Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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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

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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.


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A Motherless Daughter?

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When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. – Khalil Gibran

Mother’s Day without your mother is a special kind of torture.  Everywhere you look, in the weeks before the holiday, you see signs – “Something Special for Your Mom”,  “Show Your Mother that you Care”, “Mom, the Heart of the Family” or just “World’s Best Mom.”  It hurts when you can’t participate in a celebration of something so meaningful because your mother simply isn’t with you anymore.

My mother died ten weeks ago.  In some ways, it seems like a lifetime, in other ways I’m struck by how short a time that really is.  I’ve thought a lot about her and why her death has been so hard.  One of the things that I realized is that my mother had a life before me, 31 years to be exact, but I’ve only had a very brief time without her.  I’ve never known a life without a mother and it is a huge adjustment, especially with one as special as mine.

My mother taught me almost everything I know.  She taught me how to talk (she probably wished, at times, that she didn’t), to walk, to cook, to do my laundry, how to save and invest for my retirement, how to appreciate a nice purse and how to live a good life.  She taught me the importance of family and how to put someone else’s needs ahead of my own without feeling like I’m sacrificing anything.  I recently looked up quotes for Mother’s Day, and this one came up, “My mother taught me everything, except how to live without her.”  Well, my mother taught me how to do that too.  I once asked her what I was going to do when she wasn’t here anymore, and she said “You’ll live your life.”  She didn’t say it in an off-handed way, she looked at me directly and said it in her firmest voice.  My mother was a Daddy’s girl, and when my grandfather died, she was devastated, but pushed forward with her life.  You see, she was an example, that as hard as it may be, life goes on.

Since my mother’s death, I’ve been reading a lot of books about people that have lost their parents and about grieving.  It doesn’t depress me, it makes me feel less alone in the world to see how other people handle things.  One book that I haven’t read yet, but is on my night table is “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman.   Initially, after my mother died, I felt like I was one of the club of these women.  A motherless daughter, a mourner, a griever.  The more I thought about it, over time, the less I believe it.    My mother is still present in my life, even if her physical presence is absent.  As much as I still cry because I miss her, I laugh because I remember something that she said.  As much as I miss all of our in-jokes, I think back on them and smile.  As much as I miss her daily, and believe me, there are days like today, when I think I can’t bear it, I know how strong she was and that I have to find a way to try to be strong too.

My mother was described by people as a force of nature and of strength.  She was called a happy warrior.  She never shied away from a challenge and she never quit once she started something.  She said, often unapologetically, what was on her mind – she felt at her age, she earned the right.  She didn’t suffer fools well, but she was also never unkind.  She tried to manage my expectations, but never squashed my dreams.  She was always proud of whatever I achieved but never let me rest on my laurels.  She was both my harshest critic and my biggest fan.  I was her biggest fan too.  I don’t have an idealized view of her – she was exactly the person that I’m describing.  Ask anyone that ever knew her.  She was, simply the best.

So on this Mother’s Day, my first without her,  I’m not a Motherless Daughter.  I’m really lucky to say that I’m every bit my mother’s daughter and I always will be.

 

 


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The First Birthday Without You

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“Was Zaydie as good of a person as you remember him to be?” I asked my mother about my grandfather one day.  Everyone just thought he was a wonderful, kind gentleman, and my mother was the original Daddy’s Girl, but I was still curious.  “Oh no, Jill, he wasn’t.  He was better.”  Even though it’s only been 6 weeks, I can already tell you the same thing about my mother, she was better than I remember.   We had our first holiday without her two weeks ago.  Now, it’s her birthday and we are trying to figure out what to do.  I did a little self-torture, looking at birthday cards that I wouldn’t be able to give her.  That was the day that I got a little sign from her.  Last night, I read cards and poems online that people wrote to their dead mothers just to make sure that I could cry, although, there hasn’t been a shortness of tears on my part.  She really was special.

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Nobody loved a birthday more than my mother, especially the cake.  Every year, we had buy her the same cake – the repulsive store bought chocolate cake with the GIGANTIC pink roses.  She loved it, and every year for my birthday, when I was growing up, I got that very cake even though I hated it.  She’d always say “Tough luck.  I love it, and that’s what your getting.”  That was my mother – every inch a brat.  But before you write her off, that was only one part of my mother, she was so much more than that.  I could gush about how brave she was, but here is a quote from my cousin, a very religious and learned Rabbi, when I ask him for a quote for a treasured book in our family:

Judith Schneiderman returned her heroic,courageous and dearly beloved soul to her Maker on March 3, 2018. May She find comfort forever in the everlasting world. Rest peacefully. Never to be forgotten.

You see, my mother was heroic, not because she had cancer, but because of who she was.  You don’t become a hero because of a disease or because you die, you become one because of how you live you life and my mother lived her life with honour.  She was honest and giving and made decisions that were right, even when they weren’t right for her.

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I was told by many people how special my mother was to them.  One of her pottery teachers wrote this to me “I often told her that when I “grow up” I want to be just like her. “  Me too.  My mother loved life.  Even when she was at her sickest, she still lived it.  She managed her pain from cancer with nothing more than Tylenol until 6 days before her death when she couldn’t handle it anymore.  Even though she was bed-ridden the last year of her life, we still laughed, and she still loved having visitors.  She was still herself.  She was curious about everything and she never felt sorry for herself, not even once.  I wish that I could be as brave as she was.

To be a Motherless Daughter is a very sad thing.  My sister wrote these beautiful words:

“The end is the beginning

Bright lights…I cover my eyes

A slap, a cry, the journey of life begins

Daughter to wife, wife to mother

Motherless daughter, child no more

Full circle, light in my eyes and I cry.”

When my mother died, my sisters and I lost our last parent (and really, our only one).  My aunt lost her sister and became the last of the first generation of N’s (we all refer to ourselves as N’s, D’s or M’s in our family meaning the Zelikovitz brother that we belonged to, Nathan, David or Max) – a very difficult place to be.  My cousins lost their aunt and beloved cousin.  Her friends lost the joy of having my mother around.  It’s so hard on everyone.  Her friends and family called me today, thinking about her, and crying too.

“You can never count your mother out – she’s hard to predict because she’s so tough.”

“If you had told me a year ago, I’d still be standing here talking to you about your mother, I would have told you that we were both crazy.”

“Your mother was an absolutely lovely woman…She had a wonderful outlook/attitude that I admired deeply.”

Those are all direct quotes from her doctors.  Even they recognized the type of person that she was.  The week before she died, her palliative doctor told me that though she wasn’t conscious, she could still hear.  She said that it was important to keep talking to her.  With at least a dozen people in and out all day, every day, we never had to worry about her not having something to listen to.  Even then, everyone wanted to be around her.  My sisters and I talked to her all day, every day, no matter how hard it was on us, we told her that if she needed to go, that it was ok.  The doctor gave me one last piece of advice, because my mother was so strong, she had to know that she wasn’t dying because she wasn’t fighting hard enough, it was just that she was too sick from all of her illnesses to go on.  Everyday, I told her that she fought so hard, but she could stop fighting and rest.  And eventually, she did, in her own time, in her own way.

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I’m often told by people what a wonderful relationship that I had with my mother, and some even said that they wished that they could have had the same kind of bond with theirs.  My favourite photo is the black and white picture above you – even though it’s not perfect, it perfectly illustrates us.  No one ever has made me laugh harder than she did, and no one ever had a better mother.  I spent a lot of time with her the last year, and many times, before I’d leave she’d say thank you to me for something that I did for her.  I’d always tell her that you never have to thank me, I wish I could do more.  I should have said, “No Mummy, thank you.  Just thank you.”  Wherever she is, I hope that she knows that on her birthday, and every single day, how much she is loved and missed.

 

 

 


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A Sign From Above

Mom Blog

Sorry for the language!!!!!!!

When you lose someone that you love, you wait for a sign that they are still somehow connected to you.  On the day of my mother’s funeral, March 5th, it was beautiful and  sunny with just a little coolness in the air.  When we got to the cemetery, early in the afternoon and they lowered her into the ground, all of a sudden, it got so warm and the sun started shining even more brightly.  You can think I’m crazy if you want, but I knew that it was a sign from our mother that she was at peace and happy with her roadside spot in her final resting place.  Seriously, I couldn’t have picked a better spot for her – she was always a nosy parker, and now, she can watch the world go by, see who will join her next at Mount Sinai Memorial Park and even have a clear view of the planes flying overhead (she always had to point out whenever a plane flew past her condo or over her car, or just anytime she saw one.  I called her “the air-traffic controller”).

The second sign came once shiva (7 days of mourning in Judaism) was over.  We had lit a candle that was supposed to last for 7 days.  No, we didn’t get a lame miracle where it lasted for 14 days.  The interesting thing was that one the seventh day, it went out when my oldest sister left the room, and I was alone.  Why is this interesting you ask?  When my mother died, my oldest sister left the room, I was holding my mother’s hand, and within 30 seconds of her leaving the room, my mother passed away.  I don’t think that this was a sign that I was her favourite, really her actions demonstrated this, or at least I like to think so.   It was, I believe,  because she did not want my sister, who is also suffering from breast cancer, to be more upset than she needed to be.  I think that she knew that I needed to be there at that moment, but she also knew that it wasn’t the best thing for either of my sisters.  When the shiva candle went out when I was alone in the room, I think it was just reinforcing the message.

After that, there was really nothing.  I was really upset and giving up hope that I’d ever hear from my mother again.  Day after day would pass, and nothing.  As much as I miss her, I thought maybe I’d have to live with those two tiny messages.  Then today, something amazing happened.  I called my oldest sister crying because it’s our Mom’s birthday on April 15, and now is the time that I’d start looking for cards for her.  It made no sense, but it really bothered me today. My sister told me that I could still get her a card, but that only made me cry harder because I couldn’t give it to her.  I mean, where am I supposed to send it?  Judy Schneiderman, C/O Heaven, #1 Divine Drive, Cloud 13, 90210?

Anyway, I decided to torture myself and look at birthday cards for her.  Maybe I would buy one, just for old time’s sake, and leave it at the cemetery for her.  As I was leaving the store, Papyrus to be exact, I spotted a table of gift books.  They had some cute ones, Advice from Coco Chanel, The Newlywed Cookbook, among others.  Then, I spotted the very book that you see up there in the photo, “You Drive Like An A$$h&le”.  Why is this so special?  My mother used to have the worst road rage, and that was one of her rants!  She would scream something to this effect, shake her tiny fist at the offending driver, then flip them the bird.  She said other things, but I’m a lady, and would never type them here.  I would then make fun of her, and she’d smile her million dollar smile, after telling me that she wasn’t wrong. This was the sign that I was looking for.  What are the odds that I would walk into a card store looking for a birthday greeting for my deceased road-raged mother, and spot this book, which I’ve never seen before?  I think it was my mother’s way of giving me a little reminder of her, and making me laugh, when all I wanted to do was cry.

You can think I’m making things up, or reading into things.  You may have your own tale of seeing a butterfly, a dragonfly, a ladybug, a mysterious phone call or even feel someone flick your hair.  That’s great for you, as for me, I’ll take this sign from my little Mommy any day of the week.

 


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A Eulogy And More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XOXO


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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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My Fearless Challenge AKA The Niagara Falls Nightmare

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Image courtesy of niagaraparks.com

Dr. Oz recently did an episode of his show on conquering fears, which, if you were paying attention, I wrote about a few weeks ago.  This year has been all about conquering fears for me. I’ve gotten my driver’s licence, signed up for driving lessons (starting next month), I’ve confronted the past and made my own type of peace with it, and I’ve decided to take the Canadian Cancer Society’s Fearless Challenge.  I’d like to say that my inspiration for doing this is to help prevent cancer for our future generations, but I’ve had to face another fear this year – my mother’s breast cancer, that had been in remission, had spread to her bones.  The very definition of fearless, my mother delivered the news to me casually over the phone several weeks after she found out.  As I started to cry, she reminded me that she had no intentions of going anywhere.  Then she told me that she had an appointment with an oncologist.  The only fear that she showed was when I decided to tag along with because she knew that it was then that I would find out that she slept through her appointment time the week before.   She thought it was hilarious – me – not so much.

My mother’s sense of humour through all of this has been amazing.  She reminds me daily that she doesn’t just have cancer – she has a life too.  She makes the best of her situation which means having friends over more and going out less.  Cancer is a bit of a roller coaster to say the least, and there have been good days, and bad.  Lately it has been Cancer Schmancer.   It’s there, but it’s not the be all and end all that it would like to be.

Watching the bravest person alive (yes Mummy that’s you) go through this battle inspired me to face my own fears.  Doing the Canadian Cancer Society’s (CCS) Fearless Challenge is my most important project.  When my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, I stayed up nights pouring over websites and getting so much scary information that I didn’t know how to process it all.  I decided to streamline my research to only a couple of sites that I knew to be reputable.  One was the CCS’s cancer.ca.  It had great information and gave me a complete picture of the resources available.  When I went to oncology appointments, I’d pick up CCS booklets.  The more I read, the less scary the disease became and I was finally able to calm myself down enough to sleep at night and to stop pouring over websites.

I did the same thing back in March when I found out that my mother’s cancer had spread.  I read all of the research and resources, but used cancer.ca as my go to.  I picked up more booklets at the hospital and once again, they brought me some semblance of comfort along with my very supportive friends and family.  I’m so grateful to the CCS for having this information available.  They also became a client and that’s when I found out about the Fearless Challenge.  I want to give back by helping raise money for this very worthy charity so here is what I’m committing to.  I’m going to do all of the things that I’ve ever chickened out on in Niagara Falls.  I’m going to (in order of least afraid to most afraid):

  • Go on the Whirlpool Aero Car – I chickened out on this years ago, even though this doesn’t scare me at all now
  • Take a ride on the SkyWheel helping me face my fear of throwing up and getting dizzy.  I have terrible motion sickness – everyone else is afraid of heights, I’m just afraid of barfing at 175 feet above the ground in a closed car
  • Meander through the Butterfly Conservatory – this is the absolute worst thing ever for me!!!!  I hate insects and you can tell me that a Butterfly is beautiful – but it’s just a bug with huge wings that flits everywhere willy nilly.  I’m going to see if Hazmat suit is available for the day.  At the very least, I’m covering myself in black clothing from head to toe and wearing leather gloves even if I have to go on the hottest day of the year.

This is where I do my schlocky sales pitch – please check out and support my Fearless Challenge or sign up for one of your own.  Check out my page and the site for inspiration http://convio.cancer.ca/site/TR?fr_id=19672&px=6422179&pg=personal&fb_ref=Default  Help me make cancer a little less scary for others.

Thank you!!!!


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Happy Birthday Barb!

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Yes Blimi, that’s your jacket!

I grew up with 3 older sisters, two, by birth and one by proximity.  I met Barb when I was about 3 years old.  Her parents were my parents closest friends in Sydney, Nova Scotia where we both grew up.  Not being a true Cape Bretoner, unlike my good friend, I didn’t have any family in the Steel City, and Barb and her family, became that.  Even our beloved grandmothers knew each other and had tea together every time they were in town for a visit.  My first memory of Barb is a day that my big sisters took us to see Blackie and Brownie – the friendly, neighbourhood dogs.  That started Barb’s love of animals – especially her gentle giant of a German Shepherd – Kyla.  Ok – maybe just a giant – that dog’s bite was worse than her bark – sorry Babs, but Rascal was the best!  I digress, but even though that was the first time I met Barb – we ended up spending a lot of time together over the years.  From Mrs. Simson’s plays at Hebrew School to Susan Ross’s Dancing School (best show I’ve ever seen in CB), we both got to wear some flashy costumes.

Barb was the one who prepared me for the departure of my sisters when they had to leave me to go to school.  She understood what it was like to be the abandoned, youngest child.  With my sister’s being one year apart, and each being six and five years older, I just got used to one being gone when the next one left.  It was pretty devastating for this baby of the family, but Barb was still going to be there for two years.  She was the one who drove me to school and home again, because my mother just wasn’t a morning person.  She was the one who introduced me to two songs (they were the only songs I heard in her car) – “I’m Your Man” (Wham!) and “How Will I Know” (Whitney Houston).  Sometimes, we did get to hear “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” but it sounds almost identical to “How Will I Know”.  She drove me to GA’s Dairy to get magazines, and she generally just helped me get through a couple of tough years.  Eventually, Barb had to move too, but that didn’t mean that would be the last that I would see of her.  I still got to see Barb during the holidays, but it was a couple of tough years for me without my other sister.

When I moved to Toronto, Barb once again took me under her wing.  She spent a lot of time with me at school and became a fixture in my residence.  She gave me the tough advice that no one ever really wants to hear, but you need to listen to.  She moved me in and out of residence 5 times.  She was the one who checked in on me my first summer living on my own.  She was the one who walked the long halls of Yorkdale from Roots where she worked, to Wishful Thinking where I worked, to make sure that I was doing my job.

Eventually everyone grows up, and sometimes, things change, but Barb and I were tied together because of the deep friendship between her Mom and Dad, and my own Mother.  They all eventually moved here, and once again, the holidays were spent together.  I had the privilege of holding Barb’s twins when they were born.  I loved them from the first time I held them – they were as light as Tom Brady’s footballs.  I’ve watched them grow from adorable, funny little girls to gorgeous,  funny young ladies.  They are still, like my own little nieces even though they too are ready to move on to university.  As time has moved on, Barb and I have drifted here and there, but somehow, like family, we always manage to find our way back to the comfort that you have when you know someone almost as well as you know yourself.  In fact, I think that we are better friends because of it.  I trust Barb to keep my confidence, and I know that she feels the same way.  You can’t put a price on a friendship like that.

We have each had some difficult times over the last few years, but have been there for each other.  It’s brought me so much comfort.   It’s knowing that there is someone in the world who knows your whole history.  It’s knowing that no matter what happens, you’ll always have an extra older sister, but knowing that I may be able to step in and be the same help to Barb that she was to me.  It’s knowing that someone can keep a secret and never hold a grudge.  It’s laughing at the stupid in-jokes that we find so hilarious and that no one else would get (Second Noah).  It’s the interesting way that Barb has of reading and observing people, pointing out things that I would never even notice.  It’s knowing that wherever life may take us, we’ll never be far from each other’s thoughts.

Dr. Oz would approve of this message of gratitude – today, I’m grateful for you, Barb – Happy Birthday to You.  I wish you a lifetime of health and happiness.  I leave you with this reminder – no matter how old I am, you will always be older than me : )

Gratefully yours and with much love,

Jillsy xoxo


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Embracing Emotion

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My grandmother at 18.

In “You Being Beautiful”, Drs. Oz and Roizen write the following: “Our goal here shouldn’t be to ignore emotions when they come up – whether we are reacting painfully to the loss of a loved one…Our goal should be to observe emotions – and learn to think with these emotions to help give our lives even deeper meaning.” (page 321).  Today is the anniversary of my grandmother’s death and it seemed an appropriate time to finally write something all about her so that I’m not ignoring the emotions that I feel.  My eldest sister has asked me for a long time why I don’t write about her.  I think she knows…she is intuitive in a way that very few people are, even if she doesn’t know it herself.  I haven’t written a full entry on my grandmother, because it’s so painful for me to write about her in the past tense that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

In February, I wrote about my grandfather, https://jillschnei.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/a-true-gift/ and it was so much easier talking about him, maybe because I lost him at such a young age.  My Bobbi (that’s how she spelled it – some spell it Bubbie – either way, it’s Yiddish for grandmother) was my perfect person, the one that I related to and adored the most.  I can tell you a million reasons why, but probably the biggest reason is that what I got from her was unconditional love.  It was demonstrated in the small things that she did that seemed huge at the time.  It was when my sisters and I would visit her (she lived in Ottawa, we lived in Nova Scotia) and she would light up when she saw us come in the door.  It was the fact that she always made the same welcome lunch when we’d visit – baked macaroni and cheese, just slightly overdone exactly like we liked it, with a pitcher of chocolate milk in the refrigerator and her amazing home made chocolate cake for dessert.  It was knowing that she’d have our favourite cereal that we couldn’t get at home in her cupboard.  It was the way every day that we were there, she had something else baked for us.  You can have your grandparents that spoil you with diamonds, my grandmother spoiled us with love and that was her answer for everything.  I would ask her why everything that she made tasted so good and her answer was always the same, “Because I made it with love.”  And I knew that she did.

When my sisters would go to sleep away camp, I’d get my grandmother all to myself for 7 weeks (well, my mother was there too, but I was #1).  These were some of the best times of my life.  We’d go for walks every day – mostly so that my grandmother could take me for a treat – she was worried that I was too skinny.  Thanks Bobbi – you’ve more than taken care of that childhood problem.  As we would walk by, I’d see her greet her neighbours.  They looked so much older than she did – my Bobbi looked young with hardly any grey in her hair, even though she never dyed it.  I finally had to ask her why all of her friends were senior citizens.  I had never seen her laugh so hard or be so flattered.  She loved telling people that story, because even if I didn’t know it,  she was part of that club.  She was the grandmother who found us all so charming that we could do no wrong in her eyes and in return, in my eyes at least, she was and still is perfect.

Leaving her was so painful for me, or having her leave when she would come for a visit.  I’d sit in her lap, crying inconsolably.  When I got too big for her to hold, she’d give me a big hug and tell me that she had to go because she loved her home.  She would recite a little poem from a ceramic iron that she bought in Bermuda to help me understand “My house is small, no mansion for a millionaire.  But there is room for love and there is room for friends.  That’s all I care.”  I have that iron sitting next to me as I write this entry.  She loved her house, I think, because that was where she spent her married life with my grandfather and she adored him.  She never stopped missing him and her house was where her memories of him were the strongest.  I shouldn’t call it a house though, it was home for all of us.

I could spend all day listing all of the things that she did with me like taking me to the very fancy (at least in my eyes) Green Valley with my great aunt for lunch or playing games with me or just reading to me.  I could tell you how she watched the best TV shows – Wonder Woman, Matt Houston, Charlie’s Angel’s or best of all – The Golden Girls!  We would watch that show and laugh together every single time.  She thought Sophia was a hoot.  I could tell you how she was a lady, and carried herself like royalty.  Even when people see her picture, they think she looks like a queen.  I could tell you that she never had an unkind word for anyone, although I’m sure she felt hurt at times, she never showed it.  I could tell you that her house could pass a white glove test.  I could tell you that even though she was ill at ease around dogs, she would always give my dog a careful little pat of the head – and he was very gentle with her because he could tell how nervous she was.  I could tell you that whenever we’d get up after reading together that she would always give me a hug that my mother would always walk in on and spout “Oh – the pals”.  In her defence, when I was growing up, I had a duo photo frame filled my two favourite people – my Bobbi and my dog.  Stiff competition and I’m sure that must have hurt her feelings.  Sorry Mummy.

I could tell you a million little things about my grandmother but it would never explain how much I miss her every single day.  It would never explain how I would give anything to spend just a little bit of time with her.  It would never explain how even today, so many years after she has gone, I still wish I could hear her say “Jilly, come to Bobbi” when I was crying and how it would make everything better.  It would never explain how much I wish I was more like her but she was in a class by herself.

Today, I am grateful that my Bobbi never had to leave the home that she loved and that she was never so sick that she had to change her life.  The day she died, she went for tea with her friends, visited with her beloved nephew, watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and then felt sick and had to go to the hospital.  She never suffered.  I can’t tell you how grateful that I am that I had her for 17 years of my life.  It was a gift.