The Lives They Lived: Remembering and Celebrating

When a birthday becomes a celebration of the life she lived. Of the people she loved, and of those she left behind. Why we’re glad Sarah Hannah Goldberg, she would have been 58 today, graced our lives.

Sarah near her home in Rosh Haayin.
Sarah near her home in Rosh Haayin.

May 17th, 2015: I sat in the parking lot, wondering if this was the end, if that was the last time I’d sniff her sweetly decaying body, stroke her soft, soft greying hair, smooth cream into her swollen and sore legs, and listen to The Carpenters with her.

I called my younger sister, Jessica. We discussed a last minute and not possible plan of picking up our 85-year old mother and rushing back to Beilinson Hospital. I called up Benjy, sitting with Sarah, and his then fiancee, Ella, to discuss what should I do. I was immobilized. Decisionless, feeling unsure if what-I-felt-was-happening was indeed happening. He said, “You’re tired, don’t you want to see Ira, and get some rest?” I did. Benjy reassured me, told me that they were okay, looking at YouTube videos together, that Sarah was comfortable.

Driving home, I listened to the flat Vermont tones of my hospital driving companion, Chris Campbell of America’s Test Kitchen, and felt surprisingly calm. When the phone rang at 5 AM, I knew that her life, and our life with her, was over.

The funeral and subsequent week of mourning, of shiva, were intense and important. So many people came to see us, really to see Sarah in absentia, and to ask us, her family, to comfort them. Sarah, always the life of the party, was no longer. It seemed beyond our ken. All of us.

July 5th, 2015: Six weeks after Sarah died, Benjy married his Ella. We partied like animals, seeking an unexpected, but welcoming catharsis from the emotional intensity of the past spring, when her health failed so completely.

October 9th, 2015: Five months after Sarah died, her next in line, Elisheva, married Naor. On wedding dress duty with my sister, Jessica, we buried our sadness in a hummus and chips lunch after choosing a gown and trimmings. Sarah would have had a beer.

We armored up and mounted our party horses again, delighted to celebrate another lovely couple, but it wasn’t easy without Sarah. It just seemed sad in spite of the great happiness of the moment.

We are lonely without her. I know I am. Every day. From her grave, only steps from where she lived in small-town Israel, her death has rippled through the many circles of friends and family near and far who loved her — her strongly-held and openly-shared opinions, her loyalty, her impressive hostessing skills and warm welcome, day and night.

She loved many and lived fiercely, from the moment she first was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease as a teenager. Complicated heart disease, a side effect of 1970s radiation, killed her, but she died peacefully, her husband by her side.

Sarah and her family at Natan (my eldest) Bar Mitzvah, 2003.
At Natan’s Bar Mitzvah, 2003.

Watching her health fail completely last spring had been brutal. For all of us. For all that we’d known what was in front of us, we thought she’d catch another break. She always did.

That last evening, she beckoned to me and my sister-in-law, asking us to help her sit up, her head bowed down, her breathing labored. We sat and chatted, striving for normalcy, our hearts full, unwilling to accept what was in front of us.

Sarah never liked saying goodbye. It was a family joke for all of us. She’d come and visit me, this when my family still lived in Brooklyn, and she’d leave with barely a “see you soon.” I’d try to grab her for a quick hug, or an attempted, “I love you,” but she’d sort of stand there awkwardly, only barely hugging back. It’s a Steinberg thing, the inability to hug well. Thankfully, the next generation all are better huggers than Sarah was, than I am.

But that last night, when I finally bent over her to say goodbye, to tell her that I’d be back the next day, to tell her I loved her and would miss her, she looked up at me, her bright blue eyes only slightly softer than usual and said, “I’ll miss you too.”

About the Author
Beth Steinberg is the Executive Director and co-founder of Shutaf, Inclusion Programs for Children with Special Needs in Jerusalem. A believer in Jewish camping, Beth is a graduate of Massad and Ramah camps, where she learned the importance of informal education programs as a platform for teaching Jewish and social values. As a parent of a child with special needs, she struggled to find workable, appropriate activities for her child. Beth believes that a well-run inclusion program can help educate and change values, creating meaningful and lasting social change. Beth is also the Artistic Director of Theater in the Rough, engaging audiences with free summer Shakespeare.
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