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Esther Fink

Posted: 26 May 1997

My sister, Faith Esther Fink, died 10 years ago at the young age of 39, after a four year battle with cancer. My mother, Aunt Bunny, remembers her daughter's last years.

In Memoriam, Esther Fink z"l, 24 Iyar 5747

Ten years! In the future, it seems like a million years. But in the past.... did it happen yesterday? Hashem has such wondrous ways of helping us cope with tragedies. There is an ache in the heart that never heals...there are sudden memories that bring tears.... but more often there are memories that bring a smile, and a surge of pride and admiration for the courage of a young woman.

Never shall I forget one night in the hospital, approximately five weeks before Esther died. I had been staying with her continuously; the hospital staff had moved a convertible chair into Esther's room, so I could stretch out at night.

On this night, Esther coughed up some foreign material, and suddenly, quietly, was aware that she was approaching the end. For the next few hours, she spoke so quietly, so serenely, seeming to accept the situation, and to prepare for it. It is so hard to explain her state of mind at that particular moment. It wasn't resignation. True, she had been fighting so hard, so long and so valiantly, trying to defeat this scourge which had attacked her body. It was, it seemed, simple acceptance of the inevitable, and an attempt to prepare for it.

How could I gainsay her? For the past ten years, I have considered this night the finest gift I have ever been given. I had the privilege of being Esther's "sounding board". I was there; she could speak of anything and everything that entered her mind at that time. Sure, my heart was breaking, but how could I not match her quiet composure?

"Are you frightened?"

"Yes, a little. It's sort of scary."

"Esther, you've done some very fine things in your life; helped so many people."

"Yes Mom, I feel good about that".

Being a "Special Ed" teacher she had worked with so many children; had given so much of herself over and beyond the call of duty, and had earned such a reputation in the Los Angeles School District for her accomplishments, that schools vied for her.

Next morning she tackled her doctor. Fortunately, she had an excellent relationship with him. They were partners in her fight with cancer. When she asked "The prognosis isn't good, is it?", he had to agree with her. (The previous day, he had quietly told me as much.) "Then, no more blood tests, no more transfusions. I'm going home." All he asked of her was one more day to try one other treatment, which she agreed to, but which was equally useless.

At home, she continued to direct me in tidying up all her affairs. There were several books to be returned to their rightful owners. There were special friends who could come for a visit. (Latterly, she had been too ill to want visitors.) I want all of you, who sent cards and flowers and letters, to know how very much she appreciated each and every one.

Neither shall I forget her excitement and pleasure when Debby (Ginsberg) and Razel (Trugman) came to visit her. Speaking on the phone to a close friend, when she told her "My cousins are coming to see me", her voice could not have conveyed more pleasure if she were being awarded some great honor. And, one Shabbat, shortly before the end, when David came from Israel, Danny and Adina from Cleveland, and Zal and Ruth with baby Stephen from close by, everyone was drifting into and out of her bedroom, just being there, how she remarked the next day, when all were gone, "That was the best day of my life!".

Another gift she gave us was the assurance that we had not been wrong to make Aliya when we did. We had been discussing Aliya for so long, and at long last we were free of the obligations that kept us in the USA. We were then finalizing plans to leave for Israel, when Esther came to us, directly from the doctor's office, when she had been diagnosed as having cancer. What to do? Sure, we could have said, "Okay, that's it". "We don't move to Israel." Give her a first class guilt complex for having thwarted our dream, and giving her also the feeling that we believed this wasn't something that could be remedied. Our plan did not involve moving yet for some little time, during which we were with her during surgery, took care of her at our home after surgery, and gave her all the care and support we were capable of.

And now, four years later, as citizens of Israel, we were spending months with her. She remarked one day, "Mom, here I am keeping you from your beloved Israel". And I could truthfully answer "No, you did NOT keep us from Israel. We made Aliya, we are Israelis, we were very fortunate. How many people in this world are privileged to actually have their dreams materialize? Right now, we want to be with you. How long we are here is immaterial. Israel is our home." How she smiled! "Okay Mom, I'm glad".

Ten years. Long enough, so that the sharp edges of pain have been blunted, but still, like a whisper away, did it happen yesterday?