Thursday, March 10, 2011

Run Between the Raindrops

When I was little, on rainy days my Mom would tell me to "run between the raindrops" so I wouldn't get wet. She would remind me every time it rained, and when we got to the car, or when I arrived home, she would always ask me "Did you run between the raindrops?" and "Did you get wet?" I always proudly beamed at my Mom, declaring that I did it, I ran between the raindrops and I didn't get wet. Even as an adult, if I was visiting my mom and leaving in the rain, she would smile and say "Don't forget to run between the raindrops" and I would reply "Of course."

It has been a very rainy week here. During the first bit of rain last week, I stood at the door, preparing to take Micah outside. As I bundled Micah up in his jacket and pulled the hood over his head, I heard my mom's voice echo in my head, chastising me for not taking an umbrella with me. I found myself smiling, and even said out loud, "Don't worry, Mom, I'll run between the raindrops." I stopped cold for a second, frozen, tears welling up in my eyes again, and then I turned to Micah, took his hand, and said, "Come on, Micah, let's run between the raindrops."

I was sure my Mom was grinning down at us as we ran to the car and I buckled Micah into his car seat. I sat down in the front seat, crying (and soaking wet), and I said out loud, "We did it, Mom, we ran between the rain drops and we didn't get wet."

Running between the raindrops is a great metaphor for life...when you are little, you just BELIEVE you have the power to avoid getting wet. Even when you sit there, hair glued to your head and beads of water dripping into your eyes and down your nose, you can still beam and insist that you avoided the raindrops and stayed dry. As we get older, we realize that rain is is getting wet. We can wistfully remember a time when we believed we could avoid the raindrops if we just tried, but we are all too aware that it was never possible to actually run between the raindrops.

This year, I've learned all too well about raindrops...and life's rainshowers have me sitting here, hair glued to my head, clothing soaked, shivering, and beads of water sliding down my face. But this week, I remembered that even as I sit here, soaking wet, it is easy to WANT to believe we can run through the raindrops if we just try. I think that is what I've been doing the past few months...trying to figure out how to run through the raindrops...or at least learn to grin with pride after getting soaked by life.

Things have been hard since my Mom died. I think of her every day, many times a day, and not a day passes that I don't shed tears. A friend of mine renamed her blog "Impersonating Normal" after she lost her son...and I understand that sentiment. I wake up each day, I focus on all the good in my life, and I try to be normal again, even when I don't exactly feel normal. I spend time with my children, I'm working on rebuilding my business, I go out with my friends, and I am trying to create balance in my life and find me again. But I also feel as if I am walking around with this big gaping hole in my chest. I always think that anyone who looks at me must be able to see what has happened to me - as if I have this huge shocking open wound, exposed and bleeding, visible for the world to see.

Some days are better than others. I definitely have more smiles than tears in my life, but it is the little things I find challenging. I miss my mom terribly when I am at the yarn store, trying to decide which yarn to purchase for a project. I find myself reaching for the phone to call her and tell her about the kids' doctors appointments, or the funny things they say and do. I miss my sounding life is much more quiet and insular without my mother in my life. I feel disconnected to the "information train" - I have no idea what is going on anymore with our extended family and friends. My mother always had good tidbits of gossip for me, and I miss the phone ringing all day with random little stories and updates. I wish my Mom could see Micah laughing about the tickle bugs in the couch, or how he loves using FaceTime (she would have thought that was so cool), or Maya's quirky little crawl and how she is pulling up on everything. I miss Thursday night date night, and knowing that she is there to run backup and help out when I realize that DH is going out of town for the weekend and I have no one who can help me take two kids to swim class while he is gone.

I do so many things each day to keep my Mom close. I find myself wearing her perfume - her scent lingering near me feels like a big hug if she has just left my presence. I keep a picture of her in the kitchen, so Micah and Maya can see "Mimi" sitting with them while they eat meals. I teach Micah how to use "Mimi's trick" to put on his jacket, and we laugh about the ticklebugs in Mimi's couch.

There really is so much joy and goodness in my life...I just still wish my mother was here to share in it with me. I'm certain that feeling will never leave me, and I hear the gaping wound heals over and becomes more like a scar that fades with time. I guess only time will tell. In the meantime, I'm going to keep trying to run between the raindrops.

As you can tell, it has been a few months since I have written anything on this blog. I just...well, I just haven't had the heart to write. All these years, I wrote for me...but for 3 years, I knew my mother was reading my blog, sharing in our journey. Somehow, writing words that I know my mother will never read...hurts. Along the way, my blogging and her battle with cancer became entangled, and I associate sitting down to write with those awful days and nights. I think it has been a struggle for me to come back to this computer and face those feelings, and knowing that writing words she will never read is moving on, moving forward again. My life stood still for six months, and the past three have felt like....Oz. I feel as if a tornado came roaring down on me, picked up my house and transported me to some sort of alternate reality Emerald City, surrounded by munchkins. I keep thinking that somewhere else, another version of me must be living my life as it was supposed to be, with my mother healthy and strong and ever-present. If only I could click my heels together three times....

I've been jotting down little things, and maybe now that I finally faced my "demons" and wrote again, I can go back and complete all those updates on our past few months. Micah is now almost 27 months old, and Maya is 8 1/2 months. They are growing up so quickly!

Today, Micah left for preschool with DH in the torrential downpour. I gave Micah a big hug and kiss, and told him to run between the raindrops. He flashed me a huge grin, and said "Run raindrops, Mommy" and waved at me. I felt my heart squeezing in my chest as I saw my little man stomping through the water puddles on his way to the car, grinning from ear to ear. I hope he spends his life believing that he can run through the raindrops.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Mom's funeral was held on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 12:00 Noon. Below are the eulogies delivered during the service:

Childhood friend:

There is a song we learned many years ago at Girl Scout Camp…”Make New Friends, But Keep The Old. Some are Silver, The Others Gold”. I am very touched that D wanted me to say a few words about the OLD.

Some people are lucky enough to have , what I call, “Forever Friends”. D was one of mine. And it all started back in Scranton, PA. Growing up there in the 50’s and 60’s was a unique experience, but no one realized it at the time. We thought everyone had the childhood we had.But then we grew up, moved away, started our own lives, and made new friends.

It would always amaze people when we told them how we lived as a pack – not a clique – but a pack who did everything together…from walking to school taking up the whole sidewalk, to Hebrew school right through to Confirmation, to Saturday afternoon movies where we took up a whole row saving seats for each other, to Sunday clubs at the JCC, to summer camp, to high school reunions, to each other’s weddings. There were never 2 or 3 of us; it was always a pack.

About 5 years ago when we were all turning 60, and life became a little less hectic, income a little more disposable, we decided to celebrate with a Birthday Bash Vacation. Seven of our group were able to make it, so off to Cancun we went, dubbed by the staff there as The Seven Lovely Ladies.We caught up, rekindled, vowed to keep it going. And we have.

Now there is one less member of our pack. One of Our Lovely Ladies is gone. There is a great void; an emptiness that can never be filled. But D has shown the rest of us how to meet the end of our days with such grace and dignity and bravery and, most of all, surrounded by so much love. D has had a profound impact on each and every one of us here today and it all started way back when in Scranton, PA where we learned the true meaning of everlasting friendship. And now, we are Six Lovely Ladies.


I am so very honored that D asked me to speak today. I met D when she began her employment at the library where I was a librarian. Eventually she became a supervisor of 12 staff and numerous student aides and I became her supervisor as the Head Librarian. Over the next 25 years, I came to know D from many perspectives. I would like to talk about just 3 of those today.

The first perspective is one we all know—which is—with D you get M. You can’t avoid it! It is not a coincidence that both of them wound up working at the same place of employment. I can only imagine that when the children were old enough to be thoroughly engaged in school and friends, M began to “shop” for a job, “shop” is the operative word here for those who know M well. Yes, M began to “shop” for a job, where he could keep an eye on D, OR was it the other way around—where D could keep an eye on M?

There were more times than I can count when D was in my office to go over a process, a problem, or an update of importance in the daily affairs of the library. More often than not, my phone would ring, and I would answer. “Hi M.” M would ask, “Is the boss there?” I’d hand the phone to D who was clearly agitated-- “What the heck do you want? [But she didn’t say ‘heck.’] She said, “What the heck do you want? Don’t you have a job?” M most likely wanted to know if she had all the ingredients for what they would be cooking. Should he go buy that shirt he wanted? What else did she want him to pick up from Costco? As M received his instructions from D, D’s eyes widened and rolled in half circles, she shifted impatiently from one foot to the other, and ended with, “Is that it?! GOODBYE M!” And she hung up. And as though she had to explain further how she felt about his intrusion, she slurred her words in a huff of irritation, “Such a pain in the ….” In the pause that followed, I felt like an intruder during their private moments of marital bliss.

While D played the perturbed wife when M did the dialing, she also knew M’s strengths. One day shortly before Christmas, D stopped by to chat. She asked if my son got everything on his Christmas List. I replied proudly that yes indeed he had, all but one gift. Being married to the extreme shopper, she found that concerning and asked what Santa couldn’t find. I told her and within seconds she was on the phone to M with the latest instructions, “M, listen to me, N asked Santa for a stuffed Cat in the Hat, and Santa couldn’t find it. Can you pick one up today?” They said goodbye and two and a half hours later, M stopped by with the last of Santa’s gifts. D couldn’t be more proud. They were a team! D and M were a team!

D’s ability to solve problems applied to her work in the library, as well. D’s attitude towards work was always focused on getting things done. Many considered her to be the “go to” person. She kept a catalog of supplies, resource people, and furniture in her head so that at any given time, she could find what you needed or knew where to get it. She was dependable. She often came early or left late. She developed the scheduling for her staff to make sure the desks were always covered even if that meant staying later to cover for someone else.

She was very detail oriented and enjoyed working on the database system that controls our collection. I was impressed with the knowledge she developed over the years about the record structure and the complex relationships of an integrated catalog. She liked to work on projects to clean up the catalog from a circulation perspective. She encouraged her staff to bring problems to her. She was a good listener for those employees who consulted with her. She thought carefully about appropriate solutions. It can be said that D gave 100 percent effort to provide service in our very busy library over the 25 years she worked there. I immensely enjoyed working with D.

Not only was D knowledgeable about how the library functioned and knew how to get the work done, she brought her thoughtfulness and caring to work and made family out of co-workers. She organized and participated in showers and birthday parties. She knit sweaters or blankets for expectant moms and dads. She cooked from her own library of recipes that became signature at library parties. I know so many of you that worked in the library during those 25 years who invited D to your family functions. D always looked forward to attending and shared your special joys and even your sorrows.

Lastly, I wanted to mention how D impacted my life as a human being. While I was her boss, she was my mentor. She taught me so much but perhaps her greatest gift was to show me how to be a caretaker. Long before my mom and dad became ill, I watched how D cared for her own mom. With responsibility and love, D did everything for her mom. She moved her mom from Scranton. She set her up in appropriate living facilities. She took her mom to medical appointments, bought her clothes, medicine and, yes, Breyer’s Chocolate ice cream. She was the ultimate devoted daughter not only for her mother but for M’s mother too. In an odd turn of events, her mother was placed in the room next to my mom’s in the Nursing Home for the last 2 weeks of her mom’s life. I stopped in next door to see how she was doing only to see D lying on the bed, her arms wrapped around her mom, gently comforting her mother in the last hours of her life. It was poignant and touching—it was a moment of beauty. D’s gift of love and caring was given back to her. During her illness, her family, visitors, and guestbook friends formed a support system of inconceivable magnitude. I can only imagine D’s satisfaction on this very day--that she was so loved and cared for by all those lives she touched. I am grateful that she touched mine and was proud to call D my dear friend.


As all of us here feel, it is with much sadness that I am before you to say a few words about our beloved D.

A and I met D, M and T soon after we moved to our neighborhood about 34 years ago. Soon thereafter, J was born and then our daughter R was born and just a few years later our son S was born. Our neighborhood friendship developed into a real friendship and then, as I believe is the case with many of us here today, an even closer family-like relationship.

We all knew D as a very warm, friendly person who would go out of her way to help a friend. I will never forget when D, at her request, stayed at our house overnight to be with R when A and I left for the hospital for A to give birth to S.

All of us here have been extremely saddened since we learned a few months ago of D's serious illness and we have done much to help and support M, T, J and their families during this very traumatic time. M, T and J, please know that we will continue to help and provide support to you.

M, T and J, all of our lives will continue on, but with more strength and devotion to our family and friends because of our wonderful memories of D.


So how does a son talk about his mother? How does he stand in front of family and friends and honor her memory? How does he sum up a life in a few minutes? More importantly, how does he say goodbye?

I’ve been thinking about these things for a few months....and the only answer is, “he can’t....but he’s needs to try.”

Most of you in this room know me, some intimately, some casually....but I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to think that all of you, every last one of you knows how much I loved mom. In the past few months I have really done my best to be there for her, to remind her that she has fulfilled her destiny on this planet, to let her know that NO MATTER WHAT........NO MATTER WHAT, she will NEVER be forgotten, and to further ingrain the fact that she has had such a PROFOUND part in making me the person you see before you. I hope she left us knowing that.

Children are supposed to learn from their parents--right from wrong, how to be independent, how to treat others, all of that stuff. Somehow you grow up, you move out, you start a family of your own and your parents are no longer parents in the truest sense of the word. What they become are confidants and friends....and in many ways you feel like you have nothing left to learn from them except the occasional sage advice from an elder. But since mom’s diagnosis she taught me SO MUCH. She taught me that fighting a win-less fight for the right reasons can be admirable and honorable. She taught me that strength really does come from within and not some bullshit made in the gym or the practice field. That’s fake strength and at any moment that can be taken from you. You couldn’t take this strength from her, it was nothing short of incredible. Mom was debilitated, she couldn't hold my children anymore, she couldn’t walk, she couldn’t see very well, she became a shell of herself. But she trudged on...and with very little hesitation. She AMAZED me EVERY SINGLE DAY, because I know that in my life there are many days where I just want to give up, I just want to pack it in and be done with everything, everyone....and quite frankly, my problems are trivial at best when held next to hers. She showed me what strength and resolve really is, how powerful love is and that extra time with family is worth getting poked, prodded, moved, rolled, wiped, fed, cut open, radiated, pumped full of poison, and confined to a bed or wheelchair. I envy that strength and I hope that she knows how much I admired this tenacious attitude from day one.

She didn’t have to fight, but she wanted more time with her family....and that’s not just Dad, T, E, Micah, Maya, J, Paige, or Peyton, that’s everyone in this room. I wanted her to fight and told her this, but I never kidded myself that this was going to have a good outcome. Right after the surgery when she was pretty banged up, I questioned whether or not this was a good thing after all....and I did for quite some time. But then something amazing happened. Something I only thought possible in Hallmark movies or one of the Lifetime flix my J loves so much.........I saw family and friends alike rally around her in a manner that is nothing short of shocking. I knew she was loved, but I never knew how much she affected so many people.....and how much she continued to do so through this entire process. From the absolute bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of you as well as the countless people all around the net that reached out. If something like this were to happen to me and I received 10% of that love, I would be an extremely lucky man.

That’s the thing that really set in with me recently...Mom WAS a lucky woman, she was raised as an only child but never felt too alone due to friends. She got married to a man who was educated, caring, and because I think I look a bit like him, STUNNINGLY HANDSOME. Together they had 2 children and they raised these kids to the best of their ability. They never wanted for anything and the house was filled with love (most of the time....when it wasn’t love, it was noise........). These kids were very different from one another, One of the kids exceeded all expectations when it came to schooling, the other........yeah, not so much, but he came around eventually. The one thing that they always had in common was their family. That never wavered. One of these kids grew up to be nothing short of incredible throughout this ordeal. My sister laid her life down to take care of mom at the end and I don’t know that I could have been more proud of her. I see what she did and all I could do is sit and watch in awe and know that in a million years, I could never be as incredible as that. Mom was lucky...but not nearly as lucky as Dad, T and I....because we got to spend 33, 37 and 42+ years with her. Without mom, I am nothing.........and I mean that literally and figuratively. I know that T and Dad feel the same.There is a void in our lives that I don’t think will ever be filled, and I am overwhelmed with a profound sadness in my heart the likes of which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

So here we are today, saying goodbye to the single most influential female in my life...perhaps some of your lives as well. I know I could have and should have been a better son in so many ways. But I don’t harbor guilt over this, because I know that mom was proud of the friend, the husband, the father........well, really, the man I have become. The truth is all I ever wanted was for her to be proud of me. When something good happens to me, the first person I always called was mom (much to the chagrin of J)....I got promoted, I got a raise, whatever, take your pick.......and the reasoning behind that call I have realized as of late is that I just wanted her to know that I wasn’t that screw up from years ago. I have always felt like I needed to make up for that little shit I was. I probably didn’t, but I wanted her to know that she didn’t go wrong with me, she actually did good. SHE deserved that.......I know that the next time something great happens I am going to pick up my phone and just dial instinctively and I know at that moment it will be like this is happening all over again, but that’s ok, because I know she’s watching me and I hope it is with a swelled chest full of pride, because again......SHE DESERVES IT.

Mom, I need you to know that J and the girls love, I won’t say “loved”, they love you and I feel terrible that they won’t get to know you as I did. Know that you DID affect them, and you WILL NOT be forgotten by them.

I am going to miss you mom, and I don’t blame whatever power is up there for wanting you to come back..........because I WANT YOU TO COME BACK, but I don’t have that power. I don’t NEED you anymore, I just really really really want you around. I promise to try to be a better man, to have more compassion for my girls, to be nicer to people, to treat J more like the goddess she is, but most importantly, to be a good son and brother to the people who meant the most to you in this world.

I have given up trying to find answers, even if there were any, none would satisfy me. But I will say this....It wasn’t supposed to be like this...........but that’s OK, because you are no longer struggling, you can rest, it’s over. You left this world knowing how much of an impression you had on so many people, I can only hope that I have that honor one day.

I love you mom and I won’t ever be the same without you. So say hi to all the grandparents for me and you better have some sweet and sour meatballs for me when I arrive someday. I love you so much and I am so sorry any of this happened to you, you deserved better.

RIP mom.


First of all, I wanted to thank all of you for coming today. Over the past few months, we have been humbled by your support…on the blog, your emails, your visits, your calls, your food, your offers of help, your love and your support. My mother often said how this experience had changed her. She said that the outpouring of support for her was mind boggling, and it taught her that we should never sit back when those we know, even just acquaintances, are going through rough times. I have learned that lesson, too. We had always believed that in hard times, families needed to be by themselves…to be private. Through this experience, we learned that the love, support, encouragement, kind thoughts, and offers to help are invaluable, not intrusive.I will forever be grateful for all that you have done for me and my family during this trying time, and I am lucky that so many decided not to just let us be. My family owes so much to so many of you, and all I can do is express our thanks, and tell you that it mattered. It made life easier, it made life better, and your strength helped carry us through. We are forever changed because of this experience, and I hope that we will all be better people for learning that lesson.

Today we are here to honor my mother. I think the outpouring of support is a testament to her life….to the person she was, to her kindness, to her humor, and to the friendships she cultivated over a lifetime. I could spend days talking about my mother (and as you all know from the blog, I can certainly wax poetic at the drop of a hat). It is so difficult for me to think about where to begin, what to say. How do you summarize the essence of a person? I could tell you all that my Mom grew up in Scranton, PA, that she was an only child, that she graduated from college, that she was a social worker when she met my father, that they met when he crashed a wedding, that she worked in a series of part-time jobs when she moved here, that for the past 25 years, she worked as a Library Assistant (and eventually became the Supervisor) at a library, and that she was a loving daughter, an amazing mother and grandmother, and a good wife. I could tell you that my mother loved to read, that she was a wonderful baker and a cook, and that she crocheted and knitted some of the most beautiful afghans, sweaters and scarves I’ve ever seen in my life. My mother was kind. She loved her family, and she loved her friends. I could talk about my Mom’s humor, or our relationship, or her friendships, or how much she loved us. All of that is true. And yet…it somehow doesn’t say enough.

One of the things my mother hates most about funerals is the poem “Eishet Chayeil” – Woman of Valor. My mother felt that it extols values that she did not represent or even appreciate…a submissive woman, toiling day and night to keep the perfect Jewish home. When we received my mother’s diagnosis, I knew that there would be no reading of Eishet Chayeil at her funeral. At the time, I posted something on the Caring Bridge site about needing to find a better poem to read, and my Mom’s friend, S, gave me a card the next day, with a poem folded inside. I’ve carried it with me ever since, and I think perhaps it does a better job of identifying the “value” of a person’s life, and maybe a better framework for me to tell you about my mother:

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of his friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth, and spoke of the second with tears,
But he said that what mattered most of all was the dash between those years
For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth,
And now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own; the cars, the house, the cash.
What matters is how we live and love when we’re living out the dash.
If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and what is real,
And always try to understand the way other people feel.
And…be less quick to anger and show appreciation more,
And love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect, and more often wear a smile,
Remember that this special dash might only last a while.
So, when your eulogy is being read with your life’s actions to rehash…
Will you be pleased with what there’s to say about how you spent your dash?

Each of you here today (and so many more who are unable to be with us) are part of how my mother spent her dash, and those of us who loved her do understand the value of that dash. I think one word that can easily be used to describe my mother’s dash is “friend.” She was a wonderful and kind friend to so many, including me – a sounding board, a confidante, and a cheerleader. My mom is a rare breed…she has so many lifelong friends since her childhood in Scranton, friends she met as a young, newly married adult building a life in a new city, friends she met through work, and more recently, friends that she collected through her struggle with cancer.

Mom would do whatever she could to help a friend…make food, run an errand, babysit a child, drive somewhere, rescue a knitting project, hold a hand, sit in a hospital waiting room, drive 8 hours to a funeral, teach their children to drive, pull loose teeth, or just sit and listen and laugh and talk. She tried her best to always be there for her friends whenever they needed her. In recent weeks, she read the book Tuesdays with Morrie, and when she finished, she asked me if it would be okay to take Morrie’s line from his tombstone (“teacher to the end”) and tweak it a bit…she wanted to put on her tombstone “friend to the end.” Friendship was one of the most important parts of Mom’s dash.

Humor was another huge component that defined Mom’s dash…she was snarky and spunky and funny, right up to the end. She had a keen sense of humor and a quick wit, and she could always deliver a well-timed line.She loved practical jokes, she loved to laugh, and she loved to yank people’s chains. Her eyes would dance when she was looking to laugh…and when my Mom decided it was time to laugh, well, it was time to laugh. I’ve often spoken of our inside jokes on the Caring Bridge site, and I’m going to miss laughing with my Mom and our silly little sayings.

I think food defined my mother’s dash. She loved to eat (especially on those steroids), she loved to try new and different foods, and she loved to cook and bake…but only from scratch. She made the most delicious apple cake, and cookies, and applesauce and mandel bread and brownies. She was constantly trying new recipes, but there were certain foods, especially holiday foods, that we liked a certain way…like her brisket, and her filled cabbage, and her blintzes, and her Thanksgiving stuffing, and her pumpkin pie. She loved a good holiday meal, and while she hated the mess and the effort, she loved doing the holidays “just right” with our food, done our way.

My mom was also a bit quirky, but her quirks were endearing and why she has been so loved during her dash. I loved that she started cooking or baking whenever a snow storm hit…usually soup, or filled cabbage, or her latest baked goods obsession (one year it was blueberry muffins, the past two years it has been mandel bread). She loved to guess the voices in television commercials (I think it is something she started with her father many years ago). She had a tendency to goose us (particularly my father) in public, just so she could hear a good squeal. I loved the silly little dances she would do for me singing the Chip and Dale song, and I loved when she would imitate cookie monster and sing “C is for Cookie…” Mom loved beautiful voices and singing…she always joked how in her next life, she wants to be able to sing.

I would also say Mom’s dash was defined by all the little things she did, especially for us. I remember as a child that she always made my lunch…and would use cookie cutters to cut my sandwiches into different shapes. She often put post-it notes in my lunch, and she would hide post-it notes with messages like “I love you” and “I miss you” in our clothing drawers when we went off to camp. My mom always had homemade soups and baked goods and applesauce for us. Every year, we would go out to the orchard and pick fresh vegetables and fruit, especially strawberries. We would pick 10 flats, and my mother would spend a day making strawberry jam and pies. We always had enough jam to last us the entire year through. I think I must have been well into my teenage years before I ever had store bought jam! Every year, she made sure to give gifts for all of her co-workers. She would start searching in July, trying to find the perfect gifts. I remember as a child all of the craft projects she did…crocheted bookworm bookmarks, pom pom magnets, lanyards and so many more, often as gifts for goodie bags or holidays. Mom was always working on a sweater or an afghan or a scarf. She used to make us hats and gloves, and I remember that she would crochet a string and attach our mittens to each end and thread them through the sleeves of our jackets so we could not lose them. She did so much for us and for everyone to make our lives…nicer.

The end of Mom’s dash has been defined by her strength and courage. This year, we lost Grammy, my mother’s mother. At times, watching my mother through this battle was like watching her become my grandmother. It was difficult to see my mother age, almost overnight. As the brain tumor and surgery affected her, I noticed some of my grandmother’s nervous habits surfacing in my mother. It was bittersweet…terrible to see in my mother, and yet it made me smile to catch a glimpse of my grandmother again. At her funeral, my mother said that my grandmother’s last 2 weeks were a true testament to her strength, both physical and mental, and that my grandmother raised the bar high and my mother only hoped that she could reach it as Grammy did. Mom – you did. You faced this horrible illness with such strength and courage, and you fought hard, and you did better than anyone predicted. I’m stunned that this stroke came along and took you out after all your fight and hard work. It isn’t fair. You faced this battle with courage, grace and strength.You earned the right to have more good time, and frankly, we were all robbed. I’m angry about that, but so proud of you and all you did. I’m sorry for all the things the cancer stole from you, and yet proud of how you held on to yourself…you were kind, you worked hard to improve, and you always kept a positive outlook. As you have said before, you raised the bar, and I hope that I can reach it the way you and Grammy did.

Before she learned of her diagnosis, my Mom never realized that she had touched so many lives. Through the blog and your messages, she learned at the end of her life that she mattered to so many, and that the things she had done made a difference. That knowledge touched her, and meant the world to her. She told me one day that you never know how the tiniest little nothing you do can be a big something to someone else. I think that is an important lesson for all of us.

Towards the end, my mother gave us a list of things she wanted to “take with her.” I think many of those things represent what she valued in living out her dash…pictures of her family, a hat crocheted for her by a dear friend, a phone so she could “keep in touch” with her loved ones, and Nugget’s remains.

I have asked the Rabbi to read the Yizkor poem “As We Remember Them” today. I have always found that poem beautiful, and I think it is true…it is in all the little things of every day life that will help me remember my mother. I will take her with me, and she will live on in each of us, in our memories of her. I believe that “As long as we live, she too will live, for she is now a part of us, as we remember her.”

I’d like to part with a poem that my Mom’s friend and co-worker, G, brought to her when she was in the hospital. It resonated with her, and I think it speaks to the value of my mother’s dash:

Count your garden by the flowers,
Never by the leaves that fall.
Count your days by golden hours,
Don’t remember clouds at all.
Count your nights by stars not shadows,
Count your years with smiles, not tears.
Count your blessings not your troubles,

Count your age by friends not years.

As We Remember Them Poem read by Rabbi:

At the rising of the sun and at its going down, We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring, We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer, We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends, We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share, We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make, We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs, We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

The Funeral

Overwhelmed. I have to say that I am sitting here tonight, simply overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed by the emotions from today, I'm overwhelmed by the turnout at the funeral, and I am overwhelmed by all that has happened in the past few months.

Today was an emotionally draining we buried Mom. Maya was up screaming most of the night - she finally drifted off at midnight (well, after 2 car rides with Daddy), but she woke up again at 5:00 am. I gave up and brought her into bed with us so I could get a little sleep before the funeral.

The house came to life around 8:30 when our cleaning lady arrived. Megan arrived at 9 and started getting the children ready. Dad, my brother, SIL, M and the girls arrived around 9:45. We were busy getting dressed, prepping the house, organizing our things, and entertaining the children. Around 10:45, the limo arrived, and we left for the cemetery.

I forgot to eat this morning...I was feeling nervous and sad and shaky all at the same time. I wanted to get it over with...and I was filled with dread at the thought of going through this day. We were all on brother was upset because he had lost his bracelet that he considers his lucky charm, my father was empty chattering about anything that popped into his brain, and I was doing my best to fight back the tears.

We arrived at the cemetery, and I started to well up when I saw the tent over my mother's grave. We made our way to the chapel...and we were immediately greeted by our extended family. It was such a relief to see their faces. I could feel that we were surrounded by love, and my emotions started to run high.

I do not know how long we were standing there, but we were slowly moved into a room to the side of the chapel. The flow of people coming in to console us, friends, neighbors, co-workers. One by one, they came. After 10 or 15 minutes, we started to become a little amazed. The people kept coming...and coming...and coming. There was a line into the room to see us, the chapel was filling up, and we could see out the window across the cemetery as the cars lined up and the parade of people made their way to the chapel. We were amazed by some of the faces...good friends, family, co-workers, and so many faces from the past. Some people drove from hours away to be there for us.

My mother's co-workers were there in droves...I can't imagine there were enough people left behind to run the library. I was so touched to see all of them, and so thankful for all the support they have shown Mom throughout this battle. My father's department was there, and many from the College administration. My brother's co-workers were there, and so many of our friends - both from the present and our childhood. DH's family came down, and those who couldn't make it sent emails. We even had a friend who was only one month post kidney transplant there to honor Mom.

It warmed my heart to see old friends...especially a few former neighbors. I was particularly touched seeing two former neighbors again after all these years. I can't even begin to mention all the wonderful faces. The faces kept triggering so many memories...of my childhood, of the past, of my mother. I can't possibly name all the hundreds of people who were there (and yes, it was hundreds - my best guess is 200-250 people), but I wanted to extend my thanks to each and every one of you. I was awed by your attendance.

The funeral started late...due in no small part to the Rabbi's late arrival (he was late because he was trying to fulfill one of my mother's requests). At one point, a hush fell across the chapel, as if everyone thought the service was about to begin. As the silence hovered, I felt compelled to announce that we were still waiting for the Rabbi to arrive.

He arrived a few minutes later, and we quickly did the Kriah ceremony - my father, brother and I each pinned a black ribbon to our clothing and tore it to signify the rending of the heart for the loss of the loved one. By 12:15, we were out in the chapel, seated, and the Rabbi began the ceremony.

He welcomed everyone, and he spoke eloquently about my mother. He spoke of her kindness, of the love she had for her family, and his impressions of Mom. He did a few blessings, and he then turned it over to those of us who were giving her eulogy.

We started with my mother's childhood friend, S. She spoke of their childhood together, and the lifetime of friendship they shared. S's speech was touching, beautiful, and moving, and she talked about the seven lovely ladies who have been forever friends. She concluded her speech with a farewell to my mom, and sadness that now there are only six lovely ladies.

My mother's boss and friend from work spoke next. She brought a splash of humor to a very sad day. P did a wonderful job illuminating the relationship between my parents, and describing my mother professionally and as a colleague. P's word made me laugh as I pictured my mother rolling her eyes at one of my father's phone calls, and she made my heart swell with pride at my mother's service to her job.

L, our family friend, spoke next. He, too, spoke of Mom's friendship and kindness, and he spoke about how through the years, like so many others, our families' relationship grew into something more than just friendship...we became family. I think that epitomized so much about my mother...she took friends and made them family.

My brother followed L. He gave a powerful speech, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. He talked about my mother's strength, and his love for her, and he talked about how he hoped he would make her proud.

I spoke last. I remember being weepy from my brother's speech. I also remember thinking that so much of what I had planned to say was said in a similar way already...everyone talked about my mother as a friend, and we used similar words to describe Mom's tenacity and humor. I think my brother and I even had a few of the same phrases in our speeches. As I stood in front of the room, I was stunned to see how many people were present. The room was filled, there were people standing around the edges, and I could see that the vestibule was filled.

I was having a hard time speaking. I felt shaky and I could barely see the words I had written. I suddenly felt cold and fidgety, and all I could think was "Mom is lying there in that box." I think I mumbled a few words about how everyone had said the things I had written. I worked my way through the speech stumbling at times over the words, feeling largely inarticulate and tongue tied. I couldn't manage to make eye contact and look up and out - I felt my eyes glued to the papers in front of me, and my fingers incessantly shredded a kleenex and folded the corner of my speech back and forth. I worried about whether I was speaking loudly or clearly, and I tried my best to slow things down, because I know that I have a tendency to speak 90 miles a minute when I am nervous or upset. To me, my speech felt flat...that I didn't say the right things or speak as I had intended. I felt myself wishing that I had managed to express myself as well as my brother did.

When I finished speaking, the Rabbi read the poem I requested (As We Remember Them), and he said a few more blessings. In a break from tradition, we asked my mother's friends, the ladies, to be the pallbearers. The coffin was moved on wheels, and we thought that Mom would want to be surrounded by her closest friends as she was escorted from the chapel. As they escorted Mom, the Rabbi blew the shofar...another request from my mother. She wanted a long loud shofar blast to pierce through the air and touch us all.

We walked behind the hearse and followed Mom to the grave. The Rabbi said a few words, and we lowered Mom into the ground. One by one, we followed tradition and covered her with dirt. A few more prayers, the mourners kaddish, and it was all over.

We took the limo back to the house, and there were people there. My friend H had been at the house with Megan all day, there to watch the kids, receive the food, and set things up. L (our other babysitter Christin's mother) also came over to help with the kids. My friend T and her mother, B, (and I think her sister, too), left early to get back to the house and finish getting everything ready.

We spent the afternoon eating and talking. The kids played downstairs, and it was an emotionally charged day. There was a constant stream of people in and out. Around 7:00 pm, the last wave of visitors arrived, and our friend E led a service for us. The house was full, and it was amazing to see so many familiar faces. We said Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, for my mother, and we sat surrounded by friends and family all night.

By 9:00, almost everyone had gone home. My brother, SIL and the girls decided to spend the night, and my niece M decided to stay behind with us for a few days to help out. We have been sitting and talking all night (and Maya has been refusing to sleep). I love having a full house.

Right now, it all seems surreal. I think being surrounded by so many loved ones makes it easy to forget for a little while. Tomorrow we will be holding shiva again, and I suspect the parade will continue.

All day long, friends and family took care of us - getting food, refilling the platters, washing the dishes, putting things away, tracking the gifts, etc. Thank you so much for all of your care today. I will be posting the eulogy speeches as soon as I can.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The final day

I knew yesterday morning when I woke up that it would be the day. Mom's breathing had slowed and it just felt like the end was near.

The prior night (the 27th), around 11:30 pm (just after I finished the blog), I called out a false alarm in the house. I had gone in to see my mother and give her medication. As I entered the room...her breathing seemed to just slow. She made a few choking/coughing noises and groaned a bit, and I thought she was going. Dad and DH came running, and I quickly gave her medication and repositioned her. After a few minutes, Mom's breathing seemed to slow back down again and her groaning stopped. I stayed with Mom for another 30 minutes, and decided to let her rest.

I continued to check on Mom on and off. Around 3:00 am, I headed in to the room to go to sleep. When I got to the room, Mom's breathing was labored again. I gave her more medication, and she groaned a bit. I cleaned her face, I lotioned her body, and I sat with her and talked to her for the next hour and a half. Around 4:30, she seemed to be calm and breathing steadily. I climbed into the twin bed in her room, and probably woke up every 20-30 minutes to listen to her breathing and determine if she needed any more medication.

Somewhere between 7 and 8 am, I noticed that her breathing had slowed way down...only 6-8 breaths per minute. Normal is 10-20 breaths per minute, and above 24 shows signs of distress. We were told that we could not give any more pain medication once her breathing fell below 14 breaths per minute, but I was able to give Mom more medication to prevent anxiety and to dry up her congestion. I also gave Mom more Tylenol because she had been running a fever.

Dad came in around 8:30, and we talked about how her breathing had slowed. The hospice nurse called to say she would be by in a few hours. We spent the morning as we always do...with the kids, eating breakfast, and I continually went in to check on Mom. The hospice nurse arrived around 11, and she also noted the change in Mom. We repositioned her again, and we waited.

We had several friends pop friend N stopped in to drop off some pasta salad for us (she had suggested a play date, but I was worried that Mom would die while the kids were over), and my friends H and B came by to bring us lunch from Panera. The Rabbi stopped in, and then S and G and G and S, and H came by, too. Business as usual, as we waited.

I kept popping in and out to see Mom. I just felt her...slipping away. She was very calm, her breathing seemed to be slowing, and she just seemed to be getting colder. I took some time to lotion up her body and wash her face. I kept her mouth swabbed so it wouldn't be dry. I noticed that her jaw had slackened...over the past few days, she would clench it tight when I tried to swab her mouth, but yesterday, it just hung loose. A few times, I thought her breathing had was as if time was frozen as I waited and watched. After 20-30 seconds, her breathing would again resume the slow and rhythmic labored pattern, and I didn't know if I should feel relieved or sad that she was still going.

I kept stroking her head and giving her kisses, and telling her that I loved her. My mother loved to have her back and head "tickled" - just a very soft touch. We would take turns tickling each other's backs (and we would negotiate deals...if you tickle my back for 10 minutes now while we watch tv, I'll do yours next for 10 minutes before I fall asleep). I joked that she would just have to owe me one as I tickled her back and head, and in my mind, I heard her say she'd tack it on to the others she owed me for all the times I tickled her back and head in the hospital. I told her I would miss her terribly, but I told her it was time for her to let go. I promised her we would be okay, that we would stay a family, and we would take good care of each other.

I left her room around 5:45 to go prepare dinner. Not that there was much to prepare...we had N's pasta salad, we pulled out the leftover tuna and egg salad, and DH ate leftover Thanksgiving food. Micah mostly just threw food on the floor. Every 5 minutes or so, I kept running back to check on Mom. I told her we were all eating dinner in the other room, and I told her I'd be back soon. I remember leaving the room as we sat down to eat, and I noticed that her color had...faded. She was looking quite ashen, and I kept thinking that her breathing had slowed again. It was quite shallow, and it almost seemed like more of a reflex. I laid my hand on her chest, but I could not feel her heart beating. Her pulse had been so faint all day today, so it did not surprise me, but she continued to breathe. I gave her another kiss and told her I would be back in a few.

I returned one more time to the room. I entered slowly, and waited to see if her breath was still coming. When I saw her chest rise, I moved closer to the bed. I noticed that the skin on her head looked...ashen, and little purple veins seemed to be visible, forming a geometric pattern across her forehead and skull. I kept thinking it meant something, but had no idea what. I kissed her again, and said I'd be back when dinner was finished.

About 10 minutes later, I returned to the room. I again stood in the doorway...and realized that her breathing had stopped. I moved forward to double check, and I started to cry. I kissed her goodbye, and with tears going down my face and a sob escaping, I walked back to the dining room to tell my Dad and DH. They came running....I know that I removed Mom's oxygen mask and arranged her arms, but I don't exactly know when I did that.

We called my brother. He knew when he answered the phone...I think he just picked up and asked "It's over?" I think I simply just said "yes" and we didn't say much more to each other. What was there to say? My dad called the funeral home and the hospice nurse. While we waited, I started making some phone family, to friends, to everyone. I didn't know what to say...just to say "it's over." Everyone asked if we needed anything, or if they should come. I told everyone not to come. The hospice nurse arrived shortly before 7 and pronounced Mom. She stayed for a while and took care of a few administrative things.

Naturally, several people started showing up...S and L and G and S. They helped clean and organize and just kept us company while we waited. I think it was around 8:30 or 9:00 before the funeral home arrived to take away my Mom. That was the hardest part. I was worrying about her being cold and alone. I hated to send her away. We said our goodbyes, and even the funeral home attendants were crying. I can't believe my mother was in the room alone when she died. I hope that she wasn't scared or in pain, and I hope that she knew we were here with her and that we all love her so much.

We've been working on arrangements since last night. Today my father and I went to the funeral home, and here I sit...waiting and waiting. We are having trouble thinking of logistics, and I keep wanting to ask my mother for her input. Silly, right?

I cannot believe we are going through this. Thank you all for your kind words and support.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A little humor through the sad...

From my brother on Facebook:

It's official. RIP Mom. I'll try my best to to continue to make you proud. Not really ready to let go, but no other choice.

And take 2 on Facebook...a little humor during a very sad time:

Well mom, looks like Leslie Nielsen decided to join you up there. So at least it won't be dull. What's that you say, "surely I can't be serious?". Well I AM serious.....and don't call me Shirley.