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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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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All Roads (Flights) Lead Here

I leave for a media trip to Israel and I was asked to write a tweet about what I was looking forward to the most.  In so few characters and with a more general audience, it’s hard to put what I’m feeling into words.  I kept it simple and said the White City in Tel Aviv and the Old City in Jerusalem. Of course, experiencing the blend of modern and ancient that Israel possesses is incredible. I am happy to be doing everything from a tour of the Soda Stream factory to being moved by once again visiting Yad Vashem to seeing the beautiful Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.  There is one thing that I am looking forward to more than that though.  It’s not a place – it’s a feeling.

When I visited Israel for the first time in 2006, I was overwhelmed by many things.  What stood out to me the most though, was not the history of the country itself, although that was impressive, it was the knowledge that I stepped off of a plane and into a place that held so many memories for the people who were the most important to me.  My grandparents, Nathan and Sara Zelikovitz, visited in the late 1960’s and fell in love with this new nation.  My parents visited the country in the 1980’s and could not stop raving about it.  It was, and is, still a very important part of our family history.

When my mother passed away 4 months ago, I made a promise to myself to find ways to honour her memory whenever and wherever I could.  I never thought that I would be travelling so soon after her death, but when my friend Shai asked me about coming, one thought really struck me. I could say Mourner’s Kaddish (a prayer that you say for 11 months after the death of a parent or for 30 days after the passing of a child, spouse or sibling) for my mother at The Western Wall – the holiest site where I can pray as a Jew.  I am not religious in the least, but my mother was spiritual, and this is something that I can do for her and it will be especially meaningful in the land that she loved so much.  Once I finish, I will put a paper in the wall with what is believed to be, a written prayer to G-d.  Spoiler alert – it will be prayers of good health for my family, particularly, my oldest sister Michele who is also battling breast cancer.

On my first trip to Israel, I wanted a picture at the Wall simply because my grandparents and parents had photos from there and it was a chance for me to recreate a moment in time, even if my relatives could not be with me.  This time, my wish is that somehow, my mother will feel that I am doing this for her and that my grandparents will know too.

Not too long ago, when I was cleaning out my mother’s papers, I came across some letters that my grandmother wrote about her own trip to the country.  She wrote about how much she and my grandfather loved it and were so excited to be there.  She said that at dinner one night, they were served oranges from a grove that my grandfather owned, and he was bursting with pride.  I can picture the look on my quiet, unassuming Zaydie’s face.  To know that I’m going to be back in this country, a place that was so important to my family and to be able to honour my wonderful mother is what I am most looking forward to.

 


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The Bravery Bell

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“Promise me you’ll remember, you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne, Christopher Robin.

In many hospitals that have chemotherapy wards, you’ll find a Bravery Bell.  The idea is that any cancer patient that finishes their last chemo session gets to ring it, much like the bells that end a round of boxing.  I’ve had the opportunity on several occasions to hear the bell ring, and each time, it brings a smile to my face and wish that I could join the systemic care team in applauding the latest patient that completed their treatment.  The last time that I heard it ring though, it also made me think about so many things.

Many patients with cancer face a different type of battle – their chemo never ends.  Are they any less brave than the ones who get to complete their treatment?  Shouldn’t they get to ring the bell too?  Others are treated with radiation – when their treatments end, they don’t have a bell to ring.  How about the family members that accompany the patients to their treatments, trying not to show any outward signs of fear, even though inside they are terrified of what their loved one will go through.  Trying every day to lift their spirits, trying to feel hope even when there may not be any.  Aren’t they brave too?

How about the wonderful nurses that provide such diligent care to each and every patient in the Chemotherapy Centres.  The nurses that quietly make sure that each and every patient is comfortable and warm and that their families are clear on what will happen.  The nurses who care about patients when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable.  If I could, I’d ring the Bravery Bell for them.  How about the doctors, no matter what the discipline, that contact patients and family members to reassure them and answer each and every one of their questions.  They too should get to ring that bell.

Cancer is the great equalizer.  Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, straight or gay, male, female or transgender, it doesn’t discriminate – anyone can get it.  It is unique in that the cure or the life prolonger often makes you sicker than the disease.  It makes patients, families, health care providers and care givers braver than they ever thought possible.

To learn more about the Bravery Bell and the nurse who brought it to Princess Margaret Hospital, click here https://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2015/09/19/for-donna-the-bravery-bell-tolls.html


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Happy Birthday to You…

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(Photo courtesy of Michele’s birthday in 2015)

…Mummy!  I know that it may be awhile before you read this, but the sentiment will keep.  If I ever had any doubt about the type of person that you are (which I never have), the outpouring of love and affection from your family, friends, doctors (who else can charm the uncharmable into loading them up with pastries) and even the people who work in your building are a lesson to me on how to live a good life.  Whenever people talk about you to me, it’s always about how wonderful you are, what an inspiration you are, how sweet, and how you never complain.  It’s all true (except you, sweet?  Please.).

I’ve seen first hand your triumphs and your challenges.  Your triumphs are usually winning a bet with me like our Super Bowl bet.  In my defence, I know nothing about football, but at least I never welch when it’s time to pay up like some people that I know.   Nothing makes you happier than beating me – luckily for me, I don’t lose often.  Although you may lose the odd bet, you are one of the sharpest people that I know.  You are also quite a little socialite.  Your phone never stops ringing – another testament to how much you are loved by your family and friends.

I admire you for so many reasons, too numerous to count really, but watching you face adversity this last while has really shown me what you are made of.  You never quit, you never give up, and I’ve never been prouder of you.  Whenever I was sick as a child, you would come into my room as I lay in bed, checking on me, taking my temperature, or just trying to comfort me.  You looked down at me, and I looked up at you, reassured that I would feel better soon because you were there to take care of me.  I know that it’s frustrating to now be in a position where the roles are reversed, but I still look up to you.  That won’t change.

You are still the strongest, smartest, funniest woman that I know.  You have a curiosity and interest in so many different things.  You have the best sense of humour.  I’m glad that we still have moments where we can laugh.  I’m grateful to be your daughter, and I’m so grateful to get to celebrate another birthday with you.

 


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When A Goose Attacks

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Image courtesy of Buzzfeed

“I was attacked by a Canada Goose” said a text from my middle sister.  “The coat or the animal?” I quickly wrote, eager to find out if my sister was strong-armed by a sales person trying to pawn one of the  jackets before the season ended.  Most people can’t even afford the “down” payment on those coats.  “The animal” she replied with tears in her eyes (I’m guessing).  I proceeded to laugh for at least ten minutes, somewhat hysterically, before picking up the phone and pleading with her, in between giggle fits, to give me the complete honk by honk, oops, I mean blow by blow.  The more she spoke, the more I howled with laughter.  Cheer up Eeyore, it was bound to happen to one of us.

Now before you have a “bird” on me, I did make sure that she was alright in between my laughing fits.  When I spoke to her this morning, she told me to have a “gander” at videos of goose attacks.  The attack happened to her when she was innocently trying to use an ATM in downtown Oakville.  That’s what you get for “nesting” in the suburbs.  She turned her back, and her “goose was cooked”.  The bird bit her back with it’s toothless beak, twisting, but causing no damage.  It attacked again, flapping it’s wings at her head, causing a migraine, but luckily no “goose egg” on her noggin.  Surprisingly, even though it was a Canada Goose, it wasn’t polite enough to give her a sorry.  I wonder if the “Portugeese” are the nicer ones?

I’m not sure if there was a gosling close by, but my sister is an animal lover, even feeling sorry enough for the birds to eschew down products.  Now, it’s a different story – she thinks that those “birdbrains” belong in a coat, pillow or duvet.  The attack really came out of nowhere.  The only advice that I could give her for next time was to “duck” or blow her nose at the bird.  I always did say that it sounded like a mating call for a goose when she blows her nose.  If you are chased by a goose, you can always “wing it” depending on the direction of the attack “beak-cause” it can be difficult to judge what’s going to make them “fly off the handle”.  Maybe just tell it to “flock off”?

My sister really isn’t a “chicken” and so maybe I should give it a nest, I mean rest already. I apologize to you all, my faithful readers, if you found this post a little “fowl”.  Maybe I’ll get my sister a little gift for letting me write about her ordeal – nah, I’m too “cheep”.  I’m off for some bedtime reading, “Mother Goose” anyone?