Our final moments together: Goodbye my darling

Before Rosie passed away, and in one of the letters she left, I (Elliot, her husband) was asked to keep writing her blog. She’d decided that a charity would be a fitting way to remember her and this is the obvious place to talk about it. Hopefully there’ll be more about that in the coming weeks. In the meantime I felt a need to talk about Rosie.

I want to start with an apology. My writing will never be as eloquent or as inspiring as Rosie’s (yes there’s that word which she so hated; but she inspired me along with hundreds, if not thousands of others). But I hope to emulate her ability to impart knowledge which will be of comfort and interest to those of you reading it. I also hope to continue to write in Rosie’s spirit – openly, honestly, pulling no punches.

For the last two weeks of Rosie’s life I had the privilege of being by her side for much of the time; spending every waking and sleeping hour with her for those final ten days. They were at once some of the most spectacularly beautiful and most gut wrenchingly upsetting moments I ever spent with Rosie. Beautiful because the woman I fell in love with was still there; sharp as a pin, bossing me about (in the most adoring way – correcting my poor use of grammar as I typed up her final blog) and speaking in a foreign language to amuse a Spanish nurse. Upsetting, well it’s obvious why. Anyone who sees a loved one descending towards death, no matter at what stage of life, is going to be moved. My loss was no greater and no less than anyone else’s but it was mine. And it hurts.

Looking back over the recent past the word I would use to describe our loss is shock. It was a shock how quickly Rosie’s health deteriorated. It was a shock that none of us, not even Rosie, saw this coming. It was a shock that so little could be done in the final days. And it continues to shock me that she is no longer here. How is that possible? For her parents the shock is unimaginably appalling. Imagine losing the baby that you brought into this world; nurtured, cared for, let free on the world and then had to bury. All in just 38 years. And for a brother, for Laurence to have lost his “little, big sister”, well words fail me. I can only imagine what’s going through Natalie and Joseph’s heads. Surely their little minds can’t even begin to comprehend what has happened. How could they? I can’t.

I have spoken about losing my friend. My best friend. The only person in the world who knew my every thought. The only person in the world who cared to know my every thought. The only person with whom I would dare to share my every thought. I’ve lost that. My dreams are vivid with her presence. When I awake I shake myself to remind me what’s happened. It’s like losing her all over, again and again. I’m assured by many who have gone through this themselves that time is a great healer, and having lost my father aged 15 I can believe that. But right now the pain is unimaginable.

Each message I receive from Rosie’s friends, colleagues, clients and admirers is a double-edged sword. The kind words of warmth and support do just that. They support. For those who recount their personal memories of Rosie it makes me proud all over again to have known her. But the flip side is the reminder of what the world has lost, what the family have lost, what I have lost. I am not a self-pitying person. I have no time to be. I have two adorable children to look after. But in the moments of solitude I feel intensely sad. The senseless end to a brilliant life, a brilliant mind and a brilliant career. The gaping hole that has been left behind.

Minds far greater than mine, both religious and secular have grappled with the question of premature death and whether there is a purpose. Right now I’m not looking for an answer. I just want the pain to go away. I want to remember Rosie without the sensation of a knife twisting in my heart. Is that too much to ask?

The emotional rollercoaster, which we’ve all been on over the last few weeks is compounded by the process surrounding the registration and administration of a death in British society today. Rosie and I didn’t have a very complicated life together. We had utility bills, credit cards, bank accounts, benefits from the government for our deaf son and a private pension. That’s about it. But boy is it time-consuming to sort out the tangle left behind. Probate. A word that I’m sure Rosie would have taken in her legal stride. Without Laurence and his wife I think I’d be drowning now. Bright lawyers dealing with an insensitive system which is far too complex for one with as meagre a mind as mine.

But enough of the unimportant things. What of Rosie? In answer to one of hundreds of condolence letters I felt compelled to explain that the outpouring of love for Rosie has in a way buoyed me. Why? Well because it’s made me realise that Rosie was seen by the rest of the world as I see her. The fantastic woman who could frankly do anything she turned her attention to, and utterly brilliantly. I saw that every day and adored her for it. Now the world sees that too.

Rosie supported me through some really tough times. We were a team – ‘Team Choueka-Choueka’. She was selfless beyond anything. She was supportive, loving, caring and intellectually without peer. I fell in love with her massive brain and her magnetic personality. I am completely unable to contemplate a life without her and simply can’t accept that the time has come when she’s not here. I realise that no one knows when their time is up but just 38 years of a vivacious life is just too, too short for this giant of humankind. I feel sad; I feel empty. I miss Rosie.

In the final moments of her life I was able to carry out one immensely important act. I carried from our daughter, who I had just spoken to, a hug and kiss for her mummy. On returning to her room I dutifully passed on the hug and gave Rosie a kiss on her lips. For the first time in hours she kissed me back. She didn’t open her eyes but she responded to my touch. And then moments later she was gone. I will always remember that. And when Natalie reads this she will know that she was with her mummy as she slipped from this world. Goodbye my darling.

Elliot

Memories of a dear friend

Sarah Perry is one of a distinguished group of strong women who Rosie joined to form the The Seven Bitches (self-styled). Along with the remaining five members of the group Rosie drew huge strength from being in their gang. She would message each of them late into the night and when Genghis was bearing heavy on her shoulders they were the only people in the world who really understood what she was going through; and helped.

It has been my privilege to meet Sarah on more than one occasion and now class her and the other ladies as my friends. Through them I hope to draw enormous strength in the same way I drew enormous strength from my darling Rosie. If you have a moment please read Sarah’s latest blog entry here http://hbocuninformed.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/rosie.html

Elliot

A beautiful tribute to our Rosie

For those of who weren’t able to attend Rosie’s funeral yesterday here is Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence’s beautiful and moving eulogy. There are a number of Hebrew and Yiddish terms in the eulogy which can be easily Googled.

“We extend our condolences to Elliot, Natalie and Joseph; to Maralyn and Jeffrey and to Laurence, alongside all of Rosie’s family and her many friends.

This week in shul we shall read Parashat Korach. It opens with the celebrated rebellion against Moses and Aaron by their cousin. “Kulanu Kedoshim, We are all holy,” proclaims Korach. “We all heard God at Sinai. Why do you take so much upon yourselves?”

According to the Midrashim, Korach was among the richest and cleverest of his generation. He had more money and was more articulate than Moses. He was powerful. He was influential. He lacked only contentment in who he was, choosing instead to benchmark himself by what he lacked.

The rebels sought power for its glory. They measured themselves by what they could get. Our true heroes measure themselves in how much they give. In service they find contentment and reward. It is in this vein that Moses challenged Korach and the Levites around them, “is it not enough that God has given you special responsibilities to draw near to himself in the service of the Tabernacle and ministry of the people?”

And yet we feel deficient when we are lacking. And this afternoon in Bushey in all our hearts we feel an absence. Rosie is gone. She was not yet 39, let alone the 120 of our prayers or the 60 or 70 years of the Psalms. We feel an absence: she has missed out. Elliot and Maralyn and Jeffrey have suffered a loss for which there are no words. Natalie and Joseph have lost a mother and cannot even begin to understand what they had. The absence we feel in our hearts possibly eclipses the enormity of the hole that swallowed Korach and his followers.

… And yet, despite all the above. Rosie, who was brilliant was a lawyer of the Moses variety. She rejoiced in what she could give. She gave and inspired without even trying. She had a humility in the face of adversity which has touched each one of us and will live with us for all time. She rejoiced in the life she had and wanted only more time to celebrate the people around her from whom she derived fulfilment and joy. She rejoiced in the ability to teach and to practice and to serve and to give. She measured her success by her contribution. She didn’t ask why am I missing out on what I can get from my time on earth. No Korach, she. Rosie yearned only to be with us for longer and to give.

If only we could aspire to such emunah and bitachon.

Rosie was born on 15 October 1976. Maralyn says that from the first she was very determined and as she grew up and stronger, so, commensurately did her personality. Jeffrey says that at the age of two, she got up out of her pushchair and declared, “Roro push!” It was an early indicator of her strong will, determination and ability to take charge.

She made friends easily. She was a lively child. She was warm and people warmed to her. Maralyn says, “She was also quite sensitive.”

Laurence describes her as very protective and loving. She carried the memory that, immediately she was told by our grandmother she had a baby brother, “she came to see me, a little bundle all wrapped in white.”

“I just remember having a sister I felt and feel incredibly close to.” Once, when Laurence was crying, Rosie went up to Jeffrey and challenged him, “what have you done to upset my brother?”

She was a bookworm from the beginning and enjoyed reading, a trait which she loved seeing passed on to her daughter, Natalie. In her childhood, she was quite proficient at piano and Laurence has fond memories of the duets they played together.

She attended St Martin’s School, Mill Hill followed by Habs girls.

At age 15, she fell in love with the law after a summer holiday position at Linklaters. They were bowled over by her obvious aptitude and she was won over by the work and their annual bash at the Savoy hotel.

She went up to read jurisprudence at Brasenose College Oxford. She attained a double first with a prize in European law.

Mostly such a phenomenal achievement is reserved for those who cloister themselves away in studious solitude. However Rosie had been national secretary of the Association of Jewish Sixth formers while at school and now became joint secretary of J-Soc at Oxford. She also found time to row for Brasenose College and play one of the Pink Ladies in the musical Grease.

While at Oxford she developed many close friendships which endured with her. She loved it and would describe her Oxford years as the making of her. Apparently she cried all the way home after her first term had ended, she liked it that much.

After law school she networked hard to secure a rare internship in competition law at the European Union. Jeffrey was thrilled to ring through to her Brussels office.

While there, she met someone in the Irish Foreign Ministry and together produced a charity performance of the Rocky Horror Show. Further studies took her to Madrid for six months: where her time was invested jointly in hard work and buying shoes. She learnt Spanish at a course in Seville, having been seized up by Linklaters after qualifying. She was with them for two years.

Rosie would describe her time at Lawrence Graham as the making of her as a lawyer. She was a partner by the age of 33. From there she moved to a significant partnership role at Bristow’s, where she flourished and loved the intellect and drive of her colleagues.

Rosie met Elliot through J-date and they met up at a Hampstead pub for a drink. It was a memorable evening. Elliot found Rosie to be, “bubbly, beautiful and chatty. She made easy conversation. She was interested, interesting, and bright beyond belief. We had the same outlook and value system. We saw the world through the same lens… Religiously and politically.”

So much so that Elliot would report back to his best friend Craig, “I’ve just been on a date with me!” Of course they weren’t completely identical and in some respects their traits complemented each other. For holidays, Elliot would rather sit on the sofa, while Rosie just wanted to go places and shop.

Within five weeks Elliot had determined that he had found the one.

He contrived to propose to her on a misty November day in Venice, where he got down on two knees to propose. Elliot celebrates this as one of the few times where he has managed to pull the wool over her eyes. She hadn’t expected anything so corny. When she phoned home, in great excitement to relate the news to Jeffrey, he knew it was coming because Elliot had secured his permission; advised him, and indeed all of their friends that it was about to happen.

Nonetheless it would remain a source of enduring teasing that Elliot ignored his new fiancée entirely spending the subsequent evening on the phone to the whole world, sharing his joyous news.

The wedding was described by their families as “a mixed marriage” with Ashkenazi Beddeken and Sephardi ceremony at Lauderdale Road synagogue. Elliot wanted to do the right thing by Lauderdale Road tradition and bid for a top hat on eBay. As fortune would have it, that same hat was being chased by another bidder. Yes! Elliot and Rosie were competing against each other for the same hat. Even so, he got it at a decent price.

The wedding was a ‘modest affair’ at the Park Lane Hotel. Rosie had wanted a big shpraunzy wedding. And knowing what she wanted, she made the arrangements and she got it.

In marriage, she and Elliot were two halves of a whole. As a mother, Rosie was peerless. She was a hard-working, highly successful city lawyer and a fully engaged parent. She never did anything by halves. She started the very successful “Wonderful Working Mums” network on Facebook.

Rosie loved Natalie and Joseph for all their individuality. She saw so many of her own good traits in Natalie; the bookworm and the natural born leader. Elliot says, “Rosie was in awe of Natalie.”

Joey was, “her little nosh pot.” He would be there to defend Natalie. He was a protector of the family and she loved that in him. She loved his sheer joy of life and his force of personality. Also that he was a sheer schmoozer with Elliot’s engaging eyelashes.”

Together they supported a number of charities, Jewish Care, planting trees in Israel, Brasenose College and sponsoring a child in Africa.

While in early pregnancy with Natalie, Rosie participated in the “Race for Life” charity run. She wore her participant’s label in such a way that it masked the emergent bump in her belly. Latterly, Rosie has supported the outstanding work of Breast Cancer Care and Chai.

Rosie’s Fighting Genghis blog has been nominated for awards. Though originally written as a private journal, her recent final message was covered by the English and Irish media and The Huffington Post.

We stand here today mourning the passing of a brilliant, accomplished young woman of tenacity, resilience, strength and determination. And while none of us would hesitate to describe Rosie Choueka as an inspiration, Rosie herself recoiled from that description. Laurence says that on being called inspirational, she had retorted that, she was “doing the very best she could in a shitty situation. It was hideous and she wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

And yet Rosie gave inspiration. Deborah says, “She championed everybody to be the best person they could be. She gave life a massive ‘yes’ because she was doing it.”

Laurence says that, “she never let go of her wish for life and was determined to do the best she could. She made us all incredibly proud.”

Craig was inspired by her instruction, “life’s too short. Do the right thing.”

On Friday 22nd May, Rosie was at a conference in Oxford lecturing on competition policy and the retail sector. Over the weekend of the 23rd, she was on a family trip to Israel. Even there, she was taking client calls.

From her bedside, Rosie continued to fight to express herself and to organise the details of her final days… Even her funeral. Her hand written notes are neat and meticulous. Even her verbal instructions were deliberate and unambiguous. She even said 10 days ago that she would die on a Tuesday. And this morning, she sat up a little, kissed Elliot and 20 minutes later did just that.

Oh Lord, we commend to you this afternoon, Rosemary Sara Choueka, Chaya Rachel bat Yaakov Hacohen. Take her under your eternal protection and grant her the reward of the righteous. Her physical suffering is ended. May her soul now rise untrammelled to bask in Your Glory.

Grant comfort to all Rosie’s family. May Natalie and Joey grow up knowing that their mother was cherished by everyone who knew her and thousands who knew of her and yet she cherished nothing in life more than Natalie and Joey themselves. Grant Elliot comfort and strength. May he be blessed for his constancy and support as he embarks on the new chapter of raising their family and keeping Rosie’s memory and spirit alive.

Maralyn and Jeffrey are the foundation of Rosie’s many strengths and virtues. Together they have given Rosie courage and hope. They have been role models in their family and community and ad meah ve’esrim shana should have fulfilled their dream of a lifetime’s naches seeing little Roro triumph in her work and in her family. May they know no further sorrow. Grant them health and strength and length of days.

Grant comfort to Laurence, devoted to his big sister, protector and mentor. And comfort to the extended family, to Deborah, to Talia, to Claire and David who have shown phenomenal support and love. Rosie’s strength of character; her love and unwavering faith have enriched all our lives. We are better for having known her; stronger for seeing her confront adversity. Indeed we are blessed and privileged that she has been a part of our lives.

May Rosie rest in peace, and let us say, Amen.”

The end

It is with great, unbearable sadness that I announce the passing away of Rosie Sara Choueka (nee Kalman) at 8.30am on 16th June. May Her Dear Soul Rest In Peace. A great flame was snuffed out, but her light lives on in all our hearts and in our beautiful children, Natalie and Joseph.

Not now, but at an appropriate time I will return to this blog to try to convey some of my thoughts about Rosie and her desire to establish a charity in her memory.  She was a great woman, mother, daughter, wife but above all the best friend I ever had. Rosie, We will all miss you so much.

Elliot Choueka

My final post

I never thought I would be writing this post at least not yet. A couple of weeks ago we went on holiday en famile. It was supposed to be a family treat to give me strength for facing more surgery in the form of a second lumpectomy and SIRT. Instead, it turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I seem to have picked up some sort of bug just before or on holiday, which rendered me really low. That, together with the break from chemotherapy, made my resistance to the liver lodgers impossible to deal with. I spent a lot of time feeling very low and lying on the bed in quite a lot of pain and unable to eat very much, with some days being unable to eat very much at all. Not much fun when you’re on holiday to eat and enjoy the lovely Israeli food we had sought out. I also had my first experience in 20 years feeling sick and throwing up on the airplane on the way back – puking twice on the way home. On top of that I needed a wheelchair at either end of the journey to help me through the airport, which was some shock at the beginning of the holiday and a grateful relief at the end.

I came straight back to a consultation with my breast surgeon to discuss the lumpectomy. He was horrified by the way I looked and insisted that if I had not got better within a matter of hours that he would pull me into hospital. He wanted me admitted to get better, if not for the immediate lumpectomy operation then certainly in time for the SIRT a few days later. And that was it.

I have spent the past ten days in hospitals on the edge of London away from home and my darling children, unfortunately declining swiftly. The infection that rendered me low meant that my liver cannot continue to fight the cancer and there is nothing that can be done and I have been told there are now only palliative options for me. I am hoping to get into a hospice soon although it seems to be a one in one out policy for these wonderful places, for obvious reasons. There at least I hope there will be a degree of peace and a pain-free environment there for me. No one will be able to tell me if it is a few days or weeks, but it certainly won’t be long.

I have been deluged with messages of love which have been lovely, overwhelming, thought provoking and very welcome. There have been many comparisons to my blog and other writings on the subject. I don’t want anyone to compare me to anyone else. This blog, “Fighting Genghis”, was never meant to be a competition for admirers or fame and fortune. I have no issues with the words “fight” or “loss of survival” or “die” unlike other people I have known. It was just my story of what I have been going through over the past almost year. Please remember that. Everyone’s journey is different, everyone’s journey is unique. Please remember me and my family.  Thank you for reading. Rosie