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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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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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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100 Days, 100s of Memories, 100s of Items

Mummy and Me Bday

It’s been 100 days since my mother died.  That’s just a little over 3 months.  It’s the time in the mourning process when you get the head bob – you know those people who sympathetically look at you, nod and say: “Oh, it’s so good that you had CLOSURE….”  “She’s in a better place…” “At least she isn’t suffering.” “Every day gets a little easier, doesn’t it?” Grief is not something that can be wrapped up into a neat little package, and there is no timeline.  When people give me the closure speech, I often want to say what does that even mean?  Closure in that I realize that my mother isn’t coming back?  I know that she isn’t.  Closure in that there was nothing left unsaid?  That’s true, but can be more properly defined as a comfort, not closure.  Closure implies a sense of resolution, and I don’t know anyone who can properly resolve themselves to the finality of losing a loved one.  It also doesn’t get easier with time, every day is different.

People mean well, but it’s a long process.  There is a beginning to grief, but no middle and no end.  There is just a level of coping.  I can get up, go to work, do many things as well as I did before.  The brief fog that was part of the early days of loss has lifted.  I can carry on conversations with people and they would never know that there is anything wrong unless I told them.  It just isn’t something that you can adjust to overnight or over the course of three months.  Keeping occupied helps – it’s when I stop to think about things that reality sets in.

Outside of work, upcoming travel, socializing and settling my mother’s affairs, I need another project to keep me busy.  Something useful…something cleansing…and there is nothing more cleansing than a good declutter.  I’ve recently watched a number of YouTube videos where Influencers declutter cosmetics.  I’m a little obsessed with these videos, but I saw another video where the Influencer decided to get rid of 1,000 items from their home.  That’s a little ambitious for me, I did a huge declutter in 2015 – here is a small sample of things that I got rid of:        https://jillschnei.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/konfessions/

I did think carefully about it, and while 1,000 seems to be a daunting number, why not try for 300?   I’ll provide a progress report for you with every 100 items that I’m getting rid of and a few special features.  Some items will be thrown out, most will be donated and a small amount will be sold.  I’m excited to simplify things and to have a goal in mind.  My mother would definitely approve.