All Kinds of Courage

As Passover approaches, we prepare not only for kitchen transitions and family gatherings, we also get ready to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt.  It’s a story of courage, of faith, of the few being brave enough to take on the many.

I’ve thought a lot about courage over the last few weeks.  Two friends have lost their mothers and my heart aches for both of them.  Having had my own mother die when she — and I — were both too young, I know all too well what it feels like to be a “motherless daughter” and the hole it leaves in your life at any age.  My two friends had the experience I missed—a relationship with their mothers as adults — but I know it is still never really “time” to part with your parent, to lose someone you love.

But my thoughts about courage have not really centered on those who have suffered these losses, rather they have been about the two remarkable women who passed away.  One I had only met briefly and the other I knew well and loved dearly.  Both of these special individuals had their own brand of courage, fearlessness that manifested in very different ways.

The first was a woman who took on challenges at any age and stage.  She was a world traveler and found joy and creativity through her skill as a photographer.  She climbed mountains, visited remote locations and was never afraid to pursue these adventures on her own.  She never let the “you shouldn’t” or “you can’t” messages of the naysayers get in her way.  She made her choices and she reveled in her freedom — living life to the fullest.

Her love of adventure was surpassed only by her love of family.  And she engaged her children and grandchildren in sharing these adventures, anxiously waiting until her grandchildren were old enough to travel with her and to see the world together.  She modeled joy and independence and, always, courage.

The second remarkable woman is one I always thought of as steel wrapped in silk.  A lady to her core, she had the sharpest perceptions and some of the strongest opinions of anyone I know.  She would not hesitate to share her ideas but even if you disagreed with her, you respected her frankness and the clarity of her thinking.

She’s a woman who did not have the easiest of lives.  Her father was murdered when his business was robbed.  She was just a teenager and her life was never the same after that.  Still, she married happily and raised four great children.  When her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at an early age, she never faltered.  She cared for him, kept him at home with her as long as possible and then made the difficult decision to place him in long term care.

After his death she continued to give back, to volunteer, to reach out and to help others.  When her family needed her, when her granddaughter was gravely ill, she was not only their rock but also the source from which others drew their strength.  For me, and for so many others, she became a part of our family and how blessed we were to have her.

Her courage was evident every day in the power of her convictions and the strength of her commitments.  She made her choices, even to the end, deciding without hesitation on the course her health care and the end of her life would take.

Two stories, two women, who faced their life journeys with courage and strength.  No, their stories were not stories of the scale of an exodus or the saving of our people but they are stories of bravery that teach us much about life and inspire us every day.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a member of the boards of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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