Lessons From Elana

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My wife, who passed away some weeks ago, was someone who gave and gave and gave to all around her. She will be missed by many. I have spent the last 2 months firstly taking care of her full time and then mourning her. I would like to share with you some of the deep lessons I have learned during this period. 

Six weeks before my wife passed away, our oncologist called me into her office. ‘Time is very limited,’ she told me. How limited, I wanted to know. ‘No more than a few days,’ was her response. Well, we had six weeks, six very wonderful weeks and I think we have our oncologist’s pessimistic prediction to thank as much as anything else. If you think that someone you love might die tomorrow, you will make sure that you love him or her properly today. If you think that you might die tomorrow, you will make sure that you use today.

The Rabbis tell us to ‘do teshuva (mend your ways) the day before you die’. The obvious question is: how does one know? And the response is, so do teshuva every day – for it may be your last.

Death is very much a part of life. Some people are blessed with death arriving slowly and with ample warning. Others die suddenly. But it is a reality that none of us can avoid: we will all die one day.

My wife told me on many occasions that thank God we do not live for a thousand years, because we would not get up in the morning if we did. Who needs to capture the moment if you have a thousand years of moments to capture?

We spent six weeks of intense, quality time – probably more than we would have put into 6 years – no, maybe 6o years, had she been healthy.

Neither she nor I knew whether she would wake up in the morning. But in reality no one knows what will be tomorrow; cancer or no cancer, life is very fickle. Each day of life is an opportunity that we cannot be sure will exist tomorrow. Each day is too precious to be wasted on worry, frustration at ourselves, anger at those we love… 

Living each day as though it is your last is not morbid. If done properly, it is incredibly uplifting.

Take a moment today to think of the things you would do if this were your last day. How would you want to love those you love? How would you want to use your time productively? What would you want to share with those around you? What would you want to teach? If these things are important to you, then do them today. Don’t wait until time is very limited, because time is always very limited.


Another lesson I learned is that no matter what, prayers do not go unanswered. Sometimes the answer is positive in the way you asked for it, and sometimes the answer is positive in a way you didn’t ask for it. But the answer is always positive.

During shiva, I was struggling to know how to relate to the words we say 3 times in the morning service, ‘God is our saviour. Our king will answer us on the day that we call’. Well, I had called and called and called for almost three years. I had cried rainstorms of tears – and I had not been answered. My wife had died. 

I asked my teacher. He gave me an answer that, after a good amount of thought, feels right to me. God healed my wife – but not in the way I was looking for. The way He healed her was greater than anything I could have imagined. He healed her not physically, but spiritually and I was and am envious of the spiritual health that she attained. A few days before she passed away, she said that for the first time in her life, she truly felt that God loves her. She had always known it, but had never been able to fully feel it. Now she did. She felt at one with God and at one with me. She felt at one with herself and she knew that life really was beautiful. While her body was as sick as could be, her soul was healthier than anyone I had ever met. Even two days before her passing, she said she would not swap places with anyone.

Why couldn’t God heal her soul and body at the same time? It’s a good question, but we cannot know all of God’s ways – or we would be God Himself. So I don’t know why both were not possible. But I do know that God healed her. And, if for some reason there had to be a choice between spiritual and physical health, I know which she would have chosen – and I also know which I would have chosen had our roles been reversed. God answered when I called – just not in the way I asked for. But God is not a vending machine. He’s a loving caring father with whom we have a dynamic relationship. We pray. He listens, considers and decides how best to respond based on who we are and what we need. His answer is always positive.


There is a second aspect to this. Every prayer I said for my wife changed me. It changed my relationship with her. It changed my relationship with myself and, of course, it changed my relationship with God. No prayer was wasted. Each accomplished its mission – that of making me a little more Godly. Each prayer softened my heart and humbled me and I am a very different person today because of the intensity of the prayers I said for my wife.

Judaism maintains that we are here in this world to get closer to God. My wife got closer to God. I got closer to God. I believe our community as well got closer to God. The circumstances and details of the situation were painful, even horrific. It is not the way that either of us wanted it to happen, but the results were what we were looking for. We are complex beings in a complex world. We can’t expect to understand every aspect of that world. We don’t tell our kids everything and God doesn’t tell us everything either. But this we can know: we pray and He answers us. We might not always fully understand his answer, but it is always a loving yes. And we will always be better people for it.

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