A friend of mine died early this morning.

I met Rivka in August of last year, when I started the school year at a local Jewish private school. I was sick as a dog, and she and another teacher looked out for me. Rivka, her husband, and their daughter had recently converted to Orthodox Judaism, so she was the perfect person for me to go to when I didn’t understand one of the many new cultural facets I bumped into.

She was also a fantastic teacher. Her kids, fourth grade boys and girls, all adored her. She could be strict. She could be silly. She was warm and loving and supportive. I went to her as often as I thought I could get away with to vent and get advice and emotional support. I leaned pretty heavily on her.

One morning, when she knew I wasn’t feeling well (I had a two month long bout of bronchitis), she came up to my classroom door, put her mouth on the window and blew hard, making a fish face so abrupt and hysterical that I just about fell over laughing. She changed my mood for the whole day.

She also managed to very gently call our friend, the other teacher, and me on it when we’d started trash talking someone else. Faced with her genuine righteousness, we changed our behavior immediately. Once, she mentioned to me that she and her husband, both logical people, chose to love one another, and that they built a marriage and a family out of that choice. I told her it was probably the most romantic thing I’d ever heard.

Rivka was the very model of all that I found good in Orthodox Judaism. She was strong, wise, compassionate, loving, and funny beyond words.

She missed a lot of time beginning in November, usually leaving half or two thirds of the way through the day. Then in December, we learned that she’d been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and that her prognosis was 50/50. The doctors waited a month to start chemo, which I really didn’t understand, but I didn’t pry.

I took over a lot of her duties, and she was always so apologetic for imposing on me, but as far as I was concerned, I finally had a chance to pay her back for her support. She even asked me to take over the care and feeding of her one remaining wood beetle, the lone survivor of a dozen used in Science class experiments (how many paper clips can a beetle pull? More than twenty, it turned out.).

In March, I lost my job with the school. I haven’t talked about here, because it’s too damn painful. It was my own fault - a combination of exhaustion, chronic illness, and depression. I screwed up, and the school was kind enough to let me resign, instead of firing me as I so richly deserved. Because Rivka was already on long-term sick leave, I lost direct contact with her, but I was able to hear about her through our mutual friend.

Two weeks ago, that friend told me that Rivka had been admitted to a hospital and wasn’t expected to live much longer than a week. I’ve been so wrapped up in surviving my new job, paying bills, and recovering from both of my own illnesses, that I never took the time to write her a letter or get her phone number or anything. I knew I would regret it, but I also knew that Rivka was surrounded by family and friends and members of her religious community.

Two days ago, Rivka fell asleep in the early afternoon and didn’t wake up. This morning, half an hour after midnight, she died. I didn’t learn of it until I emailed our friend at work.

I thought I was ready for this. I knew as soon as I heard the diagnosis that we would most likely lose her, and as the weeks passed, I was more certain. I am more relieved than I can say that she and her family had the support of the Orthodox community, and that her husband and daughter will continue to receive their love.

But I’m crushed. I’m heartbroken. Dammit, we can’t afford to lose people like Rivka. We need more like them. They are too precious. I am selfish, I know, but I wanted more time to spend with her, laughing and joking and learning. Our friend, I know, is a wreck, and I don’t want her to have to face this grief. I don’t want Rivka’s daughter to face the rest of her life without a mother. I don’t want her students to know this early that we lose women as wonderful as Rivka, and that it isn’t fair, and that we are all diminished.

More than anything, I wish I’d found the time, made the time, to see her one last time and tell her how grateful I was for her friendship and guidance, and I hate that I was so beaten down by the last few months that I didn’t manage it.

Rivka, you changed my understanding of G-d. You lit a spark of faith in my heart that has been long and sorely missed. You comforted my griefs and frustrations. You counseled me with wisdom and compassion. You showed me how deep and real goodness can be. You are a standard which I will strive, but probably never manage, to meet.

I am grateful for the time I had with you. I will always miss you.

Words are inadequate. I am so sorry ::comfort::

I am so very sorry for your loss, she sounds a really remarkable woman, friend and teacher.

Please remind yourself that profound connection to the people we love is not measured in numbers of visits. She knew you loved her, I’m sure.

I’m so very sorry for your loss. I hope your wonderful memories can bring you comfort.

((phouka)) So sorry to hear this.

I’m sorry to hear of your loss. Sending supporting thoughts your way.

I’m so sad for your loss. :frowning:


Thanks, all.

The funeral is tomorrow, and I managed to get time off from my dickhead boss. That’s a whole 'nother thread right there.

I have cried my eyes out at least three times today. My mom has checked on me by phone, because she knows just how bad my last depression was, and she’s worried about me. Hell, I’m worried about me.

It’s strange. I lost three of my grandparents when I was a child. My fourth, my maternal grandfather, died when I was in college, and by then, I was so emotionally disconnected from him, it didn’t bother me. From then until this January, I’ve been untouched by death. No friends, no family, not even any meaningful acquaintances I can think of, have died.

My Uncle Paul died this past January. I didn’t grieve much for him, but I did grieve for his wife, my Aunt Fanny, and her pain.

This is, it seems, the first real, tangible death I’ve been confronted with. When I read my friend’s words, I felt like someone had thumped me on the chest - a knock that wholly unbalanced me for a moment. I can’t say I’m numb, because I’m not, but I doubt very much that I’ve gone beyond the surface of this.

So, tomorrow I see her buried, and I will probably see many of my former students, who I haven’t seen in two months, and who may or may not know the circumstances of my departure. I will stand by our friend. I will do my best to comfort those more bereaved than me.

And I will still be thankful that I got to know her.

My condolences to you. You met someone of profound importance. That is a rich gift indeed.


{{{Phouka}}}. Rivka sounds like a hell of a lady. May she rest with Abraham… (That’s what Orthodox Jews believe right? Trying to be nice and by all means not snarky).

Dear Phouka - You are lucky to have known such a wonderful person. Treasure all of those memories, and keep them alive. Tell Rivka’s family and students how much she meant to you - it will mean a lot to them, especially now.

Peace be with you.

I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Rivka sounds like a wonderful person.

Aw, that sucks. The good die way too damn young.

I am very sorry for your loss.

I’m so sorry. Support and hugs to you and everyone. :frowning:

I’m inspired. I recently lost someone not as close to me, but whom I truly admired.

Bless you both.


She sounds like a wonderful person. I’m so sorry for your loss, phouka.