Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Parent’s Bereavement: Faith in a Time of Crisis, or Crisis of Faith? by Susan Petersen Avitzour, Author of And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones

Today's special guest is Susan Petersen Avitzour, author of And Twice The Marrow Of Her Bones.

In her memoir, And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones, Susan Avitzour uses narrative, poetry, and a journal to grapple with the profound personal, philosophical, and spiritual questions raised by her eighteen-year-old daughter’s illness and death from leukemia. Ultimately, she faces the challenge many of us must confront in the course of our own lives: How to affirm faith and love in an unpredictable, often cruel, universe.

A Parent’s Bereavement: Faith in a Time of Crisis, or Crisis of Faith? by Susan Petersen Avitzour

I am a religiously observant Jew, and have been for thirty-five years. Ten years ago, my faith was challenged in the starkest way possible, when my eighteen-year-old daughter Timora died after a six-year struggle with cancer. Her illness and death brought me up against perhaps the most perplexing of all questions facing all people of faith: How could the loving God in whom I believe have allowed all this to happen? And, conversely, how can I continue to love God even after all that has happened? Indeed, how can a loving God preside over a world in which people – including millions of children – have suffered and died unjustly since the beginning of human time, and how can any thinking person remain faithful to such a Being?

I address this issue (among many others) in a memoir of my journey with my daughter during her illness, then without her after she left this world, entitled And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones. I respond – tentatively and humbly, as one must necessarily answer such questions – with my own concept of a personal God.
Children, and many adults, believe in a simple, one-to-one relationship with God. It’s a kind of bargain: If we lead a good life, evil will not befall us. But I consider my connection with the Divine somewhat differently. I see God as having created the world, set it in motion, and given us the principles by which we may live our lives as spiritual and moral beings. I do not see Him, however, as continuing to directly cause everything that takes place in our present world. Rather, I understand His presence in this era as providing us with a well of strength to draw upon when life presents us with its inevitable trials and tragedies. Perhaps even more importantly, He continually grants us the capacity to love and draw comfort from one other. These gifts empower us to survive our losses, and to build new lives for ourselves when our old ones seem to have fallen apart.

As I write in my memoir: “Loving God keeps me from bitterness, cynicism and despair, by opening me to the healing energy that keeps me from paralysis and gives me the strength to go on. Especially, to go on performing acts of loving kindness, and raising my children to do the same, even after our devastating loss. For by engaging in acts of kindness, by forging loving relationships with those around me, I become – so I believe – a vessel for giving, and for receiving, God’s own love….

God has been an enormous source of the strength and resilience that has enabled me to face the suffering I’ve both experienced and seen others experience in this world. And my faith enables me to feel grateful for my life despite that suffering, and to look toward the future with hope.”

Bereavement – even the loss of a child – need not cause a crisis in faith, if we decide to go on living and loving as we were created to do, and trust our Creator to bestow upon us the spiritual gifts that allow us to do so.

Susan Avitzour was born in 1955. She earned degrees in French literature and law before moving to Jerusalem, where she and her husband raised seven children. She worked as a lawyer, mediator, grant-writer, and translator before returning to school in 2005 for a Masters degree in clinical social work. She now works as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, helping people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and trauma. Her fourth daughter, Timora, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 12. The family spent the next six years struggling to maintain a normal life while she underwent extensive treatment, including two bone marrow transplants. She died in 2001, at the age of eighteen. In addition to her memoir, And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones, Susan has written short fiction, which has been published on line and in Israel Short Stories, a collection of stories by English-speaking writers living in Israel.

To learn more about Susan Avitzour, author of And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones, we invite you to visit her site - For the full virtual tour schedule, visit  


Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...

Cheryl, thank you so much for hosting me on your excellent site. I hope your readers will benefit from all the interesting material that you publish here, including my own piece.

Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...

And the best of luck in your own work!

Cheryl said...

Thanks Susan. I hope your book does well.

Unknown said...

It's amazing how our faith in God can get us through the hardest moments in life. No matter what I've been through and will go through, I know that as long as I keep my faith in Him, I'll get through it and become a better person for it. Great post!

Kate Dolan said...

What an inspirational message! I hope and pray that I will never be tested in the way that you have because I do believe that would put my faith in crisis. I try to treasure my time with my children and this is a reminder not to let up on that. Thank you!

Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...

Farrah, thank you for your kind words. May God continue to strengthen you in your most difficult moments, and help you use them to bring out the best in yourself.

Kate, I also hope very much that you will never be tested the way I have been. May God be with you in whatever challenges you do face in your life. And yes, it's wonderful when we can appreciate every moment we have with our children - even the frustrating ones!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story.