The Happiest Day of My Life
Posted on May 16th, 2012
It’s pretty clear that over the last year, I have had some of the worst days of my life.
I have had the scariest days, the angriest days, and the saddest days — all since last June.
But you know what?
I have also had some of the best days of my life too.
Yesterday was the happiest day of my life.
The first time we got the test back that showed the cancer markers were falling. Even though the diagnosis was still hopeless, well that was a good day. A Ray of Hope.
Then, when we got the first scan result which showed that –contrary to the expectations — the cancer was receding, even though we were told the cancer was still not curable, well that was a good one too. Like This.
Then, when the surgery first deemed “impossible” was approved — well that was another great day. God is Listening.
And of course, our last Doctor’s visit, where I left the hospital singing — mmm. That was a really good one. Gotta Song in My Head.
But the happiest day so far was last night at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
To dance, to see my kids with big, happy smiles, to see Stella dancing with her friends….
I simply do not have to right words to describe how that felt. I don’t think they exist.
After all the nightmare scenarios that we dreaded, all the nights laying awake wondering what might be…..
All the pleas I made to G-d to make that day a celebration….
All the tears that so many people shed so many times.
After all that, to laugh, to dance, to sing, and yes, to cry — but cries of happiness and gratitude — that made for a simply unforgettable and unimaginable evening.
Read what Romi said:
I’m still dancing from last night.
And anyone who knows me well knows that I’m really not a dancer. I’m one of those people who hide towards the back of the room at a simcha, hoping that no one pulls me into the circle.
But last night at Rivka’s bat mitzvah, well, that was a different story.
I find it almost incomprehensible that we were able to arrive at this point, and to celebrate with such glee. In the days leading up to the bat mitzvah, I had one image that stuck in my mind.
Two days after Stella’s diagnosis last June, Josh and I went to a beautiful bat mitzvah. We were shell shocked, and unable to concentrate on virtually anything beyond the Frankls’ news. So, too, were all of our friends. It was the first time that we were seeing most of our friends since her diagnosis, and we all felt a terrible pull that night.
We wanted to enjoy the simcha that we were attending; we wanted to be there for our friends and their lovely daughter. But we couldn’t stay away from the elephant in the room. And as the person with the most information, I was bombarded with questions and surrounded by those who wanted to know more.
Finally, after the cocktails, everyone settled down at their tables and we enjoyed ourselves.
Until the dancing began.
And as I watched mother and daughter dancing together in joy and celebration, I broke down. I cried burning, angry tears for Rivka, for Stella, for Yarden, for the other children and for myself.
I cried tears for the unknown, for the injustice of it all, and for the year ahead.
Would Rivka get to dance with her own mother at her bat mitzvah in a year?
I was mortified to be making a scene, and to be sending a clear message to those at the bat mitzvah about Stella’s status, but I was unable to stop the flow of tears and the outpouring of grief.
And that image has stuck in my mind as we’ve gotten closer and closer to Rivka’s celebration and to the incredible knowledge that Rivka would most certainly have her mother at her side for her simcha.
Last night, while listening to Yarden’s speech and then while dancing with Stella and Rivka, I was overcome again. But this time, I was overcome with gratitude, with an unbelievable and humbling sense of bewilderment that we had arrived at this point. Whatever is ahead will be ahead. But for last night, Stella danced at her daugther’s bat mitzvah in health and strength.
While Yarden spoke and I sat at our table with Josh, the Shermans and other friends, I was transported back to a montage of the painful year behind us.
In particular, I saw Yarden, Josh, Ruth and I sitting in a booth at Café Hillel next to Sharei Tzedek Hospital on January 1. Stella was in surgery, and there were many hurdles to surpass along the way. At each stage of the surgery, they had to check on various things, and the surgery could only proceed if those items were clean and acceptable. Should, at any point, things not have passed the test, they would have had to close Stella back up. And then, well, we didn’t want to be there. As we sat in the restaurant, and then a few other times during the day, Yarden’s phone rang. It was the operating nurse calling. As Stella reached each stage, they called Yarden to tell him whether or not it was a go.
I don’t believe I’ve ever prayed harder than I prayed in those minutes, as time stopped and we stared up at Yarden and tried to read his expression. Would the surgery continue? Or would we arrive at the unthinkable. Ruth and I would grasp hands and pray until Yarden got off the phone each time with the news that it was a go.
And here we were, five and a half short months later, sitting in another venue, watching Yarden.
But this time, it was a venue of celebration, of hope, of absolute elation.
Thank you Hashem for allowing us to reach this point. For giving Rivka a bat mitzvah filled with love, with joy and with her mother.
As the night ended, Stella and I embraced. And I whispered in her ear, “Let’s do this again at Yedidya’s…….wedding.”
Now back to me.
I was quite nervous that I would not be able to have the composure that Stella had and get through the few words I had to say. But I did, and — to the best of my recollection — this is what I said.
Last year, we discussed what you would learn for your Bat Mitzvah. You said you wanted to learn something with me. And while I thought it was a good idea, we ended up having you learn with Rachel. And you did a fine job with your D’var Torah.
But Rivka, you know we did learn together this year.
And I’m sorry that the lessons had to be so difficult. I know, they were far harder than anything you could have imagined.
But I think what you learned will be lessons you will carry with you for your whole life. And I’d like to mention just one thing we learned.
And that has to do with the nature of strength, and where strength comes from.
And I’m not talking about the strength to run marathons and little things like that.
I’m talking about the strength to keep going when things get hard.
You can gain strength from friends.
Friends are great to dance with and wear silly costumes.
But the true value of friends is that they are there to help you when you need it. And this past year, your friends were great. And you saw that my friends and Mommy’s friends were always there to help us and provide strength to us. And I know that any time in your life, if one of your friends needs a shoulder to lean on, you will be there for them as your friends have been there for you.
And sometimes, your friends are not available. And then, you can find that the strength you need comes from deep within yourself. We all have these reserves of strength, that are only there when we really need them. But when we do, we find that we are capable of so much more that we ever imagined.
I am so sorry that I needed you to help me so often. There were times that I came home from the hospital and was too exhausted to think.
And even though you did not feel much better than I did, you made me French Toast and did the family’s laundry, and did everything else that I was too tired to do. And together with your brothers and sister, you made sure that everything got done while I was taking care of Mommy. That was true strength and you should be very proud.
But, there are times. I know. There are times when you can find no more strength from your friends or from yourself. There are times when you are overwhelmed and can barely keep your head up. There are times when, as King David said, you soak your bed with your tears.
I know. We’ve both been there.
And at those times, there is no other source. You lift your eyes up and talk to G-d. You can plead, cry, and argue with the Creator of the Universe.
And if there is only one simple thing that you will remember from your Bat Mitzvah, it is this:
You can talk to G-d at any time of the day or night. And while he may not always grant your every request, he will listen.
And that is where you will find strength. In speaking with G-d, you will find the strength to pick yourself back up and continue, even when the world seems so dark and scary.
And now we have come to the most important part.
You are about to get a Bat Mitzvah gift that is the best Bat Mitzvah gift that any Bat Mitzvah girl in the history of Bat Mitzvahs has ever received. I am going to ask your mother to come up and Bench Gomel (make a blessing for one who has recovered from a serious illness.)
And then Stella said those special words.
And we danced, we danced, we danced.
And I think we are still dancing.
How ’bout you?
Yarden Frankl, Neve Daniel
(Note: Technically, the bracha was made for the successful surgery. Although Stella has no detectable cancer, for the time being we ask that everyone continue to keep her in their prayers. Just in case.)
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