Life can change in one minute! It’s sometimes hard to appreciate what you have – but then there are events that highlight the important things and what we should concentrate on in life.
Four years ago, my son was complaining that he was having headaches and was having trouble seeing things in class. I made an appointment with the eye doctor, thinking that it may be his eyesight and that he would need glasses. I thought nothing of it and went to a work meeting out of town, while my husband took Matan to the eye doctor.
Shockingly, that turned out to be a life changing appointment. The eye doctor noticed pressure in the brain, behind the eyes, that he suspected was the cause of his headaches, as well as visual disturbances, and sent us to the emergency room. After a CAT scan, MRI, non-stop consultations, and quick decisions – my son was wheeled into surgery 72 hours later at a hospital 2 hours from our home; to have a top neurosurgeon remove a massive brain tumor. And then we found out that the tumor was cancerous. So my 11-year-old Matan was unable to move as a result of the surgery, he would need to undergo at least a year of radiation and chemotherapy, and family life was going to change drastically. There was no time to process what we were going through. It was stressful, harrowing, intense, and life-altering – and all that time I was in niddah. I wasn’t able to get or give my husband a hug.
We hadn’t seen our other kids for three days. We were in shock and in limbo, living in the hospital room so my son wouldn’t be alone. Taking in what had happened and just getting by minute by minute.
And then, I needed to go to the mikveh.
Really?!?!? Mikveh?!?! Can’t I push it off? Do I need to do it? There’s so much going on. I need to be there for my son,and now I have to go to the mikveh?!?!? Processing everything was so hard, and I had no one that I felt comfortable enough to discuss this with.
It was impossible to think forward, so hard to contemplate leaving my son in the ICU, so hard to drag myself away. But I knew I needed to go, not for sex, but just to get a hug. I wanted to comfort Josh, my husband, and I couldn’t. I wanted to make space for both of us, and for our family. While each of us was going through our own sense of trauma, I wanted to be able to deal with this together. And with everything we were going through, all the trauma, and all the chaos, I knew I needed to figure this out.
I came home, did the prep, and went. I didn’t tell the balanit anything. But it was the hardest time I ever had going to the mikveh, and the most powerful tevila I ever had.
I always find mikveh spiritual. But that night it had a force I had never experienced before. I broke down in the mikveh room. l poured out my heart to Hashem. I spent a long time just davening in the spiritual space of the water – just crying and taking everything in. I begged Hashem to just protect my son. And I asked the balanit to daven for him. I gave her my son’s name and told her he had had surgery, without any real explanation. I davened for myself, and for my husband. And I davened that we would get through this together.
We couldn’t be together for another 2 weeks, but it didn’t matter. That night was a defining moment. Amid the trauma and all the heartache, as hard as it was to go, it was the best thing I could have done!
Mikveh is all about timing – you count the days, 7 days looking forward, counting. And in the midst of this illness, where I couldn’t think beyond the minute, the hour, the day, I had to. And the process of doing it helped me cope, helped me frame the whole illness. Going to the mikveh gave me space as a religious woman to pour out my heart and to gain some peace. It put into perspective the need to make time for myself and my husband. It helped me frame my priorities.
It was only much later, when Matan had finished treatment and I was able to reflect, that I realized how significant my choice to go to the mikveh that night had been. Mikveh emphasized that actually, it’s our couplehood that is going to get us through. It helped me focus on the bigger picture things – that we have to protect our relationship to protect our family. And that our son needs for us to have a loving relationship to help him cope and heal. Without even realizing it, going once a month ensured that our relationship was made a priority too, something that without a doubt, helped our child and the rest of our children cope with his illness. The very act of going (in the eye of the storm), made the incredible statement that we were going through this together. I had prioritized us as a couple. And in doing so, I recognized that I am not going through this alone. My husband and I are here for each other.
You don’t have to spend months on end in hospital rooms to understand that life often gets in the way and it’s easy to forget our bigger picture priorities. Life is busy, life is hard. Especially with kids, you seldom have time to enjoy a cup of early morning coffee. But when you’re facing a life-threatening illness, this overwhelming feeling of the burden of life is all-encompassing. And when you have to add mikveh to the daily grind, that burden can feel enormous. When looking back however, the mikveh didn’t add to my tsunami, it was actually part of a strong lifeline I needed to survive.