Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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2018: The Beautiful Awful

People posted their top nine moments of 2018 all over Instagram. My moments of the year are likely different than a lot of others. They are what I think of as the beautiful awful. When my mother died 321 days ago, on March 3 (yes I know how many days it has been), my life changed forever. I knew that 2018 would be the year that I would lose her and I knew that I would feel profound sadness, but I also did not realize that in that grief, there would also be moments of beauty.

My mother was an exceptional person, not just OK, not just a wonderful mother, but exceptional. She suffered with a smile on her face and even though she was in pain, in her final days she was surrounded by so much love and so much genuine affection, she had the death that she deserved. In the weeks leading up to what we knew was imminent, I saw quiet moments with her sister just holding her hand. I had my cousin, her son, come by to see her, putting a smile on her face. I remember her singing Happy Birthday to him – those are the last words that I remember her saying. I remember calling him one day, in tears, but getting his long time girlfriend instead, and she told me that what I was feeling was normal; she had lost her mother a few years before and reassured me that it was OK to feel this wave of grief. I remember my cousins in Florida asking me if we needed them there and when I said yes, they packed up everything and came and they acted like it was no big deal. I remember their daughter coming over and keeping my mother’s spirits up, knowing how bad it was. I remember my other cousins coming, surrounding my mother with love. I remember them comforting me and my sisters. There were always at least a dozen people around all day, everyday. I remember them forcing me to go out, go for a walk to get some air. I remember my friends offering to come, even though my mother was so terribly sick.

I remember the palliative doctor and nurse being so kind, and telling us how to ease her into death, not just by pain relief, but by just continuing to talk to her, even if she wasn’t conscious. The nurse hugged us and told us that she could feel the love in the room. I remember her care givers treating her so gently, and with so much love. The last night of her life, I remember we were all with her. One, by one, everyone got ready for bed. I was going to be up for a long time, and I was sleeping in bed with her at night to give her injections. When it was just me, and her caregiver (my sister literally left the room), I was holding her hand and she slipped away so quietly and so peacefully that there was even something beautiful in that moment.

There was beauty at her funeral. When she was buried, it was warm and sunny for a winter day. At the exact moment, when her casket was being lowered, it got warmer, and just a little brighter. I thought I imagined it, but when I looked at my sister and said, “Did you feel that, it just got warmer?”, she was looking at me, saying the same thing. We had so many people looking out for us the week of her shiva (the Jewish week of mourning and visitations) and in the weeks after, that it took awhile for reality to set in. I remember the first night of her shiva, my friend, who is my cousin, wanted to do something, anything, and he and his wonderful partner made all of the beds (including one on the floor and one on a chaise lounge). When I started to cry, they understood it was because it had been almost a year and a half since I had seen my mother’s bed made – she had been in it for so long. Even throughout the year, long after her death, her friends, and our family, continue to look out for us, and to remind us how much she is still loved, even if she is no longer here.

I will also remember how people have rallied around my sister while she continues to go through chemo. Our friends and family always call to check up on us. Our cousin always picks us up after her appointment and her doctor and nurses so clearly want the best for her that it warms my heart to go to her appointments. When I broke my ankle, our cousins and her friend were there to take my place at chemo. My sister continues to do as our mother did and not let this be all about her disease. She makes the most of her good days and takes it easier on the rougher ones, but she so rarely complains.

When I broke my ankle and needed surgery in the late summer, it was just one more thing in a year crowded with challenges. Even though the situation sucked, there were still moments that I will never forget. My friend staying in the ER with me, even though I tried to send her home numerous times. She was even there when they re-set my bone. There was my guardian angel of the ankles, showing up the day of my surgery and name dropping so that the doctors knew that I was not just an ordinary patient. He not only kept my sister company, but checked on me daily, reminding me that it is a marathon, not a sprint to get better. There was my dear friend who waited with my sister too and got me home. He took me out in my wheelchair a few times (and laughed at me each time). I had more than 50 visitors in the 6 weeks that I was laid up, from my food-delivering cousins to my close friends who baby sat me reminded me of their own injuries and those of their family when I was getting impatient keeping me entertained to my sweet (but feisty) British friend who has also been my life mentors and to everyone in between. I had one pity moment, but remembering my mother’s strength got me through that.

The last year left me a little bit more fragile than I have been before. Author Mary Gordon once wrote, “A fatherless girl thinks all things are possible and nothing is safe”. In my case, I would say, it’s a motherless girl. I still believe that all things are possible, but I no longer have the safety net of my biggest fan, harshest critic, comic relief and advice giver. This New Year, I decided to stop looking back at my old resolutions and try to figure out what my new ones would be. I’m going to be a little kinder to myself this year and just do as my wise mother suggested and live my life. Luckily, I have the beauty of memories of my little Mummy and her words of wisdom still with me whenever I need them.

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An Evening at Look Good Feel Better

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Photo courtesy of GK! Thanks to PY for the special background.

In October, my sister Michele was diagnosed with breast cancer.  This was particularly difficult for my family, as my mother was fighting her own battle with the disease.  In the first few months, while my sister was adjusting to her busy appointment schedule, her chemo side effects and just the need to be available to be with our mother on days that she was feeling up to it, I didn’t want to broach going to a workshop with her.  She was handling everything like a champ, but if you knew how many appointments that she had you would be overwhelmed.

After some time passed, and we were clear on what side effects she would have from her treatment, I brought it up.  I thought it would be nice for us to go together and for my sister to have something to look forward to.  Just to be candid, Michele LOVES makeup.  She’s been wearing it since her teens and has a good idea of what looks good on her and she certainly isn’t afraid of colour.  Weirdly, no matter what she thinks, I’m always shocked at how good she looks, even without makeup.  This was surprising to me – I wasn’t sure what to expect.  She has been unbelievably accepting of losing her hair, and has a GREAT wig.  She still has some of her eyebrows too.  Anyway – she agreed to go to the workshop, so being Type A, I signed her up online and made sure that I could attend.  Each person attending can bring one guest – they won’t receive the goodies, but they are able to be there for moral support.

We went to Princess Margaret Lodge on February 27.  It’s set up in a conference room, and each attendee going through chemo or other cancer related treatment walks out with a bag full of cosmetics and skin care.  It’s laid out for the women since they use the products during the workshop. It was a pretty full class, and the volunteers take you through a presentation about Look Good Feel Better, and some of the challenges that patients have in dealing with the appearance based side effects of the disease.  Some of the patients were happy to be there and get tips on how to “Look Good”.  One person actually wasn’t emotionally ready for the workshop and left.

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After they did the initial presentation, they wanted someone from the group to volunteer to be the makeup model.  No one volunteered so I said, in my loudest voice, “Michele?”  My sister was pretty excited to model, so she happily took her place at the front of the class, and even though I couldn’t be the centre of attention, I got to live vicariously through her.  She was already wearing makeup, so after taking a chisel, oops makeup wipe, she was ready to be made pretty all over again, while the rest of the class followed the step by step instructions from the makeup artist.  To finish things off, my sister tried on a whole bunch of wigs – some of them looked really cute on her, one made her look a little like Morticia Addams, but hey, you don’t get to pick everything.  The women got to shout out which ones they wanted her to try.

I would highly recommend Look Good Feel Better to any woman who is going through cancer treatment.  You may think that you already know a lot about how to apply make up and skincare, but things change when you are going through treatment.  You have to learn tips for complexions that may be drier and more sallow, how to pencil in eyebrows and how to fake the look of having lashes.  It’s a really nice evening or daytime workshop and gives you the chance to think about yourself.  I think my sister was more excited by the free stuff, but then again, she’s always loved a freebie – trust me it’s part of her charm.  Seriously though, cancer takes so much from patients, a little pick me up and a way to feel better about yourself is well worth the time.  The volunteers are knowledgeable, kind and compassionate and the cosmetic companies should be commended for the donations to the program.

One recommendation that I would make to any woman going through a treatment where you will lose your hair – make getting a wig a priority.  Do this before your treatment, that way you are prepared when the time comes and you are feeling well enough to try them on.  You have to make an appointment with a wig shop – you can’t just walk in and try them on.  If you have benefits, many companies cover off between $300-$500 as long as you have a doctor’s note.  We also found out that you shouldn’t shave your head – it can lead to nicks that can get infected – a big nono for someone whose immune system is going to be compromised.  Michele bought her wig in advance, and our cousin Gail went with her.  She sent me a photo and it was perfect!  They both played a joke on me telling me that Michele wasn’t going to buy the wig that day. Hardy-har har.  They were just teasing to see what kind of reaction they would get out of me.  Sigh.  I think that my sister was glad to get the wig, and it is one less thing to worry about when there is so much going on already.

For more information or to register for a workshop go to https://lgfb.ca/en/ 

If you’ve attended the workshop, and have feedback, I’d love to hear about it!