Every simcha is a cause for rejoicing. However, for the Cohen family, my niece’s bat mitzvah was an especially joyful occasion.
My sister Bobbie and her husband Emil started planning for their daughter Marissa’s bat mitzvah soon after their rabbi had given them the December 5, 2009, date. Since everything had worked out well at their son Michael’s bar mitzvah and party in 2005, they decided to have a similar service and a party at the same venue.
In May 2008, Bobbie received devastating news, Both her recent mammogram and ultrasound had come out normal, but Bobbie insisted of following up with a dermatologist to biopsy a small “cyst.” Everyone, including her doctors, were surprised at the diagnosis: she had breast cancer.
Bobbie called me on her way home from the doctor. She sobbed; I tried to console her; she asked me to be at our parent’s apartment that evening when she called them. My parents took the news especially hard. No one in our family had ever had breast cancer. How could this happen to their baby, their beautiful Bobbie? They told her that although they were too old to be of much help, they promised that they would be there for emotional support and would pray for her recovery.
We all were sad that evening, but that was the last time I heard my little sister cry. “There is a reason that everyone calls me Little Miss Sunshine,” Bobbie told me a few days later. “I refuse to be anything but positive. I will beat this.”
Over the next year, Bobbie underwent chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation and reconstruction, but she remained positive. She cheerfully went to her “chemo parties” and continued her exercise regiment. She embraced wearing wigs, declaring, “My hair now looks good all the time.” A few hours after having her mastectomy, she was on the phone chatting with family and friends. The support of her husband, children, family and friends helped. It was Bobbie’s positive attitude, however, that got us all through this stressful time. “I am on a road with a few bumps and turns, but it will straighten out again,” she said. “Meanwhile, I have a bat mitzvah to plan.”
In the middle of Bobbie’s ordeal, my father’s health began to deteriorate. Just before he died, Dad received a phone call from his oldest grandson and his wife to tell him that they were expecting their first child. “It will be a boy.” Dad said. “Name him after me, but call him William, not Wilfred.” He passed away a day later, November 20, 2008.
Now my mother was dealing with Bobbie’s illness and the loss of her husband of sixty-eight years. Mom was philosophical about being a widow. “Life is about change,” she said. “Bill and I had a wonderful marriage, and I have to accept that he is gone.” She spent more time with her friends and family. She drew strength from both Bobbie’s optimism and the positive reports from the cancer doctors.
By the following December, everyone was ready for the chance to celebrate. Friends and family came from New York, Arizona, Colorado, and California. The youngest guest was five-month-old William, or Will, my parents’ newest great-grandchild. Before Friday night services, we all gathered in the top floor of the hotel to enjoy a huge Italian buffet set up by Bobbie and Emil.
The next morning, Marissa did a beautiful job leading the service and reading the Torah and haftorah. Bobbie, still sporting a wig, looked absolutely radiant, and Emil just beamed with pride for his family, and Michael cheered on his sister. The party was a joy. My mother, not looking at all like a ninety-one-year-old widow, danced every hora and electric slide and cha-cha-cha. We took pictures of the entire Cohen family, with the four children and their spouses, the eight grand-children, and the seven great grandchildren. I was not the only one to shed tears of joy. “We were not only celebrating Marissa’s bat mitzvah,” my mother later reflected.”We were also celebrating Bobbie’s good health.”
My mother passed away fourteen months later. For the last ten days, Bobbie came in from Boston and was there at her side. My little sister, who had never taken a medical class in her life, turned out to the best nurse in the family. Bobbie took command and guided us in tending to her needs until Mom joined her beloved Bill.
In September 2015, Marissa left for college. Bobbie and Emil are enjoying their empty nest, often going into Boston on weekends to take advantage of all the city has to offer. They recently visited us in Florida. I pride myself in my energy and stamina, but I could barely keep up with the two of them as we explored Spaceship Earth and the World Showcase at Epcot, rode the Tower of Terror and watched fireworks at Hollywood Studios, and took pictures with ‘Albert Einstein’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ at Orlando’s wax museum. And through it all, Bobbie sparkled and smiled. And I thank G-d everyday that my little sister is healthy, active, and still our Little Miss Sunshine.