the wonderful family photos you recently took (color-coordinated, of course). You approached this life journey with your mom in such style, such dignity, that can be a role model for us all. The fulfillment of the mitzvot you outlined above speaks volumes about your uplifting status as a teacher – I stand in awe of all that you are and that you will carry with you as you teach your students whoever and wherever they may be.


  3. Trackback: The Perfect Storm | JewishGPS

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