Dear Rachel,

I was touched by your response to the letter of an ill twenty-year-old girl. We are in a similar situation. My forty-year-old husband has cancer that is "always deadly" and according to our doctors, there is neither a cure nor hope for any future. While he has battled it for twenty months now and our rabbi always tells us that we should never give up, I do not know where to find the hope. I see no earthly evidence that this illness has ended miraculously for anyone. I do not feel like our family would be deserving of a miracle. Why would a miracle happen to us? The illness has already happened; that means we were chosen for a tragedy, not for miracle.

One thing I am trying is to make my husband aware of daily need for performing mitzvot. Doing something for others, even if all he can do is small, like a phone call or a kind e-mail adds a feeling of joy and meaning to our lives. I do not know if it is enough to grant us a miracle, it is not even enough to give us hope. I feel I should do more, there is just not enough time in the overshadowed by illness day and night. We both pray all the time, and it is not that we are disappointed with G‑d. I am just looking for a sign of hope and see none…

M.J.
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear M.J.,

I am so sorry to hear of your pain and the difficult situation you find yourself in. You write of the difficulty in finding hope and feel that you have been chosen for tragedy. We ultimately have no way of knowing or understanding how things happen in this world, but we do have the requirement to believe that things can always change. There is even the idea that if the sword is at your throat, you still cannot despair because things can always turn. This is why suicide is absolutely forbidden according to Jewish law; even when it seems that there is no hope and nothing can be done, there is always hope.

I do understand that the doctors have told you that there is nothing that they can do. Yet, their job is not to provide a death sentence, but rather to work to heal. Even the name in Hebrew for a doctor, rofeh, means healer. Do not listen to their predictions, and tell them not to even share them with you. Right now your husband is alive; they need to do their utmost to keep him that way and make him better. And you need to do your utmost to remain positive and optimistic and believe that nothing prevents G‑d from changing everything around. As quickly as the illness appeared, it can disappear as well.

Please also know that we have no way of knowing what is a punishment or what is a blessing. Even things that seem to us one way can actually be the other. Meaning that you cannot blame yourself or think that his illness might be a punishment. Rather, focus on ensuring that you are doing the things that you can do to better this world. I had a friend who was childless for years. She felt it was the worst punishment and was devastated. After many different attempts, a doctor decided to do a minor surgery to remove some fibroids that may have been preventing pregnancy.

They did the surgery and sure enough they discovered that her whole uterus had these fibroids, but not only did they prevent her from getting pregnant, they prevented the uterine cancer which filled her uterus from affecting the rest of her body. All those years she thought her infertility was a punishment, only to discover that it had actually saved her life!

And you are right, the more your husband can do, the more it will make him feel better and help those around him. Even in the hospital there is plenty that can be done. He can help cheer up other patients, smile and talk to the nurses and help them know how important their jobs are, he can give charity, pray and use his time to be creative. Get him a journal, let him write, read, learn. This website is a great source of information and there are audio and video classes as well. Let him use his every moment to be productive.

Now that might be easier said than done and it is hard to make someone else act in such a way. But you can encourage him by way of example. If you stay optimistic, if you fill your day with as much positive action as you can, that will help as well. Now I can't even imagine how hard it must be with small kids. And I am sure you are thinking that you don't even have time to breathe, let alone do anything else. Well, if you are not already doing this, one thing I definitely suggest is lighting Shabbat candles. Each Friday night, give yourself a few minutes to just light your candles and pray and focus. The lighting themselves is already illuminating the darkness that you are surrounded by. And Chassidic philosophy teaches us that it only takes a little light to dispel a lot of darkness!

If you do not already light candles, please let me know and I can walk you through the process. I would also speak with your rabbi and find out what kind of support groups are in your area. Do not underestimate your needs throughout this. You need to take care of yourself as well, and not only for yourself, but because your husband and your children NEED you to be healthy.

The Hebrew month we are now entering, Iyar, is actually a Hebrew acronym for the words "Ani Hashem Rofecha" - "I am God, your healer" (Exodus 15:26). We learn that this month is filled with unique healing powers which we need only tap into. Now is an ideal time to increase in prayer and good deeds for your husband, and I pray that your future be filled with health, happiness and success for you, and filled with revealed blessings in all aspects.

Rachel