Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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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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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 Day, A Year, A Decade

My mother...
My wonderful little Mommy.

I’ve watched many people post their feelings about the last decade on social media. For some, it was a delight – the best time of their lives. For others, lives were changed, in a somewhat devastating way. Others saw the best and worst in people. I would say that my life over the last ten years was a combination of the three.

I had some amazing experiences, both through travel and through relationships with people and just life in general. I had lows that were devastating in ways that I likely will never recover from. My faith in people was both rewarded and tested. People often don’t see the good, only the bad, but there were people in my life that came through for me in ways that I’ve never, ever imagined.

Grief has been the over-riding theme of the last 5 years. My father died on June 9, 2015. Grieving the loss of a parent you were estranged from is a different kind of awful. I remember feeling so alone. People thought estrangement meant that I didn’t care. If I had a dime for every time someone said, “Oh, I thought you didn’t like your father”….Estrangement and like are not comparable. I cared about my father, and estrangement was a last resort, not a first. This is the way it should always be, by the way. In a way, it is like losing your parent twice. First, when you have to say good-bye to them for yourself, and then when you have to say good-bye to them, losing forever the hope that things will ever be repaired.

My relationship with my mother wasn’t perfection, but it was close. There was no one that I more deeply admired. When she died on March 3, 2018, one year and nine months ago, I lost my anchor and purpose in life. Being her care-giver was the greatest thing that I will ever do and the greatest honour that I have ever had. Speaking for this woman, who didn’t have the energy to speak for herself, and being her voice was the most important thing that I will ever do. I don’t have any regrets, except that I wish that I could have done more.

She was the person that made me go and visit my father the last time. When he said something to me that was completely horrible, I remember telling her what a waste it was. I’ll never forget what she said to me, “Jill, I know you, you are my baby. What he said to you was awful, but you can also go to sleep at night knowing that you made the right decision. If you didn’t go, you never would have known and you always would have wondered.” All I could do was say, “Mummy, you are right.” And she was.

She was right about so many things. I miss having her as my advocate. As much as I spoke for her, she often spoke for me. She was smart, feisty and funny and nobody’s fool. She spoke her mind, and if you didn’t like it, too bad for you. She was right about that too – she was never afraid to speak up for herself and I’ve inherited that from her. I am, and will always be proud to be Judy Zelikovitz’s daughter. I often have people tell me how to grieve or that I’ve grieved for long enough, that my mother wouldn’t want this for me. I know, from her, that grief lasts a lifetime. I also know my mother would be proud that I have never let sadness prevent me from living. She told me to live my life and I have. I’ve never let the fear and despair over her loss keep me from doing anything that I have to do from work, to socializing, to anything else. I understand what is important in life, but I also know how to honour someone’s memory on my own timeline. More on that in a later post.

I was with my sister when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and as devastating as that was, I’ve tried to be there for her through her treatment, appointments, everything that I did for my mother. She is well cared for, and I don’t have to be on high-alert at all times, like I was with our mother. Michele has her attitude and her determination to live. We each have a part of our mother’s personality. Mine is in the planning and details and general Type A that made up my mother’s DNA. Michele has her grit and her ability to roll with things. She never lets her disease prevent her from living. A lot of people hear the “C” word and don’t know how to approach her. I always say that a person with cancer is just a person. We all have something, don’t we?

I’ve been shocked by people’s kindness and wounded by people’s malice. I remember when I was going through everything with my mother and sister, my dearest friend said this is the time in your life when you get a pass. I’ll also never forget the good. The joyful moments that I wrote about this time last year, what I called the beautiful awful. I’ll never forget people just being there, around my family during the worst time in our lives.

I see things very differently than I did ten years ago. I believe in keeping my word. If I make a promise, I keep it. If I say that I’m going to do something, I will do it. I’ve learned that words matter, but actions speak louder than words. I’ve learned that in life, and in business there are choices that you can make. You can take your profession and your life seriously, or you can treat it like a game of chess. Either path will get you some degree of success, and maybe even happiness, but only one will get you any type of fulfillment. Living life in the way that I was brought up to, by the person that I respected the most has made me realize there is only one choice. Do the right thing, and although in the short term, it may not pay off or work to your advantage, in the long term, if you stay the course, you will be rewarded. It was an important lesson to learn, and probably the most important thing that I learned this decade.

I hope that the next decade brings my loved ones all of the health and happiness that they deserve. I hope that there will be more joy after the sadness of the last few years. I hope that I have have told my friends and family how much their love and support has meant. I hope that I will always be able to live up to the expectations that my mother set for me. I hope that wherever she is, that she is watching, smiling, her big beautiful smile with the good, and giving her finger, as only she could, to the bad.


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What Having An MRI is Like

Photo: http://www.nmmc.org/ This was the closest photo that I could find that illustrated how I went into the MRI. My tech wasn’t smiling for the camera though.

I have had exactly one MRI (almost a year ago), but because I am part of the Ontario Breast Screening Program, I will be having them once a year for pretty much the rest of my life. It is not optional. I qualified for the program because I am at a high risk of getting breast cancer. Right now, my odds are 1 in 3, but after menopause they will increase. I don’t really worry about it, I also, as of right now, have a 2 in 3 chance of not getting the disease. Either way, being part of the program will help. I have annual mammograms and they are relatively easy, but the MRI has replaced ultrasounds for me. Click here if you want to know what they are like.

An MRI is not as easy as a mammogram or ultrasound if I am keeping it real. The first time that I attempted my breast MRI I panicked. It is not to say that you will, my situation was a little different. First of all, I had ankle surgery and had a 3 hour wait at a different hospital that very day for my final orthopedic appointment. I went to work in the afternoon, then worked out with my trainer and had dinner with a friend arriving at the next hospital, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre at 8:30pm. It was already a long day. It was also at the hospital that I used to take my mother to and that ended up causing part of the issue.

Being back at that hospital was overwhelming for me. I was sitting in the waiting room where I had taken my mother for one scan or another. I walked through the hallways that I once walked with her. It brought back a flood of memories, both good and bad. I sat in the waiting room, trying to hold back tears, not very effectively, while I waited for them to call my name. I went through a lot there, a lot of running around, fixing things, advocating for my mother, and it all came back to me in the moments that I sat in the waiting room.

When I was finally called after 10pm for my appointment, I was ok again. I figured it was maybe 45 minutes of my life. The nurse sat me down and asked me if I was afraid of needles (nope) or had any issues with claustrophobia (nope). So far, so good, right? Wrong. He then proceeded to tell me 7 times in a row (no exaggeration) that I shouldn’t move and that the contrast dye that he was setting up the IV for may make me nauseous – they administer it in the last few minutes of the MRI. I was told not to throw up in the MRI – to push through and wait to be sick until I got out. After having experienced the most extreme nausea of my life, just a couple of months before after having anesthesia, I was shaken. Yes, nausea is temporary, but knowing that most anti-nausea medication doesn’t seem to work on me, made me very nervous.

Once they put the IV in, I had another short wait until I was called. I walked into the room and saw the MRI. I still was pretty much fine. I was asked to open my gown at the front and lay face down on the table. When you lie down, there is a thin strip of metal that lies, pressing against your sternum between your girls which hang through the two spaces left for them. Your face goes into a lightly padded well (similar to what you would rest on for a massage) and you face a bucket. Once you are properly positioned, you are slowly pushed in. This is where I started having problems – I felt like I could’t breathe. It is extremely tight in the MRI and having something pushing against your chest is very uncomfortable. I told the nurse that I couldn’t do it. She asked me if I was sure, and I said yes.

I called my sister crying. I was disappointed in myself. I watched my sister and mother have to suffer through far more than me, and yet, when it was my turn, I just couldn’t go through with it. She was the one who made me realize that the upset came from being at the hospital that I had spent so many hours at, versus me being a total wimp. When the hospital called me the next day to reschedule, they explained that an MRI was more effective than an ultrasound. I rescheduled and got a prescription for Ativan (an anti-anxiety medication) which is commonly prescribed for MRIs so that I could get through it. I also was worried about having to be perfectly still for 45 minutes. On a good day, I have a really hard time staying still for 5 minutes, never mind 3/4 of an hour.

My sister reminded me to just stay calm and get through it as my second appointment neared and my dread grew. I told myself, no matter what, just get it over with. Again, I went to the hospital and sat in the waiting room that I had been in some many times in the past. I took the Ativan and reminded myself to be grateful that my doctor referred me to this program. When it was my turn, I asked the nurse (a different one this time) about the nausea issue with the IV. She reassured me that it wasn’t common and that I had nothing to worry about. She was very calm, and it made me feel a lot better (plus the drugs kicked in). I popped myself on the table and was in the MRI really quickly. It was uncomfortable having a thin metal bar pressing against my sternum, but I just kept telling myself it would be over soon. When you are face down. you can register the lights around you, but you can’t see them. It was extremely loud, with loud banging and clanging noises. I just get saying to myself that every second that went by meant that I was closer to getting out of this tube.

I heard their voices reminding me that the table was about to shake and vibrate and that was normal. It would last about 5 minutes. That meant, when it stopped, I was close to getting the IV. The IV fluid was the final step in the MRI. I felt the liquid go into my vein (it is slightly cool), and then, after another 5 minutes, I was told that they were moving me out of the MRI and that it went well, meaning that I wouldn’t have to do a repeat.

You have never seen anyone jump up more quickly to get up in your life. I was so happy that it was over and also happy that I wouldn’t have to do it again for another year. Well, that year is up on December 3. I’ll have to do this all over again in about a week. It will be at a different hospital this time, with a 6:30pm appointment. That is kind of a cushy time slot in the world of MRIs. It’s after work and not in the middle of the night. I know that I’ll get through this one too, and so will you if, and when it is your turn. Don’t be ashamed to speak with your doctor about taking something to calm you down if you need it. The important thing is getting through the test.


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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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An Unveiling

Today was my mother’s unveiling ceremony.  If you have never been to one, it literally is a ceremony where a headstone is unveiled and it is held within one year of the person’s death if they are Jewish.  Planning it, from selecting the headstone, to writing the words that will live on long after I am gone, and planning all of the other details was, as I saw it, one of the last things that I could to honour a woman that I so admired.  My sister, Michele and I decided last night, that I would say a few words.  It was harder doing this than it was giving the eulogy at my mother’s funeral.  The shock and numbness that I felt that day could no longer protect me from what I was feeling.  There is a sense, on a day like this, of a wound that had never closed, reopening.  Seeing my mother’s headstone reminded me that this loss is real, and now, it had a tangible aspect that it never had before.

I did not prepare or write down anything for today’s service.  I just had a very vague idea of what I wanted to say.  Some of my family, who could not be at the service, asked if I could blog about it; others who were there did not hear everything, asked for the same.  Here is the gist of what I said:

“I first want to thank you all for coming out on such a cold day.  Some of you, like my cousin, had to travel from out of town.  My aunt is in from Ottawa, but I know that she had always planned on being here, for her sister.  When coming up with the epitaph for my mother’s headstone, it was difficult to summarize everything that I was feeling in 5 words or less.  Some of you many think, when you see it, that I was seeing my mother through rose-coloured glasses.  That the words came from a child’s love for her mother.  I actually took the words from Rabbi Chaim (Harold) Zelikovitz.

After my mother died, I showed my aunt my grandfather’s siddur (prayer book).  It has to be about 100 years old.  Harold had written a passage in it when my Zaydie died.  She suggested that I should ask him to send me something about my mother, and here are his words:

Judith Zelikovitz Schneiderman returned her heroic, courageous and dearly beloved soul to her maker on 17 Adar 5778 (March 3, 2018).  May she find comfort forever in the everlasting world.  Rest peacefully.  Never to be forgotten.  

That is where the words for the epitaph – Heroic, Courageous and Dearly Beloved – come from.  They seemed to perfectly describe my amazing mother who was exactly the person that I remember her to be.

We know that the loss of our mother does not just belong to me and my sisters.  It belongs to all of you as well.  You all miss her too.  We wanted to make sure that we reflected that loss on her headstone.  

I know how cold it is out, but I wanted to thank just a few more people.  Emily, Narda, Grace, Julia and Angel – you all put the care in caregiver.  You treated my mother like a cherished family member, not just a patient.  You gave my sisters and me peace of mind and cared for our mother 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We are forever grateful to you.  My mother cared about you all too.  She would be deeply touched and so appreciative of the turn out today, and we are too.”

I had the chance to speak with some of my mother’s very close friends and her dear cousins today.  It was so touching hearing what they thought of her.  One of her friends told me that my mother would have been so proud today – that everything was done perfectly.  That meant a lot to me, but no matter how perfect it was, it will never seem like enough.  Today reminded me of how I felt the week that my mother died.  I wondered, then, how something could be awful and beautiful at the same time.  That week, my family, including my cherished mother, were surrounded by people and with so much love, even as we were losing her.  Today, we were once again, surrounded with love, but this time, we all had to deal with the pain of her absence.

When I asked the Rabbi, who officiated at the unveiling, months ago where my mother would be once she died, he said something incredibly profound.  He said, “The best way to explain it is that your mother will be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.”  That still makes perfect sense to me.

 

 


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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.