Skip to content

I Lost My Sister to Cancer

My sister Livia Berman died of cancer on November 13, 2014. She had been battling a lymphoma for four years. She lived in Israel with her husband Eric. I visited for the first time in August to do a stem cell transplant. Ultimately the resulting Graft Vs Host Disease killed her. I am now in Israel to bury her. I wrote the following in her memory…

It is so very confusing.

I move through her apartment thinking about her walking around, using her pots, cooking, looking out the window. I see with my eyes what she saw with hers. The water tower, the shuttered windows, the palms. There’s a serenity interrupted only by her absence.

I think of my grandmother looking out behind her own apartment. Her eyes. Her thoughts.

They have become one for me in some ways. They so loved one another. If there is a heaven, I pray they are together. If there is not, I dream. I want to shout out the names of people she loved, people no longer with us, to awaken them to her presence.

Where are the thoughts of those no longer with us? What were the everyday thoughts Livia had as she moved around her apartment, listening to the endless birdsong here each morning?

It is at moments like these, when time has stopped and opened a deeper space, that all sounds and sights are distilled into a greater essence. I miss my sister. But I am also discovering her.

She had in so many ways such a wonderful life. How many of us can say, as she said to me when I was here in August, “If it were not for this cancer, my life would be perfect. I have wonderful friends. I am married to my best friend. I travel. I’m very lucky.”

Her husband Eric is now my brother.

Was she always happy? As a little girl? I’m not sure. She seemed in later years to remember a family life that was more myth than reality. She longed for a sense of place. Don’t we all? Was the desire enhanced by inhabiting a new country? Did the desire help her, consciously or not, create such a wonderful place of her own?

We lived apart for so many years, from the time I left home. Our family dissolved, then disappeared. What was left depended on how you decided to view it.

I was so quick to dispute my sister’s sense of the past. I am not happier for that. How stupid of me.

She wanted to take care of me — to know I was safe, that I was happy. She so loved my wife Nahela and our beautiful daughter Gabriella. “I want her to remember me,” she said often, even before she was sick.

What are the lessons that come with a person’s death? Or from her life? How do we incorporate Livia’s life into our own? I only have questions. Answers are either too hard or too simple. Why do we need them anyway?

We live our lives through stories. What makes the stories riveting is the constant change. The sounds of life, the mourning dove, the clink of dishes and pots from a distant kitchen window become chapter breaks. Moments of reflection.

I hope I can construct a story worthy of Livia, one that speaks to her sense of hope, her desire for comfort and security and belonging. I hope what I discovered here last time and what I see this time can provide me, and through that my family, with a better sense of place. Also of belonging.

In the silences that enhance the sounds of life I hope she stays alive for me.

Share your reflection