Sharing Pain–Sara Avitzour’s “And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones”

Haim Watzman

The thought of losing a child is so frightening that during the years that Timora, the daughter of my good friend Sara (Susan) Avitzour was fighting leukemia, I tried as best I could not to think about it very much. Perhaps because Sara and I are partners in comedy and chaos in Kehillat Yedidya’s annual Purimspiel, it did just not seem possible that anything so horrible could happen to her.

Sara has now published an earnest and incredibly touching memoir about that worst of all possible nightmares. And Twice The Marrow Of Her Bones is a story told twice. The first half of the book is a narrative of the years between the appearance of Timora’s first symptoms, through diagnosis, chemotherapy, two bone marrow transplants, and the end of hope. The second half is a series of short reflections about remembering Timora, about the role of Jewish faith and community in her family’s tragedy, and about how Sara coped with Timora’s illness and death. These are based on posts from a blog she began to write after Timora’s death, “Five Years Later” (and which she’s recently renewed under the title Loving, Losing, and Living.

The book’s structure is a key part of its impact. It enables the reader first to experience the tragedy, and then to think back on it. It’s not a usual pattern for a book of this type, and frankly, when Sara told me about it, I was doubtful that it would work. But it turns out that the intensity of the story of loss that fills the book’s first half almost requires the retrospection of its second half. Without the latter, the reader would be moved, but without having gone anywhere.

All of us who have children understand that we are at risk. But, as Sara writes:

Because I love, I am vulnerable to the pain of loss. But if I’d avoided family and children in order not to be exposed to the possibility of bereavement, my life would be far emptier even than the unfathomable void Timora left behind her. So her birthday is a time not only for me to wish desperately that she could be with me now, but also to celebrate having had the privilege of bearing, birthing, and raising and incredible human being in this temporary, unreliable world we call home.

Once, many years ago, when the thought of having a child of my own, much less losing one, was nearly impossible for me to imagine, I met a woman whose eldest son had fallen in battle nearly two decades previously. She was a tough, accomplished, and purposeful woman, not a brooder, yet it was apparent that the wound of that loss was as fresh as the day she had received the news. I was so surprised that I went to ask her daughter-in-law how that could be. “When you lose a child,” she told me, “it never gets better.” Sara’s wound remains fresh, but she has managed, in writing of it, perhaps to make it just a bit more bearable. We owe her thanks for allowing us to share something of a shadow of her pain.

Sara’s book is available in Israel in Steimatzky book stores. Buy it on Amazon through the link below.