March 1, 2008
Recently I had the unhappy duty of attending my brother-in-law Sean’s funeral. His wasn’t an easy death, as he had been sick for much of the year. His passing was widely noted in his hometown, where he had been a fixture – a hero to some – for many years. He was a remarkable person, and bore his burden like one would expect a hero would. But there were some other heroes behind the scenes though, namely his brother and especially his sisters. The sisters – all of whom lived out of town – largely put their own lives on hold to be with Sean for much of the year. They tended to Sean’s affairs, acted as his advocates with the hospital staff, brought in visitors, fed him, talked to him, and kept him company right up until the bitter end. They did this without much fanfare or fuss, and largely without any angst on their part.
The word “hero” gets tossed around a lot these days, sometimes deservedly and other times less so. But calling Sean’s sisters heroes (or heroines) doesn’t seem to be enough. I do know of a Hebrew phrase though, that I read in Wouk’s War and Rememberance. The phrase is Eshet Chayil, and it comes from Proverbs 31. Like many Hebrew words, it doesn’t translate perfectly into English. Wouk defines it as “woman of valor,” and that’s the definition I chose to use. Women of valor don’t have to be found on a literal battlefield, because there are many different kinds of battlefields. For my brother-in-law and his family, 2007 was definitely a war. Ultimately Sean lost that war. But he did have the good fortune to have his personal field of battle graced by his own Eshet Chayil. Good night, sweet prince. A flight of four women of valor sing you to your rest.