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Last week, we discussed the weighty issue of the value of every moment of human life. As a follow up, let me share with you, my dear readers, some memories of how my wife fought with every fiber of her being to fulfill this special mitzvah of v’chai bahem, to live as long as possible. I must confess that has been so far the most painful of the seventeen articles that I have written about her since it necessitated dredging up very painful memories. However, our oldest daughter, Chani, tichye, made a very astute observation. She said that most of the time people try to purge the last days or months of a sick person’s life from their memory. They want to forget the emaciated look and the painful gasps of the sick person. In Mommy’s case however, we can’t afford to forget her last years since they were so full of courage, love, and valorous deeds.

The first thing I remember is her mantra that she said anytime things got tough. She would say to me, “I made you a promise,” or “I’ve got to keep my promise.” This is in reference to what she told me all the way in the beginning of her diagnosis, that for my sake she would fight to live as long as possible. She also wanted feverishly to live to walk down our daughter, Rina Tzivia, to the chuppah. Indeed, she would succeed at this – and more than one person has told me that the most memorable scene they have ever witnessed at a wedding was the sight of her lifting up the torch in triumph when we walked Rina down to the chuppah, or when she raised her gloved hands in exultation by the kabbolas hapanim this past Labor Day, with the help of Hashem.

When thinking about her courageous battle to live, I remember one time in the chemo lab, she had a sudden seizure. She crashed the place, bringing doctors, nurses and technicians to her aid. It was truly a frightening experience. We would spend the next twenty-four hours in Montefiore Hospital without ever finding out why it happened. But, what was truly remarkable was that two weeks later, at her regularly scheduled chemo appointment, she was back in the chair for another seven hour session. I remember marveling how she could do so, but she was determined to live.

After a year of chemotherapy, she completely lost her sense of taste. But that didn’t stop her from eating so that she could have the strength to continue on. She would tell me that she still can enjoy the food with her sense of smell. All her life, she was a Devil Dog, Flying Saucer, Hershey chocolate kind of ‘nosher.’ Now, she had specially squeezed orange juice, salads with kale and arugula, Ensure clear, and anything else that was nutritious for her continued health. She would painfully push herself to go down the stairs to take tortuous walks with her walker so as to avoid blood clots and so that her muscles should not atrophy. And she would sit, daily for hours, receiving intravenous hydration with extra electrolytes (done voluntarily with great dedication by her friend, Mrs. Elkie Jacobson-Trenk), so that she would have strength for further chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

I remember her laying in the second seat of my SUV as we would travel in bumper-to-bumper traffic, sometimes for two hours, to Eastchester in the Bronx where she would receive the chemo. She would be in pain in the back seat and would have to take slow release morphine and Percocet to make the trip and then sit for upwards of seven hours receiving medicines that would make her nauseous and headachy – yet she did it every two weeks for two years.

I remember how during the chemo, she would daven for many other sick people and have in mind the Talmudic adage, “Kol hamispallel be’ad chaveiro vehu tzarich le’oso davar, hu nehe techila – Whoever prays for their friend and they need the same salvation, they will be answered first.” Oh how I remember how she would bentch licht with tears begging Hashem for more life. I remember when she was in pain, during the chemo or in the hospital, I would say Tehillim together with her. We would say often the kapital, “Shir lamalos, Es einai el hahorim…” She especially liked an explanation I gave her on the verse, “Ezri mei’im Hashem, oseh Shamaiyim v’Oretz – My help is from Hashem who made the Heaven and the Earth.” I asked her, “Why do we reference – in connection to Divine help – the fact that Hashem made the Heaven and the Earth?” I told her that it is because the Heaven and the Earth were made yeish mai’ayin, something from nothing, what we call ex nihilo. So too, Hashem can cure a disease even though the doctors say that there’s nothing they can do.

In conclusion, I remember when we would daven, she would say, “Hashem please give me more life, I have so many more mitzvahs I want to do.” A lifelong friend, Esther Vago, once told me with incredulity, “Miriam told me that she’s not sure she has enough zechusim (merits)?!” But that’s the way my Rebbetzin felt. She was never sure that she’d done enough. May Hashem bless us that we should never have to fight for our lives, nor have any scares, and in the merit of our Torah and mitzvos, may Hashem grant us long life, good health, and everything wonderful.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss