In February 2018, my father in-law died. When Betsy returned from Connecticut after the shiva, seven day period of mourning, still hurting and grieving, she secluded herself at home and refused condolence calls.
The Shabbat after she returned, I said: “You have so many friends here on Hoshaya who want to come and hug you. Won’t you let them?”
“The only one I’m ready to let visit is Anat Nusan,” Betsy replied firmly. “Only she would understand.”
During Shabbat morning prayers, Ehud Nusan, Anat’s husband, inquired after Betsy and asked whether he could visit.
“Ehud, she doesn’t want anyone to visit. The only person she’ll consider is Anat,” I replied, embarrassed, knowing how sick Ehud’s wife was.
That same afternoon I heard laughter and tears coming from the kitchen. Curious, I went to investigate. Who did I see there, laughing and crying at the same time? Betsy and Anat, who had become so skinny she almost disappeared. Anat said, “Betsy, it’s been months since I visited friends. But to hug you, I left the house.”
During the seven years Anat spent fighting cancer, she shriveled before our eyes. But that was only physical; as her body shrank, her soul expanded.
At Anat’s funeral, Ehud began his eulogy with Modeh ani—“I give thanks.” He said Anat knew how to be thankful for everyone and everything. She spread gratitude. Although the thought is almost unfathomable, I am guessing (for I never dared ask) that the period of her illness was a spiritual leap forward for Anat. Perhaps she even appreciated the opportunity her illness gave her, the opportunity to experience the light.
Anat was always an excellent teacher. Three of my children were privileged to be her students. When I asked my daughter to tell me which teacher had taught her most about life, Sivan replied immediately: Anat Nusan. “She was tough. At first I didn’t like that, but slowly I realized that by giving us goals and boundaries, she was helping us go further, teaching us to struggle and succeed and not give up on ourselves.”
There are more than a few good teachers, but people who have achieved enlightenment are rare. During Anat’s remissions we would meet her on the sidewalk of our community, sometimes with the oxygen tank that allowed her to breathe, albeit with difficulty. She never complained. Her face always lit up and she asked how we and our children were doing. Her eyes burned with intelligence, a kind of insight into the meaning of life. A small smile that whispered wordlessly, “I don’t wish on you what I’m going through, but within these tribulations I have found positives. God chose this difficult journey for me. I wish he hadn’t, but during this journey I have been privileged to reach spiritual heights and learn life lessons that, if not for my illness, I would never have known.”
To cope with her illness, Anat practiced meditation and mindfulness. In the Buddhist tradition there is a mindfulness exercise of lying on one’s deathbed, as if passing between this life and the next, a practice whose purpose is to facilitate the dramatic and frightening transition from life to no-life. According to the Buddhists, by refining consciousness and with rigorous practice, souls can pass from one world to the next, calmly and peacefully.
The last eulogy at Anat’s grave was given by her oldest son, who ended by shouting the verse that signifies acceptance of God’s decree: “God has given, God has taken, praised be God’s name.” Anat prepared herself and her family for the time God would gather her to his breast. She suffered greatly to rise heavenward peacefully. Her body of skin and bones lay in the Hoshaya cemetery, but Anat rose upward as a great and mighty soul.
“You don’t get to choose the cards you’re dealt, only how to play them.” Anat played her cards in the most inspiring and enlightening way possible.