Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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My Father and the Little White Box

A few months ago, I received a message from my step-sister letting me know that she had some of my father’s things and offered to ship them to me. This was very kind given that we only met once. My father and I had a strained relationship at best. I am not going to get into the details. It is no longer a factor in my life, and even though I had issues with my father, I do not have Daddy issues. To be fair to someone who cannot defend themselves, those problems belong in the past. I forgave my father a long time ago. I am writing about it today because it is the fourth anniversary of my father’s funeral.

I was curious to see what would be in the box and two padded envelopes that were coming. Maybe a piece of information that would help me understand my father a little, maybe an unseen photo of my mother (likely not) or even my mother’s parents. The box and packages came separately, and when I opened them, it was a lot of family photos from my father’s side of the family. I didn’t really know many of the people. There were a couple of photos of me, and many more of my sisters (the curse of being the youngest child). They also contained his medical diplomas, a cub scout hat from when he was a child, two rings (his medical school ring and a class ring) and finally a digital watch and a couple of other men’s “fashion” watches.

The items themselves didn’t make me feel much of anything. What saddened me the most was that his life came down to a little white box. Imagine living for 83 years, and that is your legacy. I think about my mother, and her life was so much more. Recently, I had a charity come and pick up most of her clothes, some kitchenware, books, cds, toys and a few knick knacks. It was just under 20 boxes and bags. I’ve thrown out 8 garbage bags of things and gave another couple of bags to a senior’s home. Her house is still crowded with her life, her things. My mother had a bigger life. She had interests. She was an artist – a pottery and needlepoint buff. She had so many photos and other treasures. It is all proof to me that she was once vibrantly alive.

My father didn’t have a big life. He was all about his medical practice. He enjoyed gardening and reading, but he was also very introverted. My mother had a presence about her. I remember watching her at her sickest moments, noticing that she still had a spark – a will to live. When I saw my father in February of 2015 for the first time in almost 20 years, it would also be the last time that I saw him. He was gravely ill, but even worse, he didn’t have that energy, that will, that my mother did. My mother’s death left me aching for her presence, but comforted in the fact that I can see that her life had meaning, because of what she created and because of the impact that she had on people. My father’s death left me sad for a person that didn’t have an anchor. When I grieve for my mother, I grieve for her loss and for what I lost. When grieved for my father, it was for the things that I never had. Now what I have is that little white box.


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One Year…

“What is it like?” I was asked by a woman who shall remain nameless. “What is what like?”, although I knew the answer before she told me….”What does it feel like when you lose your mother? I’m so close to mine that I can’t even imagine…” She looked at me pleadingly, and I asked her if she really wanted to know and she nodded. “It’s a ache in your heart that just never goes away. It is a nervous buzzing in your stomach that gives you a feeling of always being on edge. It is a lump in your throat that you cannot swallow away. You cry in unexpected places at unexpected times because you saw a mother with her child and it made you miss yours. There is the feeling that you are seeking something that you can no longer find. The best days are bittersweet because you can’t share your happiness with the person that would take the most joy from it. The difficult days are even harder because your mother is no longer there to comfort you. That is the best way I can describe it.” She looked at me with such shock and horror that I almost regretted telling her.

Grief has become my comfort and my foe. It is always there, a feeling like a dam that can burst at any time. It is a comfort because it has been a constant, and it is my foe because of how easy it could be to just be about it. I feel myself moving on, but more because that’s what I know that my mother would want, and even in death, I cannot disappoint her. Days go by quickly, and in some ways in slow motion. People expect after a period of time that your mourning has ended once you get through all of the firsts, but I want to tell them that it is just the beginning. I’ve had half of my life with my mother, and I will likely have to live without her for almost as long. A year, a day, really, it’s the same. When I have a bad day, I remember a moment when I was beside myself, wondering what I would do without her, and how I could cope with my sister’s illness. When I said to her, “Mummy, what am I going to do?” She said, simply, and knowing what I meant, “You’ll live your life.”

When I think about my mother, I think of the silly little things that I miss. They make me smile when it is one of those days. In no particular order, they are:

  1. She would say, “I’m not happy.” and I’d ask her “So which one are you?” and she’d say, “Dopey.” Get it? Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  2. When I was in her little storage room/office, I’d drop something, and she would say, “Is that you Dayo (her nickname for me)?” At first it would be lovingly said, then as I’d drop something else or hit my head as I always did, she would say, “JILL – what the eff are you doing in there?” Patience was not her strong suit, but it was funny.
  3. When she had one of her road rage moments in the car, giving someone the finger and swearing at them, and then looking at me with a big smile on her face as I barked like a dog at her.
  4. Laughing so hard at something together, that we were in tears, hyperventilating. This happened often and never stopped, no matter how sick she got.
  5. Sitting on the subway with her, as she stared at some weirdo or someone with a mohawk or who looked like they were carrying a knife, and me telling her to stop staring, that she was going to get stabbed, and she would continue to stare anyway while I rolled my eyes at her.
  6. Going to anything and being in the audience with her. My mother didn’t applaud like everyone else, she cheered and whooped loudly and proudly as my heart sank with embarassment at her.
  7. My sister is the treat queen and often hid candy at my mother’s, because my mother never found a cookie, cake, candy or pie that she didn’t like. She somehow always found the stash. One day, she told me to get her the jujubes that my sister had hidden, but when I went to get them for her, there were only green, yellow and black ones left. My mother had eaten all of the red and orange ones. She told me to go put the bag away, she didn’t like those colours and to get her something else. BRAT.
  8. The squeak of horror when she opened a menu on the one day a year, her birthday, that she would let us take her for dinner. Well, she didn’t allow us to take her, I had to tell her that it wasn’t gracious to rob us of the joy of taking her out. She was miserable, and acted like she had never seen the prices on the menu before, as she tsk-ed at each item. I also had to tell her if she ordered water and bread sticks, that we would take her out until she ate like a lady.
  9. The frantic phone call that I received when there was rain or snow. I also had to reassure her that I had an umbrella and/or a winter coat that I would zip up – every single time.
  10. Her shaking her head at me, with a big smile on her face, when I would do or say something silly.
  11. Her big smile when she would give me the finger.
  12. Her big smile when I walked in a room.
  13. Her big smile….

My mother had an amazing smile – it lit up her whole face. It was like she put everything she had into it. My mother was tiny, but her presence was so large. She filled a room even though, she took up so little space. Not a day goes by that I don’t get a little teary remembering something that she did or said. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember her strength and that is what gets me through missing her. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars that I had the world’s best mother. I think of a quote that I read at my mother’s funeral – “How lucky I am to having something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” How lucky indeed.


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A Eulogy And More

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One day, I was rolling my eyes at my mother as she said something completely inappropriate.  I told her that just because she is older doesn’t mean that she can say everything that she thinks.  She corrected me immediately, and said, “Oh Jill, that’s where you are wrong.  I don’t just say everything I think, I say everything that I feel, and I feel a lot.”  At the time, I laughed, because in true Mummy fashion, it was a pretty funny statement, and she had a little evil gleam in her eye – the one that she got when she thought that she was getting away with something.  Well, Mummy, I feel a lot too.  I feel happy that you were my mother, but so sad that you aren’t here with me right now.  Not quite two weeks ago, on March 3, my mother died.  I’m lucky to have so many memories, but as some of you know, losing a loved one is hard.  Over the next little bit, you are going to be hearing more about her, and the process of putting it all back together again. I thought I’d start with my Eulogy for her:

Karl Geurs and Carter Crocker once wrote: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.” That tomorrow came sooner than we all hoped but this quote described to me everything that I’ve ever needed to know about our wonderful mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, cousin and friend, Judy.

Mummy – you are the bravest person in the world.  Forgive me, I can’t use the past tense just yet.  It’s too soon to think of a world without you.  You re-started your life, moving to Toronto, making an entirely new network of friends through bridge and pottery.  You tried new things, you were open to living a new life and you kept your old friends in the process.  You did things on your own and never complained.  You faced the deaths of so many people that you loved, including your parents, our beloved grandparents, Nathan and Sara Zelikovitz, your aunts and uncles and cousins that you were so close to.  You continued to fight throughout your illnesses surprising even the doctors with your determination and moxie.  You constantly surprised everyone else, including me with your chutzpah and hilarity.  You are the only person that I know that could be bribed by fudge and jelly beans.

At under 5 feet tall, you never looked like you could take on the world, but you are definitely the strongest person that I’ve ever met.  You suffered more than you ever should have with the pain and fatigue from cancer – especially near the end.  You bounced back after not just one, but two heart attacks.  Your other issues could fill a medical journal, yet you so rarely complained.  We used to joke around with each other about your illnesses – either calling you a disease of the week movie or telling you that I never knew which charity walk to do for you, Heart and Stroke, Breast Cancer, Diabetes or Gout.  You would always say – do the walk for gout – no one ever does that one because it hurts so damn much that no one can walk.    You are such a survivor that I called you a cockroach, saying that you, and only you could survive a nuclear war.  I asked you once “Mummy, how do you do it?” and you said “How do I do what?” and I said “Survive” and I’ll never forget your answer.  “Because, I want to live”.  And live you did.

You lived a big life.  You had many friends; a close family and so many of us loved and admired you.  You had a curious nature, a wicked sense of humour, a bratty disposition, but you were the most caring person.  You worried about everyone when the weather was poor.  A drop of rain on the ground was the only thing, aside from mice that you ever seemed to fear.  Not for yourself, but for your children.  I always got a frantic call from you warning me of the rain or snow.  I had to reassure you that I had a coat and umbrella with me but unless I was at home, you were still fearful that sweet little me would melt.  You were modern in thought and always told us that women could do anything that men could do (except maybe open a jar and kill a spider).   You cared for and sacrificed for us and we won’t forget that.

I hope that we can all be as brave as you are Mummy.  When you lose your mother, you feel so alone in the world.  That person, the only person in some cases, that knows your history is lost to you forever.  I know that you’d want us to go on, and live and stay strong, and we will, but it’s going to be so hard without your love and guidance which brings me to the fact that you are smarter than you think.  You are brilliant Mummy – although you have the worst sense of direction.  You were forever lost, turning the wrong way; never understanding east, west north and south.  You always wanted us to tell you right and left, and then you’d just turn in whatever direction you felt like going, which was always the wrong one.  You were gifted in every other way though.

You weren’t just quick-witted; you were smart in a way that many of us just are not.  You read people and situations.  You predicted outcomes.  You were world-wise, but not world-weary. You were an artist – yes I admit it.  Your pottery wasn’t flawed, maybe just a little tilted in some cases, but it really is art.  You made jewelry, needlepointed and were an amazing cook.  You weren’t just a giver of advice (whether I wanted it or not), you were my financial advisor, my doctor, my home economics teacher, my lawyer and my everything.  We all don’t know what we are going to do without your wisdom.  I’m guessing that we’ll pick up the phone to ask you a question and realize that thanks to you, we may already know the answer after our heart breaks a little knowing that you won’t be at the other end of the call.

Mummy – you will be missed by all of us more than you will ever know.  I hope that you knew how much you are loved, admired and respected.  You are without a doubt, the person that I look up to the most in the world.  We were all so lucky to have you in our lives.  Your doctors once said to you that the goal for you was to live the best life that you can, for as long as you can, and that you did.  I’d like to say that cancer didn’t beat you – you beat cancer.  Cancer never robbed you of who you are as a person.  You were always, thankfully still your brave, strong, smart self.  You were the brat that made us all laugh and the loving person that is making all of your friends and family cry right now.

To close, a quote by AA Milne that perfectly sums up how I’m feeling today – “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  How lucky indeed, Mummy.  I love you, good-bye for now.

XOXO


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What’s the Black Ribbon For and Other Ways of Dealing With Loss…

The loss of a parent, regardless of the relationship that you may have had with them is difficult in a way that can’t really be put into words.  When you aren’t close, it opens you up to a different type of grieving.  Maybe it’s the loss of possibility that I’m grieving now or the loss of hope – I can’t really describe to you what it is.  The reality is, that everyone’s experience is unique to them.  I can give you all of the tips and tricks that have worked for me in getting through this last month, but they may not work for you – everyone is different.  The one thing that I know for sure is that in death and mourning, there is no real right or wrong, you have to do what feels right for you.

Since this is a blog about taking Dr. Oz’s advice, I checked his website and found a video featuring Dr. Richard Smith.  He laid out the three stages of grief – these really didn’t apply to me, but I’ll share them with you anyway:

  • Stage one – loss of control, denial and a lack of reality…maybe even anger.  This totally didn’t apply to me.  In some ways, the death of my father has been easier than I thought, in some ways more difficult, but I’ve never, for a minute been angry or in denial over what happened.  Maybe, because it was expected, maybe because no matter how early it was, I did get to say a needed good-bye or maybe because there isn’t a one size fits all on death and mourning, but I never went through any part of this stage.
  • Stage two – persistent sadness and emptiness…this one, I’m not sure of.  It’s a complicated situation.  After the funeral, and when I went back to work, I could easily focus on the job at hand.  As time has moved on, there have been weeks where I felt numb inside.  I could even watch a sad dog video and not cry.  Just numb and in some ways, on auto pilot saying and doing the right things and what is expected of me. I have had a lot of other things that have needed my attention though, and maybe that’s why I feel more myself than I perhaps should.
  • Stage 3 – reinvest with other people.  It’s too soon for this one I think.

Sorry, I wish I could tell everyone that there is an exact process to follow, but there isn’t.  I’m not religious, but one thing that helped me, was taking part in some of the observances that Jewish people following the death of an immediate family member.  The practice of K’riah (literally ‘tearing’) just prior to the funeral, where the mourners rip and a black ribbon and continue to wear it for 30 days has helped me.  It is supposed to be symbolic of loss, and permanent scarring to your life at the loss of one so dear to you.  For me, it was a reminder that whenever I had any doubt, that my father was no longer here.  People would ask me what the little black ribbon was for and I’d explain that my father had passed away.  Each time I said it, it made it more believable to me.  I went to synagogue to say Mourner’s Kaddish (a traditional prayer for the dead) during Shloshim – the 30 days of mourning after the funeral.  I did this 3 times, and again, I’m not religious, but having a process to follow brought me comfort.

The one thing that was most helpful was going to the cemetery by myself a few days after the funeral.  I went because I didn’t have any time at the end of my father’s life to say the things that I needed to say and I wasn’t afforded the opportunity at the funeral.  I spent ten minutes there, but it made everything so much better for me.  I had the whole place to myself, and I just stood there and said (mostly in my inside voice) what I felt at that moment.  It didn’t take long, but for me it was time well spent.  Sometimes, it’s not about getting every question answered or “getting closure” that counts, it’s about taking the time that you need, for yourself.  I know that I may never really understand my father and I know that he likely didn’t understand me, but that’s ok.  I understood, in that moment, that I didn’t need either, I just needed quiet time to process everything and it helped.  What surprised me was how little time I needed there.  I knew that I wasn’t going to get a sign from my father that he was there with me, and I was also ok with that.  I went with no expectations, and I left with even fewer but being there helped a realist like me, in ways that I just can’t explain.  You will never get time back, especially time to deal with complex emotions – so take what you need for yourself.

Some people have gone above and beyond, and I know that I’ve thanked them for everything that they have done – make sure, no matter how sad you may be to do that.  Everyone deserves to be appreciated and when times are tough, and people go out of their way to help, let them know that you value them.  You will get through your loss whatever it may be and there will be days, which may come sooner than you think where you will feel exactly like yourself.  I know for me, that writing about how I feel about this has been cathartic, but I’m at the point now where I just want to write about fluffier, more enjoyable things.  Maybe one day I’ll want to revisit this time in my life, that’s the beauty of having your own blog – you can write about what you feel like, and when it’s time, you can let it go…