Wednesday, 15 May 2013

When bad things happen to good people.

My aunt, Edna, who has had more than her share of adversity, has always faced her challenges with admirable fortitude and acceptance. Then came this latest nightmare. Why is it that bad things happen to good people? Ori Golan

In March this year, I sent my aunt Edna a large bouquet of flowers to her home in Israel, to wish her a happy 70th birthday. Attached to the flowers was an invitation to spend a two-week holiday with me in Australia at a time that suited us both. She called immediately to thank me and tell me that she was delighted to accept the invitation.

Edna is my mother’s sister and has been a constant throughout my life; in celebrations, in sadness and in everyday matters, she has always been present. 

A number of years ago, shortly after my mother passed away, Edna and I began an earnest and honest dialogue which bridged over geographical and generational divides. It is an ongoing conversation which encompasses politics, poetry, family, religion and music; a free flowing exchange of ideas, memories and observations. More recently, we jointly constructed an on-line family tree, tracing a complex life story of our ancestors in pre-war Germany.

There are so many other things I can tell you about my aunt. I could mention that she is an accomplished cellist; that she travels the world; that she reads prolifically on many subjects; that she is a towering intellect.

Without wishing to slip into superlatives, Edna really is an extraordinary person.

I could tell you that at the age of 65 she went back to university and gained a doctorate; or that two months ago she decided to learn to play the viola da gamba and sent me a photo of her playing this very old baroque instrument which is extremely hard to play.

I could also mention her son, Dror, who, aged three, was diagnosed with profound autism. At a time when parents of autistic children were blamed for their children’s condition, Edna became a true pioneer in improving facilities for, and an understanding of, autism in Israel. She founded and was principal of the very first school for children with autism in Israel, where they were introduced to arts and music as part of an integrated education program. Many autistic adults in Israel owe their good fortune to her intervention. Today my aunt is an authority on autism and the author of numerous books on the subject.

Despite her share of adversity, I have never heard Edna bemoan her fate, or utter a word of complaint.

Even when her daughter embraced an ultra-orthodox brand of Judaism and unceremoniously severed all ties with the entire family, Edna carried her pain stoically, with dignity and fortitude.

I could tell you that she has always displayed a genuine affection for, and interest in, her nieces and nephews. She is the only person I know who actually buys the Jerusalem Post to read my articles. Edna is the sort of person who would readily lend you a hand, an ear or a car.

There are many other things I could mention about my aunt, such as her generosity of spirit, her ironclad discretion, or her self-effacing humour. She is the antonym of snobbery; her friends are regular, down-to-earth people, despite the fact that she knows many people sporting prestigious titles, sitting in high places. Few know that she has employed the same cleaning lady for over three decades although – as she puts it – the said cleaner ‘has stopped being effective’ long ago.

But what I most need to mention is that less than two weeks after Edna’s 70 th birthday, I received another email from her. ‘Dear family and friends”, it read, “I am sorry to inform you all that I have been diagnosed with breast cancer.”

I can barely describe what happened next. It is as though a dark, black cloud had descended and wrapped itself around me. For two days I walked around in a stupor, unable to digest the news or contemplate its meaning. Even now, I can barely bring myself to think about it.

When I last called Edna, she explained in her typical composed, understated, manner, that she is about to start chemotherapy; she is aware of the risks and the side effects of this procedure. “I have already bought a wig”, she mentioned. And I could not help but weep as I thought of her beautiful blond hair and her warm smile, both of which will soon disappear.

“I am embarking on this journey,” she told me, “without a moment’s hesitation”. And I was lost for words, full of awe, wondering why it is that bad things happen to good people.

I write this so that you all know what a special person my aunt is, and that she is not just a statistic in the literature of cancer.

I write this to pay tribute to my aunt’s amazing courage, dignity and stoicism. What would I not do to make the journey she is about to undertake easier. What would I not give to ensure that the treatment she receives proves effective so that she is with us for many more years to come.

I write this also to those for whom this setting is familiar territory. Each woman with breast cancer is someone’s aunt, someone’s mother, someone’s sister or friend. No man is an island entire of itself, writes John Donne. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. We really are one human tapestry.

For today’s Pink Breakfast, I urge us all to reach out; to offer support, material and emotional, to the ones we love who have breast cancer; to help them face the many challenges ahead and help them win the battle.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Ori for this very moving piece. I cannot even begin to tell you how moved I am. My own story is reflected in your words. I am a sister and an aunt and a mother. And I have been through what Edna is going through now. I wish her every strength to see it to through.

Anonymous said...

A very moving article. Your aunt sounds like a larger-than-life person. And the title is so aposite: why indeed is that bad things happen to good people?

G.T (Sydney)

Anonymous said...

Very moving story of a wonderful, dynamics woman. I've had at least 5 close friends who've battled the disease. Two are completely cancer free. One died from another kind of cancer some time later - was it related? One was in denial and left it way too long and she lost the battle. Another has just had surgery. Sounds like your aunt is a fighter and will live life to the full no matter what. Blessings to her! RR (Virginia, USA)

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Ori,
Tes mots, ce texte, m'a bouleversé jusqu'au tréfonds. Très touchant. Ta tante a l’air d’être quelqu’un d’exceptionnelle. Je lui souhaite force et courage pour traverser cette épreuve.
Jeanne, Paris.

Anonymous said...

Ori, thank you for sharing your story of this amazing woman, who above and beyond, is a mother and aunt, who has shown such enormous courage in the face of adversity. Breast cancer claimed the life of my mother in law who was also, truly, a woman full of grace and honour. She battled this disease with dignity as I'm sure your aunt will too. I wish her well.

Cheri said...

Sweet Ori, our friendship is now almost 20 years ongoing. I have read so many of your articles over the years and have loved every one of them. I also have heard all about your amazing Aunt throughout the years. This piece touched me to the core as did your pieces about Gil. It was so beautifully written and her praises couldn't be sung better then by her adoring nephew. If anyone on this earth can power through the days ahead.... I have no doubt it will be Edna! She has a big fan in Chicago wishing her well.

Uli NZ said...

Even though I am not the master of the English word as Ori is, I assure

you, all of the above people love you & need you to continue to be part of their lives.

This knowledge should give you the courage & strength to overcome nature's


Sister 'von drueben' said...

Ori– I love you even more for writing this .

Wish I could help ease what Edna is going through- and hope that all prayers ( the non-religious ones as well) will contribute to heal that body which has never deserved such an ordeal. It’s impossible to envisage Edna being so seriously sick. Knowing Edna 's spirit
She’ll come out of it –and we’ll age together..

Anonymous said...

Dearest Ori, thank you for sharing this beautiful article and this sad news.From the way you describe your aunt I can see that she has been fighting so may battles and she's ready to fight again, so I'm sure she'll come out of this. I've learned this is very important with cancer, and it's what i said to my dad when he discovered his: we're fighters, we're going to fight! Someone very close to me these days is fighting with cancer in one of the vertebra in the spine, for the third time in 7 years. She already had two operations and chemiotherapy; this time they are going to try radiotherapy, whic she started last week saying "come on, let's go and fry it!!". So help Edna to stay positive and brave, these battles can and will be won. Huge hugs to both of you, cat

lightbulb said...

This is a very moving post, it really made me feel as if I was getting to know Edna. In life you do meet people like Edna, who always leave you with a lasting impression of their strength, courage and spirit. They never fail to uplift you to try and live your life in a similar gracious way. We are all thinking of you Edna.

Daphna11 said...

Thank you so much for this heartredning post. Your love and admiration for Edna are easy to understand and very catching, and I'm joining my prayers to yours. May her nobility and strength of spirit see her through this ordeal.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could write like that Ori. I feel like I know your aunt, although I have never been to Israel. I have a sister with special needs and I know how hard it is for everyone. So to have all the other stuff she deals with must be evn harder. She sounds like a champion and I hope she champions this.

Maureen Lipman said...

What a beautiful, heart-felt piece. You brought Aunt Edna into all our lives . Please wish her strength and hope - courage she already has. Tell her to supplement her Chemo with help from a herbalist and that Dick VOSBOROUGH, great comedy writer, called Chemo, the fifth Marx Brother. Love Maureen

Jeff said...

Straight from the heart as always, Ori. Thanks for sharing this and wishing Aunt Edna a full recovery. I understand from personal experience how shocked and helpless one feels when a loved one gets a diagnosis like this. I'm sure Edna feels your love and support.

cecilefabre said...

Ori, I have heard about your aunt for 20 years. The music. Her pioneering work with autistic children. The enormous support she has given you over the years. The deep bond between you two. I am enormously saddened to hear of her illness. I wish her well, and you too. Love Cecile

Buddy Elias said...

Dear Ori,
your Blog was very moving and written with your heart in every line. I know that your aunt will get well. We would love to welcome you here in Switzerland.Best regards, also from Gerti

Nava Semel said...

בֹּקֶר טוֹב, צִפּוֹר

מִי מֵעִיר אֶת מִי
אֲנִי אֶת הַצִּפּוֹר
אוֹ הַצִּפּוֹר אוֹתִי.
אוּלַי כְּשֶׁהִיא מְבַשֶּׂרֶת
עַל הָאוֹר הֶחָדָשׁ שֶׁנִּפְקַח
הִיא מְפִיצָה זַמַּר בֹּקֶר עַתִּיק
זֶמֶר בֹּקֶר עַתִּיק שֶׁנִּשְׁכָּח
אָהוּב, הַחֹשֶׁךְ סוֹף סוֹף נִפְרַד
לְרֶגַע, רַק לְרֶגַע, אֵין יוֹתֵר לְבַד
כִּי רַק בַּיּוֹם נִדְמֶה שֶׁאָנוּ גּוּף אֶחָד.

בֹּקֶר טוֹב, צִפּוֹר
בֹּקֶר טוֹב, אֲהוּב
בֹּקֶר טוֹב, עוֹלַם
הַכֹּל יָכֹל לִהְיוֹת כִּמְעַט מֻשְׁלָם.
כְּדֵי לִשְׂמֹחַ בָּאוֹר לֹא צָרִיךְ סִבָּה
מֵעַכְשָׁו עַד הַחֹשֶׁךְ הַבָּא.

מִי מֵעִיר אֶת מִי
אֲנִי אֶת הַצִּפּוֹר
אוֹ הַצִּפּוֹר אוֹתִי.
אוּלַי כְּשֶׁהִיא מְלַטֶּפֶת
אֶת הָאוֹר הָרַךְ הַנּוֹלָד
הִיא קוֹרֵאת מִצַּמֶּרֶת הָעֵץ:
זוֹ אֲנִי, הַצִּפּוֹר, אַל תִּפְחַד.
אָהוּב, הַלַּיְלָה נָסוֹג וְאָבַד
לְרֶגַע, רַק לְרֶגַע, כֻּלָּנוּ יָד בַּיָּד
כִּי רַק בַּיּוֹם נִדְמֶה שֶׁלֹּא נִגְמֹר לְבַד.

בֹּקֶר טוֹב, צִפּוֹר
בֹּקֶר טוֹב, אֲהוּב
בֹּקֶר טוֹב, עוֹלַם
הַכֹּל יָכֹל לִהְיוֹת כִּמְעַט מֻשְׁלָם.
כְּדֵי לִשְׂמֹחַ בָּאוֹר לֹא צָרִיךְ סִבָּה
מֵעַכְשָׁו עַד הַחֹשֶׁךְ הַבָּא.

Patrick said...

What a wonderful piece, Ori, about a beautiful person. May this short message from the depths of the internet bring you strength and solace, aunt Edna!

Patrick Toche.

Marilyn said...

Dear Ori
Thank you for sending me your article. The question you ask is one that plagues me constantly. You have written such a moving portrait of your aunt. What an amazing woman. I wish I could meet her.
Love, Marilyn

tim said...

Dear Ori,

What a beautiful and inspiring piece about a beautiful and inspiring woman.

Thanks for sharing, and warmest wishes to you and Aunt Edna.

Hugs across the globe.

Tim WJ

Stephane said...

Hi Ori. I just received your message. I am presently in Xi'an China and Internet works so so... Anyway give your aunt my very best regards and tell her that breast cancer can be cured or stabilized in the huge majority of cases. I know that we usually don't care about statistics when you are diagnosed with such a sickness but significant progresses have been made for breast cancer treatments. She must be deeply moved by your work I'm sure and I congratulate you for that. Stephane, Brussels

Jonella said...

I don't know what to say that can express how beautiful this tribute is.
I read it with awe at your amazing aunt, at the obvious adoration of her nephew, at the empathy and sensitivity with which you write and, I confess, with more that a few tears. I am the only woman in my maternal family (besides Ashleigh) who has not had breast cancer - who has not had a mastectomy. This tribute touches me deeply. Thank you for trusting me to read this to a hall full of women on Friday at our pink breakfast . I promise to do it justice.Kindest regards

Avis said...

An inspiring woman who will do doubt deal with this challenge with as much dignity as she has others.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ori,

What an incredibly moving piece. The love between you and your aunt is so inspiring and my heart is with her and you. All strength, Lynda-Rae

Anonymous said...

Your story illustrates a wonderful woman who leads an extraordinary life. Piognant and beautiful on many levels. May Aunt Edna draw on her immeasurable strengths and the goodwill being expressed across our globe as she confronts an obstacle that has unjustly presented itself. Sending my best wishes from Down Under.
Will P

Anonymous said...

This is a truly beautiful piece of writing and a wonderful tribute to a very special woman. I hope that Edna continues to bring more light into people's lives and have no doubt that she has the strength to face, and fight, whatever lies ahead. Hers is a life so well and fully lived.

Carol Ann Lee.

Jenny Bardon said...

Ori! you are able to express in words things that other people can only feel with their heart. It is a great talent. Although we have not met for a very long time (too long), I feel very close to you at this time. thank you for bringign Edna close to our hearts.

Jenn, Canada

Liam in London said...

Hi Ori
Bad things too often happen to the wrong people. Edna is a lucky woman to have you in her life and I am sure that she knows it. It is not easy but it is important to be positive. One of my friends who spoke at Jane’s funeral and whose wife is now undergoing cancer treatment with a predicted 10% chance of success reacted with the comment “I have won money on horses with worse odds than that”. Here’s hoping that she visits you in Australia.

Claude balog said...

Ori, j'ai vecu la meme chose avec mon pere, homme devoue et stoique qui a l aube de sa retraite, apres une vie de dur labeur et une jeunesse digne de DAvid COpperfield a ete diagnostique d un cancer du foie avec 3 mois de sursis.
D. ou quelqu'un d'autre lui a malgre tout accorde 3 ans de sursis mais la vie quand chaque jour peut être le dernier a été un enfer pour moi et mes proches!Chaque coup de fil me donnait l' angoisse de la fatalité.PArfois on se demande s'il y a un bon DIeu pour être aussi cruel avec des êtres exceptionnels.BOn courage et l'espoir fait vivre!!!! Claude Balog

Anonymous said...

thanks a lot for sharing this moving story with us - I'm really touched. It really would be worth finding out, if we just feel that bad things happen to good people more often or if there's really something to it. I'm afraid it could be ...
If I was a religious man I'd pray for your aunt, since I'm not I just keep my fingers crossed. I whish her the best treatment available and the necessary amount of luck that the chemo works for her. Having seen friends suffer in a similar way I know that it will be a tough time for her, but as you described her I'm sure she will be a 'tough and brave girl' and around for many years to come. Mike

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ori, for including me on your mailing list. Cancer has invaded my family, me included, and I am grateful for my cure. Your letter is beautiful and is a testimony to your aunt and your affection for her. Please convey my wishes for a refu'ah shleyma and my admiration for her determination and courage. Pam

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful woman and what a wonderful story ori. A woman with many joys for life including taking up the Gamba at 65. Thank you for sharing her magnificence and we will all try to spread the love as she continues to do.Viva Edna and love to you and her.
Paul Sydney

Anonymous said...

Dear Ori,
I'm not good at writing comments on websites, but i just want you to know that your aunt Edna is in my thoughts and I wish her (and you), all the best. She is indeed a very special person and I'm sending good vibes.

Jacqueline Dahan said...

אורי חברי היקר מאוד

כל כך התרגשתי לקרוא את הדברים המרגשים ומעוררי ההשראה שלך על דודתך עדנה. אתה כותב בחסד
עליון, וההוכחה שהתאמצתי לקרוא את כל המאמר עד הסוף אפילו באנגלית...
הקשר שלכם מעורר מושא לקנאה והערצה. אני יכולה להעיד מהיכרות קצרה שלי אותה, כשישבנו יחד בבית קפה תל אביבי, כשביקרת בארץ, שכל מילה היא פשוט מדויקת ונכונה. התרשמתי מאישה יפה, חכמה, מדהימה, אצילת נפש ומקסימה. אני מאחלת לה רפואה שלמה במהרה - אמן.

ולך עדנה יקרה, אני מקווה ומאחלת שכוחותייך המיוחדים ואצילות נפשך יעמדו לצידך בהתגברות על התקופה איתה את מתמודדת. אני מאחלת שאחרי כל העשייה והנתינה הרבה שלך לזולת ולסביבה, תזכי לקבל בתמורה את כל החום, התמיכה והאהבה שמגיעים לך בכלל וכעת בפרט.... למרות שאני בטוחה שאת כבר זוכה לכל זאת. מאחלת לך רפואה שלמה במהרה - אמן. אני מחזיקה לך אצבעות ומתפללת להחלמתך. בתקווה לשמוע בשורות טובות בקרוב.

(שבת שלום, אוהבת אתכם, ז'קלין דהן, (ישראל

Farjuna said...

Oh Ori........... this was BY FAR one your absolute best pieces to date. What a story, what an amazing woman. I remembered many of her details that you had shared with me over the years. I hope she wins her brave battle. This piece needs to be published everywhere. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month in the USA.
You are one of the best writers I have encountered.
Love always

Anonymous said...

Too often families are affected by this terrible disease.As you know I have just lost my brother-in-law ,a very good person, to another form of cancer.You aunt sounds incredible.I wish her well.Angela

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Ori,

Je ne me sens pas vraiment à l'aise pur laisser des commentaires publics mais je veux simplement te dire, vous dire, que j'admire le courage et la force de ta tante Edna et qu'une si belle âme, toujours si courageuse et digne dans l'adversité, saura se battre pour , encore une fois , relever la tête. Et cela aussi grâce aux pensées de tous ceux qui lui sont attachées .

M. U.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Ori, i was so moved by reading this peice. Edna has such an important and special role in my life and it's truly touching to ser how much she means to you too.
I am sure she will be happy (in her own modest way) to see the way you see her
Lost of love,

Joanne Fedler said...

Dearest Ori

I am so sorry to hear about your Aunt Edna and know how hard it is for you to be far away from her at this time.

I thought maybe I could offer you a different perspective. Being diagnosed with cancer doesn't have to be a terrible blow. Life comes with old age, sickness and death. They are bundled into the arrangement.

I interviewed many women a couple of years ago, all of whom had survived, were living with (either in early or very late stages) or had lost someone to breast cancer, while I was working on a book for the Breast Cancer Foundation, and it changed how I think about cancer.

Mary Oliver, the poet writes:

'Someone once gave me a box of darkness.
It took me many years to understand,
that this too was a gift.'

Illness can be an opportunity to grow in ways we've never imagined.

I have a feeling, given what you say about your aunt Edna, that she will find all the gifts bundled into this dark experience, and she will shine through it.

With much love, Joanne

Anonymous said...

Dear Ori

It's so hard to find answers under such circumstances - one's instinct when thinking about such a wonderful human being as your aunt, is to feel anger and a powerful sense of her being wronged. I don't believe that there is an acceptable answer to the question "why did this happen?"
All one can do is to offer your aunt all the support and prayers of the global community who care

Warm Regards


Yves said...

Waves of healing vibes to auntie Edna and to her beloved nephew! Let's take care of ourselves and of each other!

Yves (Brussels)

Anonymous said...

Tres bel article et tres touchant. Je te souhaite et lui souhaite force et courage pour traverser cette epreuve encore qui s’impose a elle et j’espere qu’edna pourra vite profiter de ton cadeau et passer 2 semaines insouciantes et en bonne sante en ta compagnie en Australie. Ta tante donne vraiment l’impression d’etre une grande dame et j’espere qu’elle fera partie des 92% qui survivent a cette cruelle epreuve. Noemi. Antwerp.

Tamar said...

Mr Golan,
Unfortunately, I only saw the link to this piece now when scrolling through some emails I missed in my inbox. You've done such justice to your aunt; without ever having met her, I feel as though I know her like the palm of my hand. She sounds like a wonderful person who's had such a profound impact on you, and I hate to see that such a tragedy such as cancer would happen to a person like her. It's been a while since you wrote this piece, so I sincerely hope that her treatment was effective and that she still remains in this world today.
All the best,
Tamar Ruiz