It took me many months to write this. I knew it would be hard, but not this hard. I tragically lost my 27 year old daughter on February 9th, 2016. The pain, as many might imagine, is unlike anything I have ever had to describe in words. The shock of losing a child, sister, granddaughter, niece and friend is incomprehensible. The pain is paralyzing. I am the mother of Lisa Benshabat. My family lost her to a monster of an illness that was bigger than we could ever imagine. She was not only battling a physical condition (Interstitial Cystitis, otherwise known as Painful Bladder Syndrome); she was also fighting with anxiety and depression for most of her teens and twenties.
The best years of Lisa’s life were growing up in Vancouver (1992-1998). She was 4 years old when she attended her first pre-school in Richmond, B.C. I can still see her big smile when she was greeted each morning by two kind teachers. The following year she joined her sister at Vancouver Talmud Torah, where she spent the next 5 glorious years forming close ties with her classmates. She was a very happy child and loved life, her sister and amazing grandparents. Trips to the island were always exciting and family (on my mother’s side) always left with happy memories. Leaving B.C. marked a sad turning point in our life. As much as we wanted to stay, Toronto offered more in terms of a future, work-wise.
Despite everything that Lisa went through in life, I was always amazed by her innate sense of positivity. She was a trooper, often following in her big sister’s footsteps and creating fun out of the smallest of things. Some of those things are so touching because it showed the real essence of Lisa. I can’t help but share a good example of this. We lived in Israel for a short 6 months and I’ll never forget the time when Sherry (Lisa’s sister) and Lisa were alone in our tiny little apartment while my husband and I went for a parent-teacher interview down the street. While we were gone, they invited a good half a dozen stray dogs from the streets of Kiriat Tivon (outside of Tivon) into our apartment for treats! Lisa thought that they looked too skinny and needed to be fed! Her heart was definitely in the right place. Being close in age, they always found ways to create a little honest mischief. Lisa had that little twinkle in her eyes and mischievous give away laugh. Her love of animals was quite evident from a very young age; she was most definitely in sync with their souls.
Sadly, Lisa developed a very debilitating health condition called Interstitial Cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) at the age of 10. It crept into her life and never really left her at peace. For a good part of her middle to high school years, she was relatively fine but not entirely. By her late teens, the pain and discomfort of this debilitating disease showed its ugly face again. Doctors and specialists found it a challenge to diagnose, let alone treat. Together, we were adamant to find some kind of relief from the pain. I sought out specialists, naturopaths, and physiotherapists. I connected with I.C. support networks. The support networks were our life saviors. They offered advice and moral support. Despite all the ups and downs, Lisa was a fighter. She came up strong and fighting after everything she went through. We went to countless medical appointments, each time anxiously waiting for answers to questions that didn’t always provide the answers we were looking for. One thing this did for us; it brought our small family closer together emotionally.
Lisa had studied at George Brown College and had finished all of her courses and a practicum. She wanted to work with young children or adults. Her love of music, playing guitar and drawing complimented this career choice. She was clearly gifted, even though she didn’t always see that in herself. Unfortunately, the I.C. robbed her of a life that she so wanted to experience. Although there were many good days and her pain was actually getting better in last 2015, she was worn out. She was fearful of what the future would bring or not bring. As her mom, I gave her a lot of hope. Her sister gave her an enormous amount of encouragement and she was recognizing that changes can happen.
She had courage. Not only did she have the courage to face her own inner turmoil and pain, she was incredibly gifted at recognizing the pain of others in the face of everything happening in her own world. Lisa never just looked at her own problems. She looked at the whole picture, every one’s life. Her ability to see a problem and face it with strength and perseverance was remarkable. If I had to describe Lisa in a few words I’d say she was pure, honest and loving. She could find laughter in almost anything. Right up to the last day I was with her. She lay with me on my bed and asked me (giggling) “Mom, sing the song by Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball” and laughingly I tried several attempts until we were in hysterics. She made me laugh and that’s just one of thousands of beautiful memories I’ll always have of her. Lisa could feel the pain in others. When her father was battling cancer, she knew exactly what needed to be done, tending to him, monitoring his medications, tube feedings and pain management. In the face of adversity, she was calm and focused. Her empathetic and giving nature was embedded in all that she did and we are all forever grateful that we were on the receiving end of that special love.
Her Saba (grandfather) and Safta (grandmother) were her life. They were her second parents. They raised her along with us and wherever they moved, we would follow! There was a very close bond between them. Sherry and Lisa were their life. They were Lisa’s guiding lights. She would turn to them for advice, talking to them for hours on the phone about life. They provided us with food, shelter and love. She so deeply valued her relationship with them.
Her sister, Sherry, hardly two years older than her was always her “big sister.” They had an inseparable bond. Sherry would fight tooth and nail to do whatever she could to make life just a little more tolerable for her. She would live for those moments when they’d dance around in my kitchen or roll over laughing about something silly our cats were doing. Those moments were Lisa. Outside the pain and suffering, those moments filled with laughter and smiling were Lisa. That contagious smile of hers could light up a room. Those moments were the Lisa we knew and still hold in our heart. She was Sherry’s biggest advocate. She believed in her so much and made her feel so much bigger than she could ever credit herself for being. They really built each other up; Lisa motiving Sherry to complete her teaching certificate in 2014 and Sherry motivating Lisa to recognize her genuine beauty inside and out.
If words could wrap around Lisa and say what we all want to say, they would spell endless love. That is what we all have for her. If you knew Lisa, you knew that she had ambitions that were full of love; she always wanted to help people. She wanted a loving husband, and have a beautiful family. It was her dream to have babies when her sister was having babies and share the joys of those special times. She so badly yearned for a future where she could share her heart. She had the sweetest, kindest and most loving soul. I know that she would hope to see the people in her life move forward by adding just a little more sweetness, kindness and love in their lives. I truly believe Lisa is not gone. She is with us. It may sound strange, but I feel her presence often.
In Lisa’s exact words: “Please hug more, give more, laugh more and never hold back from saying I love you to those around you.” I know that this is the message she would want you to hold and pass on to your loved ones.
I urge all of you reading this right now to do the same. Please don’t be afraid to talk to one another, to actually “talk” to one another. Some of you are hurting because you’ve lost someone who meant the world to you. Words are not enough. I’ve written what I wanted to say, but I would like more people to come forward and reach out to one another from time to time. If you see someone is hurting inside, don’t be afraid to speak up and let them into your heart. A warm hello, a smile, a touch on the hand, a hug is all that is needed. I can assure you that you will be helping this world be a better place and making a difference