Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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Behind the Pink Ribbon: October 19th, 2017

I remember the words like they were yesterday. I was sitting in the emergency room at North York General Hospital with my sister. She was angry with me for making her go. Her arm was swollen and she showed me, so I immediately said that we needed to get it checked out. She sat down with me after speaking with the triage nurse. I said, “So, do they have an idea of what it is?” I naively thought that the universe wouldn’t be cruel enough to give my sister a major illness. She looked at me, and said matter of factly, “I have breast cancer.”

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I immediately denied it, saying “That’s not true.” I realized, in horror, that it was. I remembering sobbing. I was unable to contain the grief I felt in that moment. It was the worst news possible, my mother was also dying of breast cancer. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t stop crying, and my sister needed my support.

“How long?” I asked. She knew what I meant.

“I’ve known for a while. A few months maybe.”

“And you didn’t tell me or go to a doctor.”

“No,” she whispered.

“Is it because you were scared?”

She nodded unable to speak.

“I’m scared too, Michele, so scared. But I’m here, and I’m not going to go anywhere. We can’t tell Mummy until we know everything.”

She nodded in agreement. I proceeded to cry some more, still not able to control myself. I literally cried for hours. Michele was shocked at how broken I was over this. Although we all had our moments, I usually saved my tears for sad movies, or for my worry over my mother’s illness. Never in front of my mother of course, I only let her see me smile, or the odd time, at a doctor’s appointment, see my worry, although I learned to control that too and focused on being her advocate. I was her primary caregiver – although I had help with the day to day with the most wonderful “ladies”, I went to all of the medical appointments. I ran my mother’s errands. I handled her finances (mostly just doing the legwork – her mind was a steel trap). I stayed with her for hours in the hospital. But, I just couldn’t wrap my head around this moment.

I couldn’t face the thought of losing my mother, but as sad as that made me, my sister’s illness devastated me. Losing your parents, although hard to bear, is natural. Your siblings are supposed to be there for you in your old age. In those moments, my unassuming sister finally realized how important she was to me. I realized that life would never be the same. Michele said, “It’s tragic.” I couldn’t speak, the lump in my throat was so large, so I just nodded. There was a lot of nodding.

As the clock struck midnight, the day gave way to October 19th. A sad day in our family. It was the anniversary of our beloved grandmother’s death. About an hour into the new day, Michele was finally called in to be seen. She looked at me, and said, “You aren’t coming in yet.” So, like a child, I stood outside of the exam room, mindfully doing what I was told. I knew that my sister was angry with me. She was angry because I was making her face the truth. She could no longer deny that she had cancer. I was shaking, because I knew that the ER doctor was going to confirm our worst fear. I heard him say to my sister, “You know that the news isn’t good, don’t you?” She simply said, “Yes.”

As he walked out of the exam room, he looked at me, and said, “You made her come in?” I said yes. He then said, “You did a good thing.” In that moment, I didn’t think so. It felt like Pandora’s box was opening, and the truth was too much to bear. I went into my sister’s room, and we looked at each other.

She said, “I’m going to fight.”

I said, “I’ll be there for you, every step of the way.”

And then, I broke down again, not realizing that there could be any tears left, and said, “Oh my god, how can we do this to Mummy?”

My mother had been through so much, and finally had a bit more energy. She was bedridden, but brave, and funny and herself. I adored my mother. Admired her. My sister did too, but as she always said, I was a suck up when it came to my mother. I was “the baby”, like it explained everything. No matter how old I was, my mother still introduced me to her friends as, “And this is the baby.” I’d smirk and Michele would roll her eyes….but….

I was the one that my mother relied on the most, particularly with her health. I could deal with doctors. I took the time to learn every facet of her illness. I fought for her. I was her voice when she was too tired to speak. I wouldn’t let the medical system write her off. Caregiving and advocating for my mother was the greatest thing that I thought I would ever do.

I read my mother’s charts, eliminating the scary information that no one wanted to hear. The doctors glossed over the facts with her, not delving too deeply. When I read her charts – growing up and hearing medical terminology my whole life helped – I knew how bad it was. She would ask, of course, what the charts said, so I would read her portions – only those portions that gave her the information that the doctor’s gave – my mother knew all of the same terminology that I did and more, having worked in my father’s office for so many years. I was always so careful not to mention how broken her body was, because I didn’t want to break her spirit too. My sisters told me that they didn’t want to know what I knew. What could I do? I had to keep it to myself. In that moment (yes, I know that I’ve said it a lot), I knew that I would have to do the same for my sister. There would come a time when I alone would know the secrets that she didn’t want to hear about her illness.

We left the hospital with an appointment in hand with a surgical oncologist. It was around 2:30am. When we walked in the door, I bent over a chair and sobbed again. My sister tried to comfort me, but she was exhausted. We slept on the sofas together in the living room. She was afraid to be alone and I was afraid of what would happen if I couldn’t see her. I tossed around all night – too afraid to close my eyes. She slept mostly. She told me to go to work the next day. I was supposed to go to my mother’s, like I did almost every day. We agreed that I would go, and that I would hold it together.

I remember when I walked in, I put a big smile on my face before I saw my mother. She smiled, her big beautiful smile. I held her hand and she asked why I looked so tired.

“No reason Mummy, I just didn’t sleep well. Work was busy, the usual.”

“Dayo – my Dayo, you are doing too much. You need to take care of yourself.” (Dayo was her pet name for me).

“I’m good Mummy, don’t worry about me. Save your energy for you. I’m ok.”

Only I wasn’t. How could I be? But, if you have ever been a caregiver, you know that there are days that you will be. And days that you won’t. It all depends on the people that you are caring for and their test results. You begin to live your life in 3-month increments – from CT Scan to CT Scan. If the results are good – you feel elation. If the results are bad – then you feel despair only you can’t show it. Then you leave the appointment, look at your loved one and say, “The test results don’t account for everything. You are still here. You’ve got this.” Inside, you know that’s not true, but outside, they need to believe you. So you walk with them or push them in the wheelchair and you give them a reason to believe what you are saying, whether you yourself believe it or not.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Get checked out so that nobody has to have a night and a day like October 19, 2017 and so many days and nights before and after that. And remember that behind the walks and the pink ribbons, that there are stories of real people. One of those people was my mother, the other my sister. Their lives deserve to be remembered and so do the lives of so many others.


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Mid-Life Crisis

Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

Someone that I know had their 50th birthday this year. I asked, in a not-so-serious way if he had a mid-life crisis to go with said special birthday. His answer – daily. While I don’t believe that is the case, I do know that it made me think about why some people have them, and some people don’t. It’s not a good or a bad thing – just something that I always find interesting.

We all know the clichés when it comes to men and women and their respective mid-life crises. Men trade in their SUV’s for sportscars that they can barely get into or out of. Depending on their budgets, the cars range from orange Corvettes on the low-end to lime green Lamborghinis on the high end. The obnoxious colours a mystery. Usually, in addition to their cars, they have done a trade in of another kind. I live in an area where I often see men with canes with their 27 year-old girlfriends. Sometimes, on a rare occasion, and I have seen this, it really is a love match, but that’s 2% of the time.

On the other hand, women who have hit that very same crisis have traded in their button-downs for leopard prints. Hey, I’ve been a fan since my 20s, I peaked early, I get it. They also officially enter cougardom, using cringe-y phrases like “let’s go dancin'” – apparently, in middle-age, you lose the “g” at the end of words. Sometimes, it’s “I gotta be me” – again, grammar goes out the window – words are lost, and the English language suffers. Said woman then goes on the prowl at places like STK and other assorted places where the boys are.

Still others moan about the best years of their lives being over and wonder, what the meaning of life is. Existential crisis, mid-life crisis, it’s all the same. I asked some of my friends about their own mid-life feelings. One said “I just don’t care” (a good friend of mine said this, and I believe her). A guy friend of mine who is of that special age just said to me, I still think of myself as a kid. Happily married, he isn’t into shall we say douche-y cars and women less than half his age. Yet another friend told me it was because he didn’t fear death and he thinks that things go downhill at 70 – although that isn’t always the case – so he wants to enjoy his best years.

I’ve thought about why I won’t have a mid-life crisis of my own. Part of it is because of my experiences. My sister, for example, died at 55. That means her mid-life was 27.5 years of age. My mother lived to be 78 which makes her mid-life 39. My Uncle Max, our reluctant family patriarch lived to be the ripe old age of 102 (give or take a few years). He played 9 holes of golf a day until he was 97.

In a convoluted way, what I am trying to say is that none of us know what or when our mid-life will be. We don’t have that mirror into the future. I don’t know if I’ve passed my middle age in my 20’s or if this is my mid-life. When I mused to a friend who thinks more deeply about things than I do, he said that the reason that I’m not having one is that for the last few years, my life has been so much about other people, that it was never my own and that now is a time to start it.

I think about aging, of course. I look in the mirror and sometimes, I stick my tongue out at myself because I don’t like what I see. I hope that I just age gracefully, and more than one person told me to get botox or fillers or other procedures. I’m just not into that – but if that’s your thing, go for it. One of the bonuses is that you also don’t care as much about what other people think of you – there are some benefits for sure.

Really, the crisis is that we fear is that our lives will end and that we won’t have ticked all of the boxes that we think that we should have and that perhaps, our lives won’t have meaning. But, I also think that we need to realize how much we have done before we hit that special age that we all think of as mid-life and how much there is to come after. Mid-life means that you have life, not that life is over. There are still things to discover and those boxes left to tick and sometimes you will find what you are looking for right under your nose.

I’ve mentioned this before, but there was a day, a very difficult day, when I allowed myself to cry in front of my mother for the one and only time during her illness. It was the day we told her that my sister had cancer. I knew just how bad my sister’s prognosis was, but kept it from my mother and told her that Michele would live. But the question that I asked in that moment was an all-encompassing “What am I going to do?” Her answer was simply that “You’ll live your life.” I knew then, that she knew more than she was letting on, but I carry those words with me every single day. Not just the words but how she said them. The way she looked at me so emphatically. And that is the best advice that anyone ever gave me.


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You Know You Spend Too Much Time…

…around death when the person that you are ordering the monument from remembers you and the special order that you did for your mother. As I was ordering my sister’s monument, he mentioned how unusual it was; meaning the stone that I ordered. When my mother died, my sister and I wanted something a little different, but you can’t just order whatever you like in some places. I had to go pick the stone out by myself, but I called Michele after figuring out what I wanted to do. I wanted the blue granite from one sample, the carving of another, the shading of yet another, and a tree of life from, yes another stone.

The gentleman felt so badly for me, that he gave me the same price for Michele’s stone as he had for my mother’s. The whole process was so familiar, it took less than 20 minutes. A whole lifetime is summed up on that stone. The day my sister was born, the day that she died. But, there is no in between. Just a few words saying who she was to me, to the other people that loved her and a 5-7 word epitaph. Nothing more – nothing less. Nothing to describe the perpetual ache that I feel not having the person that I trusted the most to confide in. Nothing to describe how brave my sister was. Nothing that completely says who she was.

Sometimes, when I think of my own time, which is rare, I think about what my own 5-7 words be. Then, I realize that it won’t matter, to me at least. It’s the before, not the after that matters in life. After is the “what if” that we all fear because no one can tell us what happens. It’s about faith that there is something better for some, and acceptance that there is nothing else for others. I’m somewhere in between. Just like life is about that in between. There was a poem that my cousin shared about this ]a few years about when her own brother died. It stayed with me – just thinking about the years for my sister 1965-2020. With only 5-7 words to describe that in between – the life that she led

I went for dinner tonight with someone who mentioned that I haven’t blogged in awhile. If he is reading this, thank you – I’ve decided to write tonight because thoughts of that in-between for my sister have been weighing on me and I needed a push to talk about it. Not just because I miss her, but because it’s that in-between that I miss. The way that she understood situations. I can’t fit that on her headstone. The way she could read people. Not enough room. But my heart has the room that I need for those memories. My sister will never be far from it. Even though she is at the end, not the in-between


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Yes…BUT, What Anti-Semitism Is Like

I’ve written about my experiences with Anti-Semitism before, but just gave a little peak into what my world is like. I didn’t give you the whole story because it’s a difficult one to tell. Part of being Jewish is Anti-Semitism. It’s a fact. Part of being Jewish is also the BUTs that come along with the justification for Anti-Semitism. For example:

“I don’t hate all Jews BUT why does Israel insist on…”

“I support Jewish people – I have Jewish friends (always love that one) BUT what Israel is doing.”

“Oh – I didn’t think Jews had their own charities BUT why would they? All Jews are rich!”

“I’m not an Anti-Semite, I love Jews, BUT I am an Anti-Zionist. It’s not the same thing.”

Well, I’m afraid it is, and I’m tired of the buts and qualifications. When I support Black Lives Matter, I do it knowing that they are definitely not Pro-Israel because there are no buts with racism. It’s a because. I support Black Lives Matter, want to stop Asian hate, want Indigenous people to feel honoured and not held back BECAUSE it’s the right thing to do. People comment time and time again on the Israeli-Palestinian issue which is their absolute right. BUT understand that because I am a Zionist doesn’t mean that I’m anti-Palestinian. I am pro-Palestinian, but anti-Hamas and anti-Fatah. And yes, one can be a Zionist and be pro-Palestinian and feel a tremendous amount of sadness for innocent people on both sides. Zionism simply means the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our indigenous homeland – Israel. It isn’t more complicated than that. I also believe having spoken to both Palestinians and Israelis, there is nothing that both want more than peace.

This is not an essay on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is about what I see happening closer to home. There is too much history on the Middle East conflict for me to get into that now. What I see right now in Canada, though disturbs me to the core and the saddest part is that is largely going unreported or it is hidden below the fold on websites. In my lifetime, I have never seen Antisemitism to this extent. I’ve never heard so many BUTs about it. I’ve never seen so many people post anti-Jewish propaganda.

To give you some context – lets look at the TOTAL population of Jews around the world – it’s approximately 15.8 million – that is out of 7.64 billion people. Then let’s look at Canada where I live – it’s 392,000. Jewish Canadians are the most targeted religious group for hate crimes in the country, from a new study from Statistics Canada. Yes, that’s right, Statistics Canada is the source. A group that makes up around 1% of the population is targeted for more hate crimes than any other. Now let that settle in. Remember, your friend, neighbour or family member is a target.

For the first time in my lifetime, I’m seeing Jews beaten in the streets in Canada (again not speaking about the Middle East – I’m speaking about the True North Strong and Free?). A pregnant woman on Bathurst Street in Toronto had rocks thrown at her because she is Jewish. Residents of Thornhill were told not to walk alone after dark if they are Jewish. An older man was beaten up because he is Jewish. This isn’t right and it’s not being covered to the same extent as any other targeted group. If Jews truly owned the media, like we are accused of, don’t you think that there would be better coverage?

Personally, I’ve had people on Instagram where I have an open account send me direct messages that say things like “You play your Holocaust card to Justify the brutality you daily commit in Palestine.” Excuse me? My IG account is not that political. I’ve been called a Jew bitch for sharing Mayor John Tory’s post about Antisemitism not being tolerated. Several people started populating my Instagram page with Palestinian flags under posts of my late mother and sister. I asked one person what a photo for Mother’s Day had to do with anything and instead of a response, they deleted the comment. I will not have the memory of my mother and sister used in a political argument. EVER. And from now on, you want to leave me a trollish comment, I am not going to delete it.

This isn’t about Jews whining (which I’ve seen over and over again on social media and on online news reports). The fact is that it is an incredibly scary time to be a Jew. The statements coming out should be Antisemitism is wrong. No BUTs – no qualifying statements. There is no moral equivalence for racism of any kind. I want you to imagine if you aren’t Jewish, and you know me – really know me. You know that I cared for my mother and sister. You know that my mother, sister and father are all at the very same cemetery. Imagine how you would feel if graves at the very same cemetery were desecrated. I would be devastated. Completely devastated. And before you think I’m an alarmist, think about what I am saying – and know that this is a common happening at Jewish cemeteries. There are no buts.

I will continue to speak out against racism of any sort. BUT all I’m asking you to do for me is to include Antisemitism, the oldest form of racism in there too.


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I Know What I Know

The days go by slow, but the years go by fast…my “frousin” Margo says and it is so true. Every day feels long, but somehow the weeks slip by so quickly. I wake up, and it’s Monday, and I blink and somehow it’s Friday. Day after day, I wake up, and I get out of bed, and shower and get dressed and go on with my life, because that is what I have to do. My mother and sister didn’t fight so hard to live, so that I just lay down and die. That’s what I tell myself every single day. People say, oh you can move on with your life now – but it was never a burden before. I went from caregiver to estate gatekeeper. I went from a daughter and sister to being an orphan. People expect life to go on, and I think that is really their hope. What you are as a mourner is a window to future grief for others. And it’s scary – I know. It is part of life. I know. Sometimes, in the most profound way, moving on with your life is much harder than the high alert situation of being a caregiver.

If you ever have been a caregiver, you know what I mean by this statement. You look at your loved one’s colour. You ask, expectantly, and with a tiny bit of dread and fear, how they are feeling. You take temperatures, listen to breathing, hope that they’ll eat. You listen for coughing. You tiptoe into a room at night to make sure that they are breathing and sleeping peacefully. Sleeping becomes fitful (yours of course). You live in fear daily of what that day may bring or breathe a sigh of relief if the day was a good one.

You learn things that stay with you. Many don’t know this, but here is a sample of what I can do:

-I can give injections, both subcutaneous (yes, under the skin) or through a port

-I can hook up a portable oxygen tank

-I can inject morphine into someone’s mouth through a syringe without wasting a drop

-I can take a pulse

-I can tell you, in detail, what the difference is between HER2+ and HER2- breast cancer

-I can deal with vomit – lots and lots of vomit, get a bag to the person before they throw up and deal with cleanup after

-I can dress weeping wounds gently and carefully, keeping them clean and look out for infection

-I can turn an IV on and off

-I can lift a patient from their bed without hurting them

-I can move them in their bed by myself if I have to, but it is so much easier with help. It is a struggle though

-I can pay attention to details and advocate for a patient with a doctor or nurse if I have to

-I can tell you what a number of different chemo/immunotherapy drugs are, and what side effects my sister and mother had from them

-I can make a person’s final wishes happen and speak to doctors and nurses about what was in their living will

-The hardest thing that I can and have done is tell someone that it’s ok to go – that I’ll be ok and they will too. I’ve had to do this twice, and each time, it cost me so much more than I can explain

I’m not telling you this so that you’ll admire me or pity me. I’m telling you this so that if you are a caregiver too, that you know that there are people that understand. You will never be the person that you were before, and that’s ok. Take your time. You will still have plenty to deal with after – mentally and physically. Think about what you have had to learn to do. It’s a lot isn’t it? It’s even harder during a pandemic with less help available. But you will find a way. All I know is that taking care of the two women in the photo was the greatest thing that I will ever do in my life.


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Musings About My Mother on Her Birthday

My sister Michele would often tell me that I was a suck up. I would tell her that maybe I was just a bit of a Mummy’s girl. She would roll her eyes, shake her head at me and snort “A bit?” I would always say something to annoy her – like my mother and I had a special relationship since we were both youngest children…but the real reason that I was a Mummy’s girl, suck up, or whatever you want to call it is because my mother wasn’t just a good mother, she was a great person. When people give me compliments about her, which has been happening a lot lately, I preen like a swan princess, agreeing, always saying “Yes, wasn’t she just the best?” It isn’t just me being a proud daughter, it’s something that I say with true belief. My mother is, was and always will be someone I deeply admire. Yes, I say it a lot, but it bears repeating for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to know her.

Case in point – actually cases in points….or is it cases in point???? Anyway, neither here nor there…

  1. One night, several weeks ago, not one, not two, but three of my mother’s friends called me to check in on me. In fact, they call me every month. Now, I know that I’m likable (to some, to others, if you don’t like me, I’ve officially reached the age where I don’t care, but I wish you well). They reach out, because they loved my mother, and I’m her daughter. It’s as simple as that.
  2. I decided to stay in my mother’s condo for a number of reasons. It’s well located, well maintained, but mostly, it always felt like my family home. It brings me great comfort to be here for now. The concierges in this building are also so kind to me….because of my mother. When my sister died, they said, “Don’t worry Jill, we’ll look after you.” The head concierge, another concierge and building manager came to my mother’s funeral. When I stood crying over boxes of her things that were being taken away, one came over to me and said, “We understand Jill, we miss her too.”
  3. Speaking of which, it was the building manager who drove me to my sister’s funeral – long story – one day, I’ll feel up to telling it. When I went to drop a gift to him to say thank you, he said, “You know why I did it? I did it for your Mom, she was a great lady.” I of course, starting the aforementioned preening. Sorry, I can’t be modest – she was a great lady. I simply smiled, preened and said “She really was the best, wasn’t she? I’m not just saying that because she was my mother.”
  4. I was on the elevator a few weeks ago with an older couple. The woman asked me if I was new in the building, and I said no, I’d been here for awhile in 1301. She looked confused, so I said I’m Judy Schneiderman’s daughter like that would explain it all. She said, “Oh your mother was such a lovely woman. She always had a smile on her face, no matter how sick she was.” Of course, I said, “She really was lovely, wasn’t she?” I knew at that moment that I needed more originality, my mother, somewhere up there was getting bored with my answers. When I bumped into them again, she once again looked at me, and she said, “Oh, your Judy Schneiderman’s daughter. It’s so nice to see you again. I know I said it before, but your mother was really lovely and never complained.” I felt like leaping around the elevator, but I didn’t want to knock them over, so I simply mask-smiled and said, “She never, ever complained. She was a really great mother too.” Elevator conversations are brief and I didn’t want to follow them down their hallway begging for more compliments about my mother – it would just have embarrassed her – I would have been totally fine.
  5. I just had a conversation with someone tonight who just found out recently that my sister died. We talked briefly about my mother – and she said, “I’d love to meet you for a walk one day. You know, your mother was a really great woman. I always really liked her.” I need to get a grip, that put me into full peacock mode, and I of course said, “She really was great, wasn’t she?” waiting for the desired answer of yes, but not needing the affirmation. I also silently kicked myself for lack of originality.

Days have gone by giving way to years – 3 of them. It feels like yesterday and forever since I last heard my mother speak. If someone talks to me about her on April 15th though, I’ll let them know that this day is the most special day of the year – it was the day that the greatest person to walk (like a turtle at times) the face of the earth was born. My proudest moments in life aren’t when I win an award, enjoy success or anything like that. It’s when I get to tell someone that I’m Judy Schneiderman’s daughter.


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A Eulogy for My Sister

I had such a hard time writing this Eulogy for you Michele. Nothing I wrote seemed to express how important you are and how for the rest of my life, I will make sure that people know that your life had meaning. I realized that part of the reason that I was having such a hard time was because I always read everything that I wrote to you to get your honest opinion. This time, I can’t read it out loud to you for me to catch mistakes and for you to say whether it’s good or bad.

Michele was my oldest sister, and engaged in her fair of torturing me. She told me constantly when I was a child that I was adopted, peed in my Bunny cup and told me it was apple juice and made me play house by cleaning out her drawers – I was the dummy that fell for everything (except the bunny cup). BUT Michele was also my protector, my guardian angel and my best friend.

Michele was always protective. Once, when I was a child, two older boys from her grade were picking on me. Michele picked one up by his collar and said he would be in trouble if he ever came near me again. They were both taller, and brawnier than my sister, but she had them cowering in fear. As we aged, she protected me in different ways but it mostly helped to know that I had someone, who loved me unconditionally and was always, always in my corner.

It’s so hard to summarize what makes a person special in 1200 words or less, especially a person like Michele. But I’ll try.

She was a candy-loving girl scout. You could always count on Michele to have a treat in her bag but also anything else you may need. I would ask her for the most obscure thing possible, and there it was, in my hot little hands. Treat queen, shopping queen or dairy queen – Michele was one of a kind. She was diabetic for a time and would have a cartful of danishes and chocolate, but would eye dried papaya, look at it longingly and then say, “I can’t have it, it’s too high in sugar.”

She was a quiet observer who had simple dreams. She was content with less. She proved that by always loving a deal. Every year, we would go Boxing Day shopping without fail. In 2017, she ended up in the Emergency Room because of a chemotherapy allergy. The next morning, at 6:30, she got up and when I asked her what she was doing, she said – do you think I’d miss out on a sale?

She had such a wonderful relationship with our beloved mother. The three of us spent so much time together over the years. My mother and I would pick on Michele mercilessly. We would jay-walk across the street, but Michele would always walk to the traffic light. We called her the straight arrow – but it was done with love. We would sing, horribly to her, usually something random, like “God Save the Queen” when Mummy would drive us somewhere. Michele would sit in the back seat, shake her head and roll her eyes, but she never complained. I was more like my mother in terms of my Type A tendencies, but Michele was so much like her when it came to strength and determination in the face of unspeakable odds.

Just like our mother, in 2017, Michele was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. The night I found out; I had taken Michele to the ER because she had a swollen arm. I spent so much time caring for my mother’s health that I mentally ran through the possibilities. It couldn’t be congestive heart failure – there was no reason for it. It couldn’t be lymphedema from breast cancer, because Michele didn’t have breast cancer, but it turned out that she did. I have always been given credit for being strong, but that night I fell apart, not able to face that both my sister and my mother shared this burden. Michele stayed strong and promised that she would fight and she did.

She fought through more rounds of chemo than the average person could tolerate. She fought through a hospital stay that nearly killed her. She fought through fear and discomfort with a determination that I’ve only seen in our mother. She never, ever complained. Not when she lost her hair, not when she was overcome with fatigue, never. She was, in the most important ways, my mother’s daughter. My mother was the strongest person I have ever seen but Michele was a close second. During the 6 months crossover when they were both ill, I didn’t know which way to turn, and when I asked each who I should be with, Michele would automatically say our mother and my mother would always say Michele – each selfless, each so strong.

Michele bravely watched as the very disease that she suffered from took our mother’s life. She didn’t roll over and play dead. She lived. She traveled. She went out for dinners and to plays and other surprises that I planned for her to keep her happy and motivated.

I was with Michele through every appointment and nearly every treatment up to the day she died. I held her hand all day that day, and at one point said, “Michele, I love you. Remember I’ve got you here and Mummy has you on the other side – we are both with you. You’ll be ok.” She looked at me for the first time that day clearly, mouthed something, and then, lay down her head and closed her eyes, and peacefully died.

My sister, unbeknownst to me, started asking my cousins and some of our friends to please look after me when she died. Michele knew that when she died, and I lost my immediate family, that although I have a place to live, my heart has lost its home. That without her, I would feel alone and knowing me, would be unable, and maybe unwilling to ask for help. Caring about someone, when you should be worried about yourself is heroic. That was my sister.

I found a journal that Michele had started for me so that I would have something special from her after she died. Procrastinator that she is, she never finished it, but that’s what makes it perfect.  On one of the pages, she wrote “Let me say that I am truly proud of how you have handled everything from Mom & then me. I know I don’t say it because I don’t want you to get a swelled head.  I really want you to know how much I appreciate everything that you have done for me.” Michele, I am so proud of you, you were so much more than you ever realized. You told me that I was your hero. Michele, I love you, and you are my hero. Your memory, along with our mother’s, is my greatest blessing.


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A Eulogy for Michele

I asked my cousin Howie to give a Eulogy for Michele at her funeral. We were all very close, and I know that she would have wanted him to speak. His eulogy was beautiful and heartfelt and perfect for my sister.

I saw two pictures recently that captured the essence of Michele. The first one – a young Michele holding infant, Jill, on her lap. What leaped off the photo was pure joy and love. The joy that Jill brought to Michele’s life and the love that Michele had for her baby sister.  I also think somehow that Michele was smiling so broadly because she knew there would be few times in life like this where Jill wouldn’t talk back to her.

The second picture was a few years later – Michele dressed up in a pant suit, purse in her left hand and the other hand holding hands with Jill. Literally and figuratively, they have always been holding each other’s hands. Their bond was so special and strong that nothing could ever break it.

These two pictures sum up Michele, a devoted daughter to Judy, adoring granddaughter to Nathan and Sara, a loving sister to Jill and a loyal cousin and friend to the people who were a part of her life.

Michele was vivacious, and had a sharp wit about her. Whenever I was about to travel, she must have  marked it  in her calendar to start calling me the week before and each conversation her first words were, “Packed yet?”. She knew I wasn’t but it was her little dig at me. After all, anytime she was set to go somewhere, the bag was probably packed and ready to go from the moment the trip was booked. It didn’t matter where, it didn’t matter when, she was ready to go.

Michele was genuine, straightforward and courageous. I valued her opinion because she never told me what I wanted to hear, she told me what I needed to hear. I drove her to Sunnybrook one day for an appointment with her diabetic doctor. I parked the car and before we got out Michele told me she had cancer. Everything stopped inside of me, she looked at me and said, “Howie…..my mother is a fighter and so am I. I promised her I would fight this and I’m going to keep my word.” Then she got out of the car, and marched into the hospital head held high. Her head was always held high.  Each time Michele would have to change treatments, she would get on the phone with me and say, “I’ve had my pity party, now we move on”.  And move on, she did. Always with Jill at her side and Judy looking over the two of them.

Once her treatments began, the first time I saw her wearing a wig, she pranced around the room showing it off like a crown. That brief action was a testament to how courageous she was and that she was going to fight on her own terms.

During the last nine months, when we had to be especially careful with contact, the majority of our communication was by phone. She always wanted to know where I was going, I would tell her and her response would be “again?” We only saw each other only on a handful of occasions. There are 2 that will always stay with me.  While the weather was still nice, Sandy and I were able to sit on a patio in Yorkville and have dinner with the girls. It gave us a chance to walk together enjoy the weather and just be as though life had not changed.  Sandy and I also were able to spend Rosh Hashanah dinner with Michele and Jill.  It was a special evening and Michele was quite upbeat, teasing Jill about the accomplished cook that she was becoming.

 In the last month, Michele couldn’t speak to me however on Monday I was able to speak with her twice. Even though she didn’t respond I know she heard me. I told her she was brave, courageous I told her I love her.  I know that Michele, Judy, Zaidie and Bobbie will be looking down on Jill to keep her safe and  Michele, I will keep my promise to you to make sure I look after her down here.


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It’s Not All Black and White

The events of the last week, namely the murder of George Floyd by a police officer and the incident in Central Park with Christian Cooper, a Harvard educated African American man who request for leashing a dog ended up with the threat of police action for no reason. Seeing these events unfold were horrifying. When George Floyd, gasping for breath called for his deceased Mama, my heart broke even more. I debated whether I wanted to watch the video, and in the end, I chose to. As horrible as it was, I felt it was important to see with my own eyes something that we can no longer turn away from.

There is a famous Latin quote, ‘Culpae poenae par esto. ‘ Let the punishment fit the crime. George Floyd’s was passing a counterfeit bill. Christian Cooper’s was being in the right place, at the wrong time, trying to enjoy his hobby – bird watching. Ahmaud Arbery’s crime was jogging. Two out of the three were guilty of nothing, and the third made a mistake that a white person would have just received a warning for. The punishment did not fit the crime and neither will the police officer with a charge of third degree murder. Anyone guilty of a hate crime, and let’s not kid ourselves, Arbery and Floyd’s deaths were hate crimes, should have also have that as part of their punishment and sentence.

Christian Cooper said something very interesting:

“Any of us can make — not necessarily a racist mistake, but a mistake,” Mr. Cooper said, “And to get that kind of tidal wave in such a compressed period of time, it’s got to hurt. It’s got to hurt.” He continued with:

“I’m not excusing the racism,” he said. “But I don’t know if her life needed to be torn apart.”

Forgiving words. We all have knee jerk reactions. My first reaction is that Amy Cooper got what she deserved. My friend, who like me, is part of a minority group, said the following about her firing:

“I think people like this should keep their jobs but be on permanent probation. They need to expected to be involved in multi-racial social projects and report back to their supervisors and the community with the hope that this can bring about a greater caring. While keeping their jobs donations will made from portions of their income to social projects. Firing has the potential to increase resentment and more trouble.”

It made me stop for a minute, and think, maybe there is more than one way to look at things. When someone who is racist looks at a black person, their knee-jerk reaction is to think criminal. If you are somewhat open-minded, your first reaction is that Amy Cooper should be fired. But, what if the right answer is somewhere in between? Remember that with anything in life, there is always going to be your version, my version, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Just food for thought.

Cityline host (a Canadian national lifestyle show) Tracy Moore happens to be a woman of colour. She was DM’d by people for speaking out about how white people can make life less frustrating for people of colour. She was told that she is a racist. She used a hashtag that I found interesting #allyisaverb. It’s true. A black person shouldn’t be comforting guilty white people right now, it’s not their job. Imagine if for 400 years, you were enslaved, then freed, then still not having full rights, you finally get some in the 1960s, only to see hatred and bigotry continue on. To see every step forward met with one step back. If you aren’t aware, read. If you don’t want to read a book, find an article. But, don’t make it their job to explain the issues to you. We live in a digital age, use the internet.

Canadians have to stop thinking that we are better than Americans. There are hate crimes here too. As a Jewish woman, I’ve seen so many reports of synagogue being desecrated I’ve lost count. Hate crimes against Jews are on the rise. I live in absolute fear, not that I will be harmed, but that the cemetery where my mother is will be desecrated. A non-minority person never has to even think of this. Imagine having to worry that in an instant, something that you poured your heart into could be destroyed by someone who hates you for how you were born.

There is a debate if Judaism is a nationality, race or religion. Many do not consider me white. That’s fine, I’ll take it. As a minority, I feel that it is my duty to speak out wherever it is possible. To realize that ally is a verb. To hope that our adage of “Never Again” applies not just to a second Holocaust for Jewish people, but for all victims of racism, sexism or hatred of any kind.


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He Only Has One Ball and Other Ways My Mother Made Me Laugh

My mother and I were in the hospital as she was getting another treatment about a year before she died. My mother was in a bed, but there was a gentleman close by in a chair talking LOUDLY about his orchiectomy. I looked a my mother with a question in my eyes because she was very well versed in medical terminology, having worked in my father’s office for so many years. My mother looked at me, and in a very LOUD whisper said “He only has one ball.” I looked at her, and she looked at me, and we were in tears, we were laughing so hard. The gentleman never knew the difference, but he was such a loud talker, every time he got on the phone, my mother and I would mouth “He only has one ball” to each other and each time, we cracked up. Whatever the situation, and no matter how sick she was, my mother either made me laugh or she would find something humorous in a situation. She had an amazing sense of humour and was one of the funniest people that I have ever met.

One of Joe Biden’s (yes, I know, but the quote fits) most famous quotes is that “The day will come when the memory of the person that you lost will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.” The good news is that sometimes, I laugh before the tears come when I think about some of the things that my mother has said and done or just an expression that she had on her face. My tiny mother was the source of so many big laughs over the years. As time goes by, one of my biggest fears is that I’ll forget something that she has said or done or even just her hilarious reactions to my own oopsies. Maybe these stories are just funny to me, but the greatest gift that I can give my mother now is to remember her.

Flirting With the Fireman

I remember the last time that my mother had to go to the Emergency Room. My aunt was in town, and it was October 2017. My mother was short of breath and I was so worried. I called 911, and the firefighters were the first responders on the scene. All of the sudden, my mother, who was so sick, was WIDE AWAKE and started flirting with the fireman, who she thought looked like Tom Selleck. I was trying to give him information to, you know, hopefully save her life, and she asked him to take her to the bar across the street instead of the hospital. He left the room for one minute, but he had a big smile on his face. I was pleading with her to be good for just 5 minutes. She’s said, “Jill, he’s so handsome, I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers.” I was torn between laughing hysterically and scolding her. She had a huge smile, so I told her to be good. She kept flirting with him at the hospital too. I gave up.

The World’s Most Expensive Coconut Cream Pie

I’ve always been gullible and my mother always took advantage of that fact for her own amusement. Every year for our birthday, we get to pick our birthday cake. My mother made the absolute best mocha chiffon cake, but the poor woman had to make it so many times, I decided to give her a break. I prefer pie over cake, so I asked for the coconut cream pie from Scaramouche (a fancy Italian restaurant in Toronto). I had never had it before, and just wanted her to get a slice, but that wasn’t my mother. She bought the pie and informed me that it cost $110 but whatever her baby wants, her baby gets. She bought it about a week before my birthday and left it in the freezer.

Every single day for that week, she reminded me how much it was. She’d make little remarks like, you know, it was expensive, but how could I say no to you? I felt sicker and sicker by the day, and I said when you found out the price, you should have said no. My little Mummy told me that she would never do that to me, but she wasn’t sure if I was worth every penny. The day arrives, and I’m sick over it. I’ve never been big on my birthday on a good year, but I felt so selfish. It’s birthday cake time, and I was MISERABLE thinking how could I have made my mother spend that much money. She looked at me, with the BIGGEST smile on her face and said, “What, are you stupid? Did you really think I’d spend $110 on a pie? Jesus Murphy (still not sure who he is, but my mother said Jesus Murphy often) you are gullible. It was $35. Now get that look off of your face and put a smile on it.” I said you were stringing me along this whole time? My mother said, “You bet, and you fall for it every single time. It’s like taking candy from a baby” She killed herself laughing, and then, after berating her for taking advantage of the weak and the helpless, I joined in.

You Look Like a Hooker

My mother was bed-ridden and for the first little while, she had many different care givers until we got her into a routine with the favourite five that would take over. I came to see her just about every day, to check and make sure that she was ok, especially when someone new was there. I walk in, and let’s just say she was wearing makeup from a bad fairy tale. Yes, her lips were as red as blood, but it was her eyebrows that were as black as ebony and Snow White didn’t wear bright green eyeshadow or smudge jet black eye pencil around her eyes. I took one look at her and started laughing and so did she. She said that they woman was trying to be nice and make her feel good by putting some makeup on her. Now, my mother and I both have an inappropriate sense of humour, so half of the things that I find hysterically funny, will never be written. She could also laugh at herself and I never needed a filter around her.

I said, “You look like a cheap hooker. I’m going to take you down the street and sell you for $5 for 5 minutes.” My mother, almost always had an answer for everything and she looked at me and said, “Oh Jill, your awful. I couldn’t last five minutes.” Me, “Ok, I’ll bring the stretcher down and sell you for one minute, there is a market for everything.” My mother said, “Well, you aren’t wrong.” Then we both cracked up. Yes, I know – no harm is meant by this comment.

She Gave Me Fudge

During my mother’s illness, I was constantly in a state of high alert. I constantly had to advocate for her. My goal was for her to spend any energy that she had on herself and things that she enjoyed. I was the squeaky wheel at the hospital going 48 hours before her treatment, telling them that she would need a bed and that they needed to make a note and put it on the white board. The receptionists would always remind me that they don’t hold beds, and I would always politely tell them that I knew that this wasn’t the case and that I would wait until her name was down for one.

I was the one who dealt with the pharmacists, the doctors, the lab, and the list went on and on. My mother needed an emergency blood transfusion about two months before she died and they did not have a bed for my bed ridden mother. Her caregiver and I were together, and I was having a fit. I reminded the nurse about the compression fracture that my mother had in her spine. I reminded her that she was very sick. She told me that there were other sick people as well. I reminded her that I wasn’t insensitive, but were they as sick as my mother, for she was the only patient that I cared about.

Anyway, long story short, we did not bond. I was doing my usual, my mother needs this, and this, and what if this happens, etc. The nurse condescendingly told me that there was only supposed to be one person with my mother and either I or the caregiver would need to leave. I always got along with my mother’s nurses, but this one was a piece of work. My mother looked at me, and said, “I’m fine Jill, it’s ok.” and she meant it. I also didn’t want to stress her out, so I said fine, but I’m coming back. Her wonderful caregiver gave me a look like huh? Did that just happen?

I get back about 2 hours later, and my mother is snuggled up in a bed eating fudge, her favourite food of all time. She had a huge smile on her face, and she said the following, “Hi Jill. I told you I was fine. The nurse was so nice. I don’t know why you didn’t get along with her. She got me a bed about ten minutes after you left. And look, she gave me fudge.” Me, “She was horrible to me and Narda agreed (one of her wonderful caregivers). Are you telling me that all it takes for you to forget that fact is some fudge?” She said “You bet.” and popped another piece in her mouth. I told her that in no uncertain terms that she was a brat who could be bribed.

Forever Lost

My mother had the absolute worst sense of direction. She was a great driver though. If she drove us somewhere, she would always go the wrong way. Sadly, it didn’t matter that she was in the car with my sister and I who know the city, she still, somehow got it wrong. Every time I would tell her to go east, she would say “Never you mind with your east, west, north and south, just tell me right or left.” My sister would tell her to turn right. Of course she would turn left and we would be lost in suburbia. I would always spot the way to a major intersection and she would somehow follow those directions. Then she would say, without a trace of irony, “Wasn’t that nice? You got to see a new neighbourhood.” My sister and I would roll our eyes, but then we would all crack up.

There are so many more things that my mother did that were even more funny, I could write a book. Mother’s Day now, reminds me of being the kid who has to stand outside the candy store and can’t come in. I know that this year is different with the self-quarantine, but every email with a Mother’s Day reminder from a retailer or hearing people talk about what they are going to do with their mother stings. I know that it always will, but I will be forever grateful that I had such a wonderful mother.