I was in Israel when I received an email invitation to a masquerade ball celebrating a young woman’s 30th birthday. It was a two-fold event: the birthday and a fundraiser for leukemia research. I’ve known the young woman’s mother since I was five. We grew up across the street from each other.
I wrote back saying it would be great to attend the special birthday party and noting how much my old friend Caryl must be looking forward to having this meaningful celebration for her daughter. Her reply was filled with optimism, hope and happiness.
Three days after I returned to Canada, my brother and sister called within five minutes of each other leaving messages that Jacqui Gold had died in hospital of pneumonia. It was a week before her birthday party. This wasn’t about being shocked or surprised. It was just about being sad for such a young life gone and for a family that had been through so much.
Jacqui was diagnosed with leukemia in her early 20s. She battled through the long process of chemotherapy and she courageously recovered. In remission, she completed her education, finishing at the top of her class at the University of Ottawa. Jacqui became a teacher at the Hebrew Foundation School in Montreal.
While in good health, Jacqui’s friends and family say she did everything to take in and enjoy the pleasures of life, which most healthy people take for granted. Jacqui met the love of her young life and they had just moved in together when the cruel news struck almost two years ago. The cancer was back.
The second round was much more difficult than the first. The second round involved a bone marrow transplant and hospitalization for more than a year. Apart from infrequent weekend visits at home, she lived in a hospital cancer ward.
Jacqui’s funeral in Montreal was the biggest I had ever attended with people standing four deep along the back and side walls. Because I brought my elderly parents, we arrived an hour early to ensure parking and seating and many others had the same idea. The chapel was already a quarter-full when we arrived.
The funeral was packed because Jacqui had touched so many people from three generations. Jacqui’s 87-year-old grandmother Selma, a friend of my parents and countless others, had her friends supporting her. I was there for Caryl, along with what seemed to be at least a thousand other baby boomers. And then there were Jacqui’s and her siblings’ friends from Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Los Angeles and points beyond.
Watching the room fill up with three generations of Jewish Montrealers, I thought I saw my life flashing in front of me. Seeing children I grew up with now in their 60s and their parents in their 90s, I couldn’t help but think of how many years have gone by. It was strange to see people and remember their faces and their voices, but, aside from hello, there was so little to say. It was like so many lifetimes had gone by since childhood that you wouldn’t know where to start – even if you wanted to.
It was also that a sad funeral is an abrupt meeting place that is not conducive to personal conversations about where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Being five years old again for a few fleeting seconds was about as much as anyone wanted to handle.
In addition to being the biggest funeral I am sure most people there had ever attended, it would also qualify as one of the most dignified. There was an overwhelming quiet in the room as everyone was deep in thought and focused on Jacqui and her family.
There were eulogies from Jacqui’s friends, her boyfriend and her siblings. To the surprise of many, her mother, Caryl, was the final speaker.
The eulogies spoke about the heart and soul of a very special young woman who left a positive vibe everywhere she went and with everyone she came into contact with. She was described as a person who fought cancer with all the dignity she could muster.
Jacqui’s dignity in death is the dignity with which the rest of her family carries on.