Blog Post by Hadassah Chen
My cell rang a few weeks ago, my dear uncle Benny [Zippel] from Utah, where he is the head shliach of Chabad… but to me he’s like my big brother.
“…So listen, there’s this couple Stav and Natalie, they lived here for a bit in Salt Lake City, I really like them, they went back to Israel, their son was just diagnosed with a brain tumor, maybe you want to give them a call…”
I believe I am not the first person a couple wants to talk to when starting such a long and hard journey with their child.
My child died.
Are you sure they want to talk to me… I was wondering out loud, while making myself a good espresso…
Natalie was expecting my call, we spoke a little about nothing and we got to the point. She seemed like she wanted to ask me a million questions but had no time or head for it.
When did you find out, how, where… until the disastrous question I was wishing never came.
“How is she now, your daughter?”
Um… Navi is not here anymore… I respond.
Idiot… I thought of myself, why can’t I lie for the sake of making someone feel a little better… I’m just a terrible liar, disaster I am.
I prayed in silence as I hung up the phone. Ariel, their son had just gone through surgery, they have no clue still what is going to be and what kind of tumor does he have.
This is their beginning.
I forget about Natalie and cancer for a bit, until one day I read a post on Instagram by famous model Bar Refaeli urging her fans to spread the story of a boy called Ariel affected by a very rare form of cancer… It’s him, I think, as I am preparing squash soup for the kids.
I can’t. I need to know.
I call Benny.
..Is it Ariel?
Yes, doctors don’t even know how to cure this rare form of cancer…there’s only 100 cases in the world.
“Where are you?” Benny asks me…. on the moon, I answer…where do you want me to be in the middle of a world war in my house at 6:00 pm.
“Hadassah…they are getting married, today. Stav and Natalie. Ariel’s parents.
Stav and Natalie were not married, they lived together and had a child, they have decided to get properly married under a Chupa with a rabbi, for Ariel.”
Let me find out where and when.
The cellphone rings 10 minutes later.
“It’s in an hour,” Benny says. “The wedding is at the Hadassah En Karem Hospital, Natalie would love you to come.”
I sit scared and torn.
I don’t have time to think. I have one hour, and it takes 30 minutes to get there.
I haven’t been back in that hospital since our last journey with Navi when she received her last dose of chemotherapy. I left that hospital holding my baby tight in my arms, almost running away. I wanted to take her home, I left as the entire “team Navi”, as we called them, watched us go, knowing we would probably never come back with her.
Navi passed away 4 days later.
I promised never to go back to that place.
I couldn’t even bring myself to the road that takes you towards that direction. Memories can be so strong, smells, music, roads, scenery…
Look… Benny says… if it’s too hard for you don’t do it… it’s a big mitzvah…think about it.
In 2 days it would be Navi’s yahrzeit, I felt this like a call from Above.
I close the phone and know already that I will not have peace if I don’t go there and show our support to Stav and Natalie. I know myself, I don’t let things go by me, I jump right into them, taking the risk of hurting myself.
We drove in silence…
I remember the excitement when I parked the car knowing that I would go up to her room and see her! squeeze her, cover her with kisses…
We parked and walked in the dark towards the big building.
We walked in silence inside that loud noise around us of people running, doctors, nurses, patients in pajamas having coffee… we felt we moved in slow motion and on mute. I felt like I was walking on a cloud, the memories were so strong it was like a wave crashing me.
To the left they tell us, the hall is to the left…. and there we are in small hall with a few other invitees, mostly family, waiting for the groom and bride.
The whole scene was surreal, white balloons are all around us… I see Stav the groom from far, I get closer and smile at him….
Hi, I’m Hadassah, Benny’s niece… hey Shalom, all smiling and cool… he has a beautiful face and I notice his tattoos on his neck.
Mazal tov we tell him, “thank you for coming,” he answers so warmly… little did he know I just stabbed my heart making my way here, but he doesn’t need to know. He is getting married!
After a bit the bride arrives dressed in a simple but beautiful white dress, she makes her way in the lobby between doctors in white aprons, and other ones in green surgery uniforms making their way to the coffee machines. She walks slowly, long black hair, small, frail…beautiful.
I get a lump in my throat and I feel my eyes exploding…but I can’t… I hear people whispering around me warning the guests not to cry in front of the bride.
He goes towards her and together they walk into the hall with soft music playing in the back, my heart is shaking.
Natali’s friends gather around her, smiling, complimenting her on her dress, one puts on a veil on her hair…
I want to be invisible.
I look at my husband’s face I see red eyes. I’m shocked. He never cries.
The ceremony begins, they bring a Tallit and ask for volunteers to hold the sides… bride and groom stand under. Stav is wearing a big white kippa, he smiles and looks at his bride.
Natalie seems to be strong, emotional, sad, hopeful, in love, happy and desperate all in one.
The ceremony is over, the groom breaks the cup and everyone rejoices…the couple look at each other and Natalie looks at Stav as if she wants to tell him…take me away from here.
As she kisses all her relatives and friends, Natalie is slowly making her way towards me… I cannot move… I don’t know what to say… she sees me from far and she reaches out to me.
Hadassah, right…. yes, I answer… she takes me and hugs me, I was scared to break her, I wanted to hug her tight…
Thank you so much for coming here today you give us strength…
“No Natalie… you gave me strength today, you have no idea what you did for me today!”
We cry, hugging each other. It will be ok, I whisper… she looks at me and says… if I want something from G-d I have to give also… that’s why we got married today, with a rav and chupa kedat ve kedin… just like your uncle Benny told us.
I look at her and see a lion. A mother when she has to fight for her child becomes a lion.
As we say goodbye, little Ariel joins the now new official parents, they hug together, he’s so beautiful…
Everyone is crying by now.
I feel like I need to run 10 miles.
We leave the “party” …
Ready? Yossi whispers… yes I answer. Natalie’s eyes had inspired us.
And there we are back in the famous 5th floor children oncology department.
And there we are floating in the heaven of hell.
The smell hits me like an earthquake…that famous smell that I tried to get rid of but then looked for it at night just to feel her close, it’s the smell of life and death.
All my clothes had that smell for a year.
I feel like I am seeing myself walking from far, I peek in every room, we had gone through all of them with Nav… and I see her lying in her pajama, reading with me, watching her famous cartoon Pingo she loved so much, eating, breathing….
I walk into rooms without even knocking… I don’t even see the patients, I see us… they see I’m walking as if I’m looking for something, as if I lost something… they just stare at me. I stare back at them.
I remember nights spent laughing, singing hoping…loving…such bittersweet memories…the hardest was the fact that Navi wasn’t there now…
We leave, although I want to stay. It was such a weird mixed feeling.
We arrive home shaken, both of us. I just want to sleep.
Without even knowing, Stav and Natalie gave us strength to come back to a place we never thought we would, only to make us stronger. And we gave them strength by being there and celebrating with them the most bittersweet wedding ever!
What I know for sure is that Navi again… was the force driving me back to Hadassah and whispering to us to go. This I know for sure, because alone I could never have done it.
Mazal tov, beautiful Stav and Natalie. Be strong, be bold, and be faithful, now even more as husband and wife bound together through laughter and tears, through joy and sadness.
We love you Ariel. Life has a funny way of putting people together.
For sure though there are angels guiding us from above.
6 years now Navi. Love you. Thank you.
Please pray for Ariel ben Nathalie