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Editor's Pick: Finding the Miracles- A Daughter's Reflection on Chanukah in Light of her Mother's Illness

by Melanie Preston, Dec12, 2012

Chanukah, our Festival of Lights, evoking memories from our childhoods of traditions passed down through the generations and from various parts of the globe. The custom in my family is a little different, as might be expected in any mixed home, my mother being Jewish and my father not. With competing holidays at this time of year, my family has always done its best to celebrate both, yet 10 years ago, after my first trip to Israel (yes, I'm a ‘Birthright success story'), Chanukah became a time to count my miracles, as my heart swelled with pride as a developing Jewish identity seeped into my bones.
Yet counting one's miracles can be challenging, and this year was not an easy task. My mother's discovery she was ill last year caused unrest in my family, taking a major emotional toll. At this time last year I was in the depths of despair, traveling with my brother and his children to my parents' home in Florida, to see my amazing and energetic mother, tired and scared for the first time in my, and possibly her, life. My mother is a woman who never sleeps, yet used all of her energy to involve herself in her community, which was no small feat, considering how often our community changed. She is someone who knew about personal development before it was cool and belonged to health-food co-ops, where she bought peanut butter with the peanut skins blended in. She is someone who heard my elementary school needed to raise funds when I was a kid, so put together an auction that more than raised enough for a new wing to be built. She is someone who, along with my father, initiated a recovery group in their Florida temple to help any members suffering from their own addictions or those of loved ones. This is my mother, a woman who never stops.
But she was stopped in her tracks a year ago October, when she went in for a much-awaited hip replacement surgery, only to get a standard pre-op chest x-ray, which showed something suspicious on her lung. It was determined to be non-smoker lung cancer, and as if this wasn't traumatizing enough, it was then discovered it had already metastasized to her brain, making this an instant "stage four," and therefore, "incurable" diagnosis.
Yet my mom is still my mom, and she took this on the way she has always taken on challenges; through educating herself on her disease, and being open and willing to try any and all alternatives. She was led to a cancer coach, who herself was told she was a hopeless case in the late 1990s, after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. This led to the meeting with a specialized oncologist, who has spent his career developing food and supplement diets for all strands of cancer, a disease that reacts differently in every single human body, which is precisely what makes it so tricky to treat. Her two-to-seven month "median life span" diagnosis passed months ago now, and last week we all joyously welcomed my parents' arrival for the second Chanukah since her diagnosis.
This year, when I think of the meaning of this holiday, it rings truer for me than it ever has before. The miracle of Chanukah: the oil that should not have lasted a night, somehow lasting for eight, ensuring the freedom of the Maccabees, and in turn, our people. Were it not for this miracle, there would be no Israel, let alone an Israel as strong as we see her today, despite her current challenges, despite her enemies, despite her criticism from around the world. The parallel is all too obvious; the miracle of my mom still going strong, fourteen months since her diagnosis.
This year may we look for the miracles in our own lives, for what is working versus what isn't; for the people who are here as opposed to the people who for whatever reason, are not. May we attempt to see past the daily circumstances that test and try our patience and poise, and allow the big picture to come into view, brimming with all its colour and majesty. May we work to slow the racing thoughts in our minds and instead turn inward, tuning into our hearts and the life force that is stored there.

I learned something new this year, that Chanukah comes from the Hebrew root ‘Chanech’ , meaning "to dedicate," as our ancestors regained control of Jerusalem and thus "rededicated" themselves to the temple. May we all seek to rededicate ourselves to the beauty, love and miracles that surround us, to our loved ones, and to the land of Israel. Wishing you all a Happy Chanukah and, Mom - this one's for you.

Originally published in the Jewish Tribune. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author."

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