Day 84: Helping when the end is near
Jillian was thirty-six when she was diagnosed with a plum-sized, malignant and inoperable brain tumor. Her oncologist predicted that she would have fewer than six months to live.
Though she felt overwhelming hopelessness, she knew she had to remain strong and competent for her seven-year-old, Abby, while it was still possible.
Jillian contacted JF&CS and was connected to a social worker in our Jewish Hospice Program who helped her plan for the challenges that would lie ahead. She knew she would soon start to lose mobility, speech and sight, but insisted on accomplishing three things before she passed: parenting Abby as long as she was capable, finishing a blanket she had begun she had just learned to knit, and ensuring that Abby wouldn’t be frightened when she died.
Jillian’s social worker created cards with words and images on them. One card had a picture of a little girl brushing her teeth, while another had the word “homework”, and so on. As Jillian’s speech capability lessened, she would ask Abby things by holding up or pointing to a corresponding card. Though Abby understood what was happening and was terribly sad, she adapted easily to this flash card style of parenting.
Jillian’s knitting proved more difficult as her eyesight and dexterity diminished, but she persevered; she needed to finish the blanket. Abby met often with her social worker who was helping to prepare her for what life might be like after her mom’s death. When asked to draw a picture of ‘where mommy was going’, Abby drew a dark grey and green sky.
Jillian survived for almost twice as long as doctors predicted – giving Abby more time to spend with her and to come to terms with the fact that her mom would be going to a place where she was no longer in pain, but peaceful.
On the day of Jillian’s funeral, Abby sat bravely in the front row with her aunt and grandparents, wrapped up cozily in the blanket her mom had finished just days before. During the Shiva, Abby’s social worker sat with her and asked her if she wouldn’t mind drawing another picture of where she pictured her mom now. Abby got out her markers and crayons and then looked hopefully at her social worker and simply asked, “Do you have any glitter?”
Through our partnership with JF&CS, UJA is able to help assist Jewish families in need, and people like Jillian and Abby live meaningful Jewish lives.
*The names and details of those in this story have been altered to ensure anonymity.
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