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Dec 10 2014

Letting My Kids Win–In Honor of My Father

By at 3:45 pm

checkers board

Growing up as the youngest of three, I was the last to learn to ride a bike, roller skate (which I gave up altogether since I was so klutzy), play checkers, backgammon, and most other games. And although I loved playing with my older siblings and sometimes they showed mercy on me, I pretty much got creamed every time we played a game.

But my parents showed me a great deal of compassion. Whenever we arm-wrestled, played checkers, or Go Fish, they let me win most of the time. I still remember that incredible feeling when I won. It felt good.

My father and I used to play silly games in the car on the way to school when I was little. “What number am I thinking?” he’d ask. And no matter what number I said, he’d exclaim, “You’re right!” And I would squeal with delight. Instinctively, I knew never to try this game with my friends–this was something special between my dad and me. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 4 2014

After My Brother’s Death, My Kids Saved Me

By at 11:04 am

after my brother's death my kids saved me

The depression creeps up on me every December. I should recognize the signs by now; it’s been almost 12 years since it happened. Yet each year I am startled to discover the source of my sadness, and how fresh the grief feels on my brother’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of a person’s death). A raw ache, a wordless, gut-clenching feeling, envelops me each year, and it’s as if no time has passed.

My brother Avi died suddenly in his sleep at age 26. I still remember the exact moment when I found out. I had a few unusual minutes of quiet as my 2-year-old twins were occupied, and I jumped on the treadmill. My husband took the early morning call and handed me the phone with a stunned look. In a single instant, my world was irrevocably changed. Life would now be divided into the before and after of this awful event. My parents, my other two brothers, and I would forever carry this deep wound, and the well of hurt, regret, and a trail of “what ifs” along with it.

We all busied ourselves with the duties of new mourners: notifying others, arranging a service, and preparing the house for shiva. I felt strongly that my boys should not travel with us to the funeral; I didn’t want to expose them to a sadness and devastation they couldn’t understand. And I didn’t want them to see their mother fall apart. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 3 2014

We Lost a Member of the Jew Crew

By at 3:52 pm

woman at gravesite

I got a phone call from my high school friend, Mikey, a year ago. We used to be very close, but as time and miles have grown between us, we rarely talk more than once every few years. He said, “Did you hear about J? She’s dying.”

In a high school with 1600 students, J was one of the six members of our “Jew Crew.” We grew up attending the same Reform synagogue, hanging out in the graffiti-decorated youth group lounge, bonding together over our differences from everyone else around us. We were Jewish, living in a small town where Christmas trees adorned every public school classroom. We were known on sight for the religion we practiced, rather than the people we were. Read the rest of this entry →

The Lesson of the ER & The Open Window

By at 9:49 am

open window

Our family recently lost a dear friend, and my husband and I have had to digest and process the immeasurable loss with our children. Soon after the death, my oldest daughter told me that she would never pray again. I asked her why. She said that she had prayed and prayed that our friend would heal, and God didn’t answer her. I hugged her. I tried to say the right things–that God always hears our prayers, even if God doesn’t respond the way we want; that perhaps our prayers did have some effect that we don’t understand; that there is always so much more to pray for, and we have to keep trying; that praying is good for us, it helps us feel that we are doing something, even if things turn out so differently from what we hope.

Not long after, I found myself spending the entire day in the emergency room, with severe abdominal pain. Apparently, these things happen, especially on days when one’s babysitter texts at 6 a.m. that she’s home sick with strep (which she caught from your kid). While the doctors were puzzling over my cecum, I was left lying supine, unable to see beyond the privacy curtain. Those curtains are not soundproof, though, and it’s hard not to hear the pressing experiences of the other stricken human beings in the room. I was left with no choice but to eavesdrop. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 3 2014

When Naming Your Child After a Loved One is Just Too Painful

By at 9:53 am

I Named My Daughter After My Sister

“And would you like to know the gender of the baby?” the cheerful technician asked. We both laughed and acquiesced. I really wanted to know my baby’s gender, and my husband did not want to be left out in the cold. “You look like the type of couple who will be happy whatever it is,” she said. We smiled and shared that newly-married grin. Then, after a few minutes of gliding the glop around my stomach, and hearing the heartbeat, she said, “Ready? I am pretty sure it is a girl.”

“A girl, a girl, a girl… ” The words echoed in my head, swirling and sliding. Somehow, we thought it would be a boy. We wavered daily, vacillating between boy and girl, but most days it was the blue dreams. Later that day, we began discussing name choices. The name was sort of a given, yet it was still a complex matter.

Hindy is a name that means everything to me. Hindy—my sister, a princess, a fighter, a teenager—is no more. We were three sisters, five years apart each in age, with two brothers between us. (That fact, we always joked, showed my grandfather’s CPA gene coming through.) Hindy was the youngest in my family. I vividly remember sitting in the kitchen, 5 years old, strawberry yogurt sliding in my mouth on the Friday morning she was born.

We grew up together—matching dresses, sharing school buses, books, and eventually jewelry, clothes, and more. We also shared our secrets and our feelings. But when Hindy was 14 years old, she began getting sick extremely often. The mumps, a cold, Swine Flu—you name it, she caught it. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 30 2014

Why I Love Being Part of a Jewish Burial Society

By at 12:55 pm

After Work, I Purify Women’s Bodies for Burial

I have a secret identity. It doesn’t involve superhero capes or special powers. There’s no quick change in a telephone booth, but nonetheless I walk a little taller every time I complete this act. It isn’t for the weak of heart or faith. My secret identity is being a part of the chevra kadisha (“burial society,” or a group of committed Jews who prepare a body for burial) as we perform tahara (purification). I became involved with the chevra kadisha before I had children, when a shul member, who knew that I was a nurse and therefore experienced with death, approached me about joining.

In the dark of night, or light of day, I go with friends from shul to a funeral home, where a body awaits us and where we are charged with cleaning, preparing, and dressing a newly deceased woman in the Jewish traditional methods. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 23 2014

As a Mormon, How Can I Comfort My Jewish Mother-in-Law?

By at 3:48 pm

We Don't Agree on the Afterlife but We're Family

My family always asks me what Jews believe about the afterlife. My family is Mormon but my husband’s family is Jewish—they belong to a Reform synagogue—and my father-in-law is slowly dying. So whenever my family members ask me how my mother-in-law is doing and I give them the update—that she’s coping but still sad—they always shake their heads and say, “How does she do it without a belief in the afterlife?”

This is incredible to them. Mormons spend a lot of time thinking about the afterlife. For example, even though my uncle died tragically, before I was born, he was still very much a presence in my extended family. So much so, that when I was little and I would say my nightly prayer, sometimes I would ask God to put him on the line. Then I would say, “Hello, Uncle Rich. How are you?” and I would tell him things that I thought he might want to know about my grandma, my cousins, etc… (I kept it upbeat, so he wouldn’t feel bad about cutting out early). At my grandparents’ funerals we sang “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again,” and I meant it. To Mormons, the idea of an afterlife is the only antidote to the sting of death. Read the rest of this entry →

After His Death, Remembering the Good Times My Daughter & Father Shared

By at 10:55 am

Remembering the Good Times My Daughter and My Father Shared
A little over three months ago, my father died. It was sudden and devastating, but not totally unexpected. I held his hand, and with my mother, our rabbi, and sister on the phone, we said the shema and told him how much we loved him as he left us. We should all be so lucky.

My dad passed away just before Shabbat, which I think he did on purpose, to be sure that we’ll remember him at least every week. Not that he needed to worry about that, since I’ll miss him every day. He loved our Shabbat dinners around the table and singing a few zmirot before we lit candles. Shabbat became extra joyous after the first granddaughter—my gal Charlotte—was born. My dad added lyrics to one of his favorite Yiddish songs, “Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos, yidn zol zayn Shabbos,” to include “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, yidn zol zayn Charlotte.” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 14 2014

In My Friend’s Memory, I’m Raising Awareness for Pregnancy-Associated Breast Cancer

By at 10:25 am

belly

Last October, I wrote about how devastated I was to learn of a dear friend’s pregnancy-associated breast cancer diagnosis. I wrote in order to spread awareness of a rare disease and to honor her fight. This month–Breast Cancer Awareness Month–I write again about my friend. To again spread awareness, but now to honor her memory.

At the end of July, my friend’s husband had to tell their daughters–4 and not quite 2–that their mom wasn’t coming home again. She was a week shy of her 36th birthday. Despite nine rounds of chemo, the cancer had spread to her brain and spinal fluid. She’d been diagnosed only 10 months earlier.

I think of my friend daily. We knew each other for only four years, but we got together every other week for most of that time. It’s hard not to go to the places we frequented and not expect her to walk up. I see her sitting in my basement while our kids play together. I see her at my side as we sweated through a Stroller Strides class. I see her in my dining room during my daughter’s birthday party. I see her getting into her car and pulling away from my house for the last time. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 13 2014

Explaining the Tooth Fairy, God & Other Things We Cannot See

By at 11:35 am

tooth-pillow

My 6-year-old son lost his first tooth a couple weeks ago. It was so exciting, yet scary, as so many new things tend to be. There was blood. He wanted to know where the blood came from, if it was OK or bad.

“Blood travels through your body and helps keep you healthy,” I explained. He nodded seriously.

“What about da Toof Fairy?” my son lisped. “Is she going to come take my toof?” Yes. “What does she do with them?” he inquired. “Does she put them in her own mouth?” No. He nodded again in approval. “But how big is she? Is she going to touch me? How will she get in my room?” Read the rest of this entry →

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