Eva Klein Schwartz

How we die is almost as important as how we live. The woman you see here taught me this many years ago – and I ache for not being able to share how her example as moved me over the years. I wish I could tell her -and had told her – so many things….but there just wasn’t time.

Eva was an extraordinary woman. She came into our lives a few years after my mother died, and my father fell for her immediately. Brilliant, kind, and funny, she was a powerhouse. And she was barely five feet tall – never underestimate a little woman….

She and Dad got married in 1998, and I walked him down the aisle. She earned my respect immediately, when she told me not to call her Mom, because I had only one mother (who had died three years previous) – she just wanted us to be friends. She gave up her career and life in Israel to come and live in the US and become part of our family. In many ways, it was a period that was more “Family-like” than anything I had ever known.

But in 2003, she told us that her breast cancer had returned – misdiagnosed for over a year, it was now inoperable. Treatment began in earnest – and dragged on – through pain, medication, side effects from the medication, and more side effects. But she told us, over and over, “I will be better – you will see.”

In 2006, after three years (yes, I said years…) of chemo and radiation on her massive breast cancer invasion, she was worn out. She lost weight and looked like a deflated doll. She insisted on keeping up the cooking and household, even though she was now in constant pain.

The manner in which my stepmother approached her ending was heroic. When it became clear that she was not going to leave the hospital, my poor heartbroken father could only sit by her bedside, already numb. I asked what she wanted, and I made it my business to move mountains to make sure she had it. She wanted to talk to the hospital’s attorney about how the staff didn’t listen to her – a lawyer was by her side within the hour. She wanted to talk to someone in power about healthcare for children with no insurance in this country – I made that happen, too, getting the office of her local congressman on the phone.

After she was moved to the hospice wing, she called her friends all over the world to say goodbye – in several languages – then she called her brother, whom she had not told that she was ill. After she finished the last call, she looked at my father and I – and gave us, shall we say, a good talking to…about taking care of each other. She then ordered me back to New York from Michigan to finish my two years of training as a Reiki Master – “GO – Help people.”, she told me. I said I would go, if she could wait for me. “I’ll be here,” she said. “OK – now I rest.” I flew back that night – and she died in dawn’s hour the next morning.

So when people ask me which is harder (or easier) to lose someone suddenly or watch them suffer over time, my personal answer always is, if those extra hours and days give you the opportunity to clear the air, feel heard, say what needs to be said, that is a blessing. There were still many unsaid things between Eva and me – there always are. But at least in her final hours, I was able to be her advocate and let her know how much I loved her.

And anyone I can touch and help on their journey, I do so in memory of my Eva – one of the bravest people I’ve ever known.

This piece is adapted from an original post on my blog at www.YouCanHealYourGrief.com. I share it to keep Eva’s memory in the world, for she left no one behind to speak her name. I honor her as much as I can, for her memory is a blessing every day.