Last October, my mother-in-law Michele died after a year and a half of living with late-stage colon cancer. Michele was a very spiritual person and loved to learn about world religions.
The first time I visited Shante for the holidays, Michele made sure to buy a Hanukkah menorah and insisted that I teach everyone the candle-lighting prayers. It is fitting, then, then I’m making this post in her honor at the end of sheloshim, an important milestone in Jewish mourning.
Those who knew Michele know how kind she was, more so than words can express. To celebrate her extraordinary spirit, I want to share just one memory of her that has been on my mind.
Michele loved to vacation at the ocean and go for walks along the windy Washington coast. One of her traditions on these trips was to set aside time to clean up the beach. She brought a trash bag, a pair of trash pickers, and scooped up trash that others had left as she walked along the sand. She then loaded them into her car and brought them to a proper garbage bin.
The picture below is from this March, when Shante and I joined Michele for a week on one of her ocean trips. Her tradition was already a testament to her selfless nature, but in this context, I found it particularly remarkable. Michele knew she had terminal cancer and likely had less than a year left. Even so, she took time out of what could have been her last ocean trip for an anonymous act of kindness. Armed with a trash bag, she set out doing her part to make the world a little brighter. After an hour or so, we hauled away about three or four bags worth of trash.
In her last year and a half living with cancer, Michele continued to live her life exactly as she had before her diagnosis: she worked on art projects, she hosted gatherings (when covid allowed), she listened intently to the stories others told her, she brought people together, and she found creative ways to bring cheer into the world. It says a lot when a person, faced with limited time, chooses to spend it doing exactly what they always did. I see it as a sign of a life well-lived. And, in the end, I suppose that is the best anyone can ask for.