My cousin, Raizel.
How to describe someone who was complete goodness and kindness, authentic and real, joyful and grateful – without making it sound cliche?
Her perspective on everything and everyone and everywhere was always through a positive filter. Some people need to work hard to do this; for some people, this is natural.
I think back to my last conversation I had with Raizel, just two weeks ago. Raizel had posted a FB update; she was being admitted to the hospital – for what she hoped would be just a few days – and she was asking friends to say the daily portion of Chitas (the daily selection of the weekly Torah portion, Psalms and the foundational Chassidic text, the Tanya) in merit of her speedy recovery.
I messaged her that I would do it, and stayed up late that night to complete the entire day’s Chitas. When I was done, I let her know that with each word I said, I begged Hashem for her complete recovery.
The next day I got a text response from her – “You’re my hero.”
I quickly wrote back to her “Raizel, you’ve got it all wrong. YOU are MY hero. You manage to continue to be so gracious and positive despite what you’re dealing with, and you treat everyone as a good friend.”
And I keep thinking about the text – because it’s so Raizel. She wasn’t just trying to make me feel good – her natural way of responding to people was so full of gratefulness and genuine love, because that’s really what she felt. No pretenses. No ego.
Raizel inspired so many just by her positive view of life. There was what she said and there was how she said it. Natural and caring, kind and with a full heart.
Over the 18 months that Raizel suffered and fought her illness, she lost more and more control of the things she loved. She wished to bake challah, she wished to spend more time with her kids, she wished to go back to Israel. All these things were out of her control. As her body failed her and the list of what she could control got shorter and shorter – she never let go of one thing that can never be taken away; the kind words that we can shower on others.
Her graciousness never left her.
Even when so sick in the hospital, her response to me was – “You’re my hero.”
She right away made it about me, not about her. She wasn’t trying to shower me with platitudes – she genuinely felt that way because that was who she was.
The sadness, the pain, the tragedy, the empty void she leaves not just for her family but for her endless amount of friends – that won’t ever go away and until Moshiach comes, we can never fix.
But what we can do is adopt Raizel’s way of treating others. Raizel’s way of seeing life. Raizel’s way of having a kind word for everyone. Raizel’s way of treating everyone as her close friend. Raizel’s way of treating people in a way that they felt they matter.
Now during these crazy times, I have been thinking that there are so many things we can’t do. We’ve lost control of how we can celebrate milestones or occasions, we’ve lost control of ways of being able to spend time with the people we love and care about.
But one thing we can never lose control of, one thing that can never be taken away, are the words we use to treat others. The words we use to show people we care.
It takes breaking down the walls of pretense we build around ourselves. It takes vulnerability. But it is the greatest gift we can give to anyone and everyone; the gift of showing people we care.
Raizel did it naturally. But I’m positive that with enough effort, it can become second nature to anyone who tries.
Hashem took Raizel for reasons we will never understand. Why Hashem chose to leave a beautiful family, a father and 8 young children, without their devoted wife/mother, we will never understand. The pain and suffering is beyond comprehension. There’s not enough words in the dictionary to describe how terrible it is.
I know Raizel would still find something positive. And so putting on my “Raizel glasses”, I will work on seeing people the way Raizel did; as a friend. And look for ways to give people the gift that never stops giving, the gift that doesn’t cost a penny yet is priceless, the gift that can never be taken away.
The gift of a kind word.