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The healing power of helping

When my husband died, my children had no resources to help them deal with the loss. Here's what founding an organization to address this need taught me
Pamela Becker's son (right) at a Jeremy's Circle event in 2011. (courtesy)
Pamela Becker's son (right) at a Jeremy's Circle event in 2011. (courtesy)

Sometimes we do seemingly selfless acts for selfish reasons.

Shortly after my husband Jeremy Coleman died, people asked me what charities he supported so they could donate. Still reeling from the loss, we asked that the money be kept aside via the myisrael fund until we could organize something in his name. 

Jeremy had been home for over a year as he battled his illness, and I was freelancing. So when he died, instead of having two parents in the house nearly all the time, our three young children only had me…barely half a parent, as I struggled clumsily with his loss.

The kids knew something terrible had happened, but were too young to fully understand. Thirty days after we buried Jeremy, we visited his tombstone, which had attached to it a multi-colored vase brought from an adventure in China years before. My 5-year-old, hearing that his father was under the tombstone, put his lips to the mouth of the vase to speak to him. 

I had joined a support group for widows to help me deal with my loss, but I didn’t know how to help my children. The bigger ones dutifully went to therapists but confided that it wasn’t for them. 

When Jeremy was ill, we had discussed creating an organization that would support children in families coping with cancer and cancer loss. While a good number of nonprofits helped the ill and their caregivers, no organization existed in Israel for the healthy children pushed to the side by cancer in their families. And so we created one. 

Together with Jeremy’s sisters and best friends, we planned our first Jeremy’s Circle event. While organizing the activity and the catering and the publicity, I found myself speaking with the people closest to Jeremy nearly every day. Instead of talking about how the kids and I were coping, we spoke logistics. At the event itself, I watched about 70 children play gleefully at the different stations sumo wrestling, bouncy castles, make-up, and more. But most of all I watched my own children happily let loose.

A Rush University article on the health benefits of giving, reports “people coping with grief after the loss of a spouse, found that those who provided practical assistance to others (such as money, transportation or help with chores) recovered more quickly from depressive symptoms caused by their grief.” 

Jeremy’s Circle gave us an outlet to grieve in a relatively healthy way. In the 13 years since that first event, we have held well over 100 more, supporting more than 800 families that truly needed that help. Event after event, helping others in Jeremy’s name strengthened us. We may have been powerless against his illness, but we have the power to have a positive impact on so many others.

Not everyone needs to establish a charity to help them cope. Simple acts of kindness do the job. Donating. Mentoring. Cooking. Driving. Listening. Just showing up. These are all ways we can help others while healing ourselves. 

About the Author
Originally from New York, Pamela Becker has enjoyed a long career as a marketing executive for some of Israel's leading technology companies including WhizzCo, ironSource, and SafeCharge (acquired by nuvei). After she was widowed with three small children in 2008, Pamela co-founded and remains the active chairperson of the Israeli charity Jeremy's Circle, which supports children and teens coping with cancer or cancer loss in their young families. She earned a BA in Writing Seminars from The Johns Hopkins University and an MBA from Tel Aviv University. Her debut novel Memoirs of a False Messiah was published in 2019. Pamela lives with her husband and their five children in Tel Aviv.
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