My childhood ended when I was 10 years old. I left for overnight camp an innocent girl; two weeks later, I was called to the head counselor’s shack and told that I had to go home. They gave me a reason, though I became suspicious. My sister was involved in a horseback-riding accident, and my parents wanted me come home to visit her. But it wasn’t true. It wasn’t true at all.

My counselor came to help me pack my bags. IMy childhood ended when I was 10 years old climbed in the camp driver’s car and off I went. The only feeling I can vividly remember is fear—fear that something terrible had happened.

When we rounded the corner to my street, the entire block had cars parked bumper to bumper. At 9 in the evening? My heart was pounding in my throat, my stomach sunk in terror.

Before I even walked through the front door, my worst suspicion became real. My sister was gone. I just knew it. A sea of people stood in the hallway. Everybody looked at me, but nobody spoke. The rabbi gently escorted me to my parents’ room, where I found the door closed. All I could hear was my heart pounding. All I could feel was the sweat on my skin. I opened the door and there was my father, sitting on the edge of the bed, wailing. My mother’s tears were flowing; she was lying motionless under the covers.

My father reached out to me, pulled me close and held me. His words are etched on my being for eternity. “Randee is no longer here. She’s gone.” I broke down crying, at the same time yelling, “No, NO! I don’t want to hear it! Stop saying that!”

My older sister and I were born on the same day—she in 1957, me in 1960. Every year, we shared our birthdays, we shared some friends, and we had fun together. We shared a room, we shared clothing, we shared our food, we shared our hearts and our lives. Now my sister was gone. A piece of me was lost forever. What I didn’t know was how it would shape me into the person I would become.

From the tender age of 10, I would get my 6-year-old sister up, help her get dressed, give her breakfast, make her lunch and look after her at the bus stop. On non-school days, I would wake up to my sister sitting on the carpeted floor next to my bed. As soon as I opened my eyes, she would offer me the sweetest, happiest smile imaginable, and I would motion with my hand that she could come onto my bed. We’d just lie together, protecting one another from the quiet concerns children have.

I began to feel like I was given a very special role, and it felt overpowering. Yet years later, I came to understand and accept that it was Divinely orchestrated. Some of my earliest thoughts about G‑d’s role in my life are dated back to this time. In my most confused and frightened moments, the only place I could go for support was the utterance, “Dear G‑d, I’m scared, I feel lost, please help me.”

After my sister’s death, I remember my mother spending a lot of time in bed; rarely, would she smile or talk. I would go to her often, and lean over and kiss her. My once-cheerful, engaging parents were nowhere to be found. My silly, joyful father became very quiet, like the wind was sucked out of him. He used to sit in the big comfy club chair in the living room, and put me on one knee and my little sister on the other, and hold us close to his heart. Sometimes, we would cry. We were one heart giving one another the unrestrained love and comfort we sorely needed.

It wasn’t long before anger eventually emerged, leading me on a path of resistance and rebellion. My very large volume of hair, my very loud mouth, my jeans and my very impulsive reactions to anyone who had any degree of authority. During this period of time when the anti-establishment was peaking, it held great appeal as a tonic to my wounded soul. My parents were in pain and weren’t available. I didn’t know where to turn. Drugs were abundant and so was my pain. A perfect match.

Something huge had happened to my world, and I was holding it in; I desperately needed support and guidance. Not knowing where to turn, I would walk to the library after school and found myself in the religion and spirituality section. I would sit on the floor and browse through the books. Slowly, I began to feel comforted. The best way that I can describe it is that I was beginning to forge a relationship with my very own personal G‑d. Amid my rebellion, I saw small sparks of trust beginning to return. In between my grief, I began to feel a small sense of hope. This was largely, the birth of my personal faith in G‑d.

One afternoon, after high school, I decided to hitchhike to my synagogue and see if the rabbi was available. I had always respected and admired him. He was pretty shocked to see me. We spoke at great length; I told him I was feeling lost and unhinged, that I was making bad choices related to coping with my sister’s loss, and that I thought he could help me. And I asked him to promise to keep my visits in confidence. He did. He taught me about listening, compassion, sensitivity, kindness. He gave me permission to feel my feelings and not try to make them go away by swallowing or smoking something. He accepted me and I felt cared for, and sometimes, like it was going to be OK. More hope. More faith. More trust. I saw him many times and though there was nothing overtly religious about my visits with the rabbi, the experiences opened up a pathway for living a more spiritually conscious life. More of my thoughts were G‑d focused.

Soon afterwards, I left for college. One of my first-semester classes was group counseling. After the first class, I went to my professor’s office and told him my story and how I thought he could help me. That year, he counseled me almost every week. He listened to me, affirmed my existence, encouraged me to be me and gave me a place to feel my emotions. I became more aware, more intentional and healthier. It was hard when I went home because I felt that I was back in an unhealthy environment where I didn’t feel supported.

Thinking back, I realize that nobody told me to go to my rabbi’s office. Thank G‑d, I decided to go on my own to see him! Similarly, nobody told me to sign up for this professor’sA path had opened up for me to begin healing class, or that he would be able to help me. Thank G‑d, there was space in that class when I was registering! I feel as if a path had opened up for me to begin healing. This is my understanding of how G‑d designs our lives. We are on a journey, and things happen because we need something that will be revealed along the way—something meant just for us. Sometimes, it doesn’t look or feel hopeful, but that dark space might be the very opportunity that lifts us up and moves us forward. These were opportunities tailored for what I needed to continue to grow my spiritual self and my relationship with my personal G‑d.

As an adult, I was in therapy on and off for years. I saw a direct relationship with my struggles softening and dissolving as I engaged my Jewish spiritual self. When I first arrived to Philadelphia as a young adult, I crossed paths with a few women who invited me to attend a weekly Torah class with a feminine perspective. Of all the people I could have met in those first few weeks living in a brand-new city, I met them! As I went on to explore my Jewish self, learning the meaning of Torah, the lessons in the text, Ethics of Our Fathers, and at various synagogues or people’s homes, I was able to recognize the gifts that G‑d had placed in my life.

The life lessons I continue to learn today are directly tied to those days at the library when I began developing my spiritual self. Through my learning about the trials and tribulations of my forefathers and mothers, and how they endured and persevered, I brought that energy in to my life. When my son was born, I expressed what I learned in building a Jewish home. Setting my candles out on Thursday night, and making sure I that had all the ingredients for a delicious soup and a special meal are expressions of what I learned. Bringing my family together for Chanukah and Pesach is another powerful way to share who I am, where I’ve been and what I have learned.

I am no longer that angry rebellious person. I worked hard to forgive my parents for what they couldn’t give me. I’ve worked hard at emulating those who were there to help me heal and showed me kindness, listening to me with sensitivity and believing that I could learn to smile again.

And I have. I believe we must be kind and forgiving. As bad as things might be, holding on to the trust and belief that they will get better are lessons I learned and continue to be the basis of how I cope and find peace today. That is how I got through 10 years of caring for a very sick son, my husband’s cancer diagnosis and my own garden variety of limitations. I seek to bring sweetness and joy into life, to demonstrate positivity and acceptance, and to guide others in the same way. At the center is a growing relationship and conversation with that personal G‑d I recognized when there was no place else to turn. This relationship with G‑d has brought a strong anchor and meaning in my family life, friendships, religious life and my professional life.

I learned how to feel and trust again. I learned that it was a sign of great strength to ask for help. I learned that we cannot manage trauma on our own. I learned that nothing was my fault. I learned how to apologize and accept people for who they are, for their strengths and limitations. I learned to believe that people are basically good, and that we have to be thoughtful about our choices. And most of all, I learned that I was never alone because my personal G‑d was always there. Today, I bring these lessons to other people in my personal and professional life in what I believe, what I know, has come full-circle.