This morning is the first time that I have spoken publicly about Talia since she passed away. Initially, I knew I could not manage sorting out any thoughts, trying to be coherent. I leaned on others, children, friends, teachers, rabbis, professors. Just, please, not me.
But thoughts will not settle down and many had been swimming around in my head. As is my way, I have learned, they swim until they gel into some gloppy mass, and then I know it is time to get them out and once I start speaking it will coalesce.
Talia got a diagnosis of leukemia about 6 weeks after her wedding to her wonderful husband Alon. We had about a two year rollercoaster of dealing with the nitty-gritty of blood transfusions, marrow-testing, donor drives, 2 bone-marrow transplants all stuck betwixt and between the protocol of one failed chemotherapy after another, alongside the well- known accompanying traumas, baldness, nausea, severe weight loss on her naturally thin frame.
Three annual Passover Seders in a row, one in the hospital corridor near her isolation room replete with dripping chemotherapy and family Judaica; one blessedly, in our own home only days before her numbers got all whacky again; and, the last, in their newlywed apartment, with mere hours after her doctors gave us the go-ahead so we could pack a Seder and paraphernalia to go. She was so weak, she participated from the sofa.
Days later, the end came.
Her death fell within hours of the day designated as Yom HaShoah in Israel, dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims. That night, the skies opened with unseasonable crashing thunderstorms. The sad music broadcast on the radio, documentaries shown on television, and the general national mood now seem eerily appropriate. On the one hand, it was as if the entire country had entered our grieving circle, and on the other hand, the national preoccupation was ours too.
Each year we have joined with family and stalwart friends at her graveside. I finally spoke. The fact that we were standing at a graveside in a cemetery and marking the occasion together at a specific time and place struck me anew as a privilege, not to be taken for granted. The slap again of seeing Talia’s name carved in stone made me freshly aware. Her first name was for one of my mother’s twin sisters, Ita, selected as a Mengele twin in Auschwitz. She and her sister, Esther, (in whose memory an older daughter was named) were murdered there at age 6. No headstone, no loving grieving family, not even a date. The most basic markings of death were denied them.
The confluence of Talia’s demise with the date for marking Yom HaShoah is a haunting pairing. Although not the most dedicated of ulpan students, I do still remember one Hebrew linguistic concept, smichut, the running together of two adjacent nouns, so that they slide one into the other in pronunciation to become a compound. These days for me are now temporally connected. Ita the child from another place and time, like so many others, was starved and likely tortured, out of pure evil. Talia was a child of sunshine with a beaming smile, an unflagging optimist, an aspiring nursing student, pure goodness, illness having diminished her beautiful physical presence as she slid into another realm, a liberation from torture of a different sort.
In high school, Talia chose to go with her school to join their study trip to Poland. In preparation, she and the other students studied the history, and she was clearly taking on this endeavor with a sense of purpose and maturity. We equipped her with a dozen yahrzeit candles to light for some of those lost to our family. If that was not enough, she asked me one day what it is like being the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
Now I have a much fuller answer.