By Harriet P. Gross
The first person I thought of when I learned that Suzy Zeffren Rauch had passed away was my Boubby the Philosopher. She used to say, “There’s something wrong when children die before their parents. The order isn’t right.”
She knew from experience; she had lost two of her own. The first was a baby, one of the far-too-many felled by the influenza epidemic after World War I. The second was a married daughter who left a husband and two young children behind.
Suzy Rauch has also left two young children behind, daughters Shira and Eden, to mourn with her husband, Ron, and her parents, Jo and Jerry Zeffren.
I’ve known Suzy’s parents for a long, long time. When my husband and I moved to Dallas in 1980, we found a new congregation, Beth Torah. The Zeffrens were already members, and have been heavily involved in it for all these years. But our shul has seen little of them lately; they’ve been out in California, caring for their daughter during her illness, and for her family. What else would loving parents do when a child — for your children are always your children, no matter how old they are — is diagnosed with an disease that is potentially life-threatening, and turns out to be, in reality, life-taking?
Breast cancer is like that. It sneaks into the body and plays horrible games there. First it teases, presenting as a candidate for treatment, perhaps even amenable to cure. When it worsens, it may pretend to back off, for a time dangling the elusive hope of remission. But in Suzy’s case, it finally showed its true, ugly self as the killer it can be, a disease that raises hopes only to dash them, again and again and again.
And here’s an incredible irony: Jerry and Jo were founding members of our Beth Torah Chevra Kadisha, serving as its male and female chairs for all the years since. They’ve gone about their sacred tasks with quiet efficiency, sure hands and compassion above all. I hope that those who performed for Suzy this final mitzvah, the only one that can never be repaid, did so with the same sweet love that her parents have given to so many others.
That is a positive hope. I also have some negative ones. I hope that no one has attempted to mitigate this harsh loss with wordy clichés, like “At least she isn’t suffering any more,” or “She’s in a better place now.” In our clumsy attempts to comfort, it’s hard not to say something. But often, no words are necessary; they cannot convey what a warmly clasped hand or a loving hug can do so much better. If we have to speak, “I’m sorry” is probably all we should say.
My Boubby the Philosopher said her final words many years ago: “Please, no eulogy. If people don’t know me by now, it’s too late.” With them, she wrote the end of her own long life story, in which she had done much. She was a stalwart of her shul’s Chevra Kadisha, and in her memory, I have served with Jo on ours. But Suzy Zeffren Rauch’s life was not long, and her story was not yet over. It remains for her parents, her husband, her children, to extend it by sharing their memories of this beautiful young woman as they move on. Which all of them must.
Of course the order is wrong. No parents should have to suffer the agony of burying and mourning their own children. But again, a precious life has ended, leaving those who gave it its beginning to shed their bitter tears of grief. I hope that as Jo and Jerry Zeffren move on with their own lives, those memories of their daughter — to whom they had given the middle name of Hope — will comfort them. For them: Ken yehi ratzon. May this be God’s will.