During the time I was receiving radiation to my head and neck, my saliva became gluey: too sticky to spit. Whenever I lay down to sleep, I’d wake up in a panic, unable to cough up the thick stubborn phlegm fast enough. When lying down to sleep was no longer an option, I spent nights alone, on the sofa downstairs in the living room, with my head upright wedged between two pillows. During those long dark nights, I felt myself withering away from loneliness, fear, and devastation. I thought, ‘surely, radiation can’t get worse than this.’
It did. I became utterly exhausted. I could barely talk. I could hardly eat. I couldn’t sleep. I reached a deep, dark place where I made a firm decision: I gave it my best. I couldn’t go on. That night I wrote a letter to my children, Jeremy and Elena, about my dreams and wishes for them. Later, I learned this note was really an ‘Ethical Will,’ a letter to those you love to share your values, beliefs and blessings; a document about your pride in the special people in your life, as well as why and how much you love them.
It’s never too soon to write an ethical will. Here is mine:
Dear Jeremy and Elena,
You will read this after I have moved on to the next world. I hope and pray that I live long enough to see you married, be a part of your children’s lives, and continue to be your Mom for a long time. However, if not, I have left this world knowing that I have made a difference. I couldn’t say that in any grand way before my illness. I was always a nice person and helped others, made children feel extra special through my work, but I don’t think I can say that I did something memorable to improve the world in which I lived. (Well, that doesn’t include my contribution of bearing and raising you two!)
This letter contains nothing about my material possessions and my wishes for who should get what. This letter is a testament of my hopes and dreams for my only two children, whom have been such a focal point of my lifetime. I always wanted children, and lucky for me, I have two fantastic children who will adjust to a life without my physical presence. My spiritual presence can live on. Every time you celebrate Passover and Chanukah, I hope you bring some of me to the table. How? Pull out the charity box and share how you feel blessed, bless a person at your table. Start meaningful conversations by talking about the Sabbath candles and how they bring light into your lives.
One of the scariest things about preparing to die is being forgotten. Maybe you will light an extra Sabbath candle for me,and remind those around your table about my stories, my sacrifices and my work. May the best of me live on in you! I’ve always wanted to celebrate Shabbat more often, however, I tried to bring enough spirituality to the times we did do it in hopes that I passed on the beauty of the ritual.
Strive to do good deeds every day. A simple smile even to the person you don’t like, or a compliment to that person who really needs it, or a hand shake to the person who doesn’t expect it. Do what you can to make another person’s day, week, or lifetime! Think every day what you can do to make another person happy today.
Yes, lifetime. Remember the story about the beggar who asked for money, which would have been very easy for the giver. But instead, the giver taught the beggar how to fish so he could begin to learn how to take care of himself. Doing ‘good deeds’ helps to give meaning to your life, sets a great example for your family and friends (in fact, always include others in doing a ‘good deed’ if you can), and makes you feel something you cannot buy for money.
Please take a good look into the family of the person you plan to spend the rest of your life with. Take a good look at how they treat their parents, their siblings, for it will be a tell-tale sign about how they will treat you. I wish for you both that you find a love where the communication is deep, the respect is always felt, and the opportunity to laugh never dries up. You don’t need to spend money to show someone you care, and really, love is all we really need…wait, someone already wrote that song. OK, it’s corny, but you cracked a smile, right?
Be generous, emotionally, to the one you love. Tell them why you love them, what you love about them, without holding back anything. There is never too much praise when it comes from the mouth of a loved one.
As there are no other children of mine, you each have only each other after Dad and I are gone. Search out the good in the other. ALWAYS treat each other with respect. And, always let the other know that you will be there to protect them. When you get into a disagreement, let the feelings settle for a couple of days and then agree to disagree. Strive to keep the peace. Let that be a legacy to your children and their siblings. More than anything, I hope the two of you will always be a part of the other’s life, no matter what. If I’m really lucky, and I know I’m asking a lot, but I hope that you have children around the same time and that you live within a couple of hours of driving from each other so that you can celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions together.
As of today, July 15, 2006, the highlights of my life were your births and your Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. You are both such a fine example of what it means to be Jewish to all your friends. I may be gone physically, but I feel that I am a strong link in the chain of our Jewish ancestry. May you too, strengthen your link as you follow behind me, and teach it to your children.
On my tombstone, let it read:
Eva Rachel Grayzel Cohen
Jan 24th 1965 –
Loving mother and wife
Who got a second chance to live in 1998,
impacting lives by telling her story
I will always love you both. Keep your eyes open because when I can, I will try to let you know that I’m still near.
Your Mom, always and forever.
PS. Please floss once a day.
Your post prompts so many reasons to give thanks: that you are a survivor, that you are sharing your journey on a daily basis, that you wrote your Ethical Will. Most of all, I am so grateful that you did not wait until after you “moved on to the next world” to share your Ethical Will.
If your values, wisdom and hopes are worth sharing–and they are!–they are worth sharing now. Your Ethical Will, the message of what you stand for and how you want to be remembered, is a map for an ethical journey and it deserves to be available for your loved ones, as well.
You are so right: “It’s never too soon to write an Ethical Will.”‘ May I add: it’s also never too soon to share one.
Jo Kline Cebuhar
SO GROWS THE TREE – Creating an Ethical Will
The legacy of your beliefs and values,
life lessons and hopes for the future
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Show you care…SHARE! I have not shared it with my 19 and 20 year old children yet but as is your mission I share it with my readers to inspire them to write one for those who love them.