Tag Archives: dealing with grief

Brothers and Sisters Must Stick Together

19 Jan

“Brothers and sisters must stick together,” my parents would continually make this statement to my brother, sister and me throughout our childhood.  If we had a disagreement, they would intone this mantra. It was used in many ways.

If a friend of my brother’s bugged me, he would stop it. But then he would bug me.  Brothers protect sisters from others, but that does not mean he could not tease me. His interpretation of this saying.

Over the years my sibling and I have come together many times to help each other.  And this sentiment fills my mind and my soul. We will always stick together.  We repeated it many times when our parents passed away within nine months of each other.

As we cleaned and divided their homes, my brother would say, “Nothing is worth fighting over.”  And we knew that “Brothers and Sisters must stick together.”  It helped to hear these words from my parents. It was an emotional time, and sometimes we needed this reminder.

But I have to say my parents and their siblings took this to the zenith degree.  My Dad and his sister passed away within days of each other. It shocked us, as we sat shiva for both.   My Dad called my Aunt almost every day after my Mom passed, but even before they spoke often. And each winter spent months together in Florida. At the time I remember thinking that they could not survive without each other as they were so close. So although I was shocked when it happened,  I was not really surprised.  Brothers and sisters must stick together.

But this week it really amazed me.  To be honest my Mom and her brother had a separation.  They did not speak to each other the last years of my mother’s life. This broke her heart. Although she often spoke of her brother, Mom passed away before the rift was ended. Her mantra of “Brothers and Sisters must stick together,” did not help in this instance.  But my cousin, who I always kept close with, came to see her. And that help to ease her.

In the past six years the family has healed.  My siblings and I have visited with my Uncle. We see our cousins.  We help in times of need.  Brothers and sisters sticking together. The family has reunited.

Yesterday my Uncle passed away.  He had been ill for a while, but this week he went into hospice. I spoke to my cousins multiple times during the week.  And texted in between.  I love her and I knew this was so difficult.  And then he slowly slipped away, just days before his 90th birthday. When I got the call I was not surprised. But a few minutes later it hit me, this day was my Mom’s yahrzeit, the religious anniversary of her death.

I texted my cousin: her response was perfect, “Maybe now they will make peace.”

But to me it was a sign. To my siblings I texted, “Brothers and sisters must stick together.”

Missing My Friend

14 Sep

Now that my daughter’s wedding is over. I have time to reflect on the other major event in my life.

Women have several best friends. I do not have just one best friend, I have several: different women who give me support, love, a sounding board, comfort, friendship, and family. I am fortunate to have many best friends: the women who have gone through life’s joys and challenges and have always been there for me, just as I have been there for them.

Right before my daughter’s wedding I lost one of my best friends to cancer. It broke my heart.  Every time someone we love dies, it takes a little slice of the heart. I have survived the deaths of my grandparents, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles and even some friends. But this loss just breaks my heart.

My daughter said, “Mom I know you are so sad, but this is my wedding. Please focus on me and how happy I am.” So I had to push away my tears and focus on the joy of my daughter and future son-in-law. I needed to stop grieving and join the celebration.

The Friday before the wedding…two days before, my husband and I went to the funeral. How could I not go and say goodbye. I sat with another close friend. I held her hand and my husband’s hand as the funeral service progressed. Just as I was thinking ,“How will I get through the wedding.”   My friend turned to me and said, “What would she want? How would she act?” We both knew that she would want me to be so joyful at my daughter’s wedding.

We did not go to the cemetery. My husband and my friends insisted that I go home and get into wedding mode. I asked my close friend to shovel dirt for me. Even though I could not be there, I wanted to complete the act.

As we left the funeral, my friend’s husband rolled down the window of the limo to reach out to me. We spoke. I hugged him. Any other time in my life, I would have been there for him and their sons.

Another of my best friends called. She was preparing a shiva meal. And would put my name on it. There was no way I could go to any of the shiva services. I had the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and company throughout the holiday weekend. I felt the love of my friends to help me get through this bittersweet time.

My friend fought a battle with cancer. She was always gracious and strong. She was the kindest person. Everything was delightful in her world. I would ask, ‘Do you want to go for lunch?’ Her answer, “that would be delightful.” We would go out with her and her husband. Any thing I suggested would be delightful. When she chose the show or the restaurant, I in turn would say, “That would be delightful.” Delightful became one of my favorite words to use. It is so uplifting, just as she was to everyone.

It was not an act. She saw the world as a happy place. And her oh so happy attitude transformed people. She got things done. There was never a need for accolades and attention. If something needed to be done, she did it. Write a grant, organize lists of names, write letters, be there for a friend. Even when she was sick, she never stopped helping others.

Over the last year or so, she could not travel. Whenever I went out of town, she told me to send her photos. I sent many text messages with photos from throughout the country, Alaska, Canada, Seattle, New York, New Jersey, even the world: India, Israel, Italy, Spain. Wherever I went, she went with me.   I sent the most beautiful photo I took each day. She would respond with little messages telling me about her treatments and how things were going.

When I returned from a trip expecting to go and see her, she sent me a message.   She was going back into the hospital. “I just realized I never sent a welcome home,” she wrote. “The docs have decided to put me in the hospital… Sorry for the bad news. I am going this evening….”

So like her. Sorry for the bad news. She always thought about the ones who loved her. She knew it would hurt me that she was not progressing as well as we hoped. I visited her in the hospital. I visited her almost every week. I did what I could, as did her other friends.

But nothing really prepared me.

She called me three weeks before she died. She wanted me to come over with soup from our favorite deli. She was home alone. We spoke for two hours. It was our last visit. I cleaned the kitchen. I hugged her. I basically begged her to live to come to my daughter’s wedding. I knew it would not happen. But the thought of losing her was so very difficult.

I did not go back to see her. We continued to text back and forth for the next two weeks. I sent photos and long messages. She sent one or two words. Our last words, I said, “Love you.” She responded, “You too.” And that was the end. I kept sending messages even though I knew she would not/could not respond.

And now the wedding is over. My daughter and her husband have left town. Now I can grieve for my wonderful, delightful, kind, nice, bright friend. Only now can I open the box I kept in my heart during the wedding and cry.

Only now can I think about how much I will be missing my friend.

Finally Fixing and Focusing on my Succulents

5 Jun

Each May my Dad would begin to plan his summer plantings for my parent’s Catskills home. Over the years he had added gardens and flowers to the property that was once owned by my grandparents. Where my grandfather once had a large vegetable garden, something my Dad had helped with for years, my Dad decided to focus on flowers.

Some of my Dad's planters at the Catskills' house.

Some of my Dad’s planters at the Catskills’ house.

He loved to garden. In the spring and summer, it was at the Catskills property. My parents would drive into Monticello and go to a garden center and pick out the perfect annuals. These he would plant around the front of the house and in the now filled in koi pond. In the back of the house he always planted around the garden he put around the well. And all along the side of the house were more gardens. Of course he had plants on their screened-in porch as well.

He was always ‘puttering’ in the garden or with his plants. One year he was so upset with the deer eating his rhododendron, he went out and got hyena or coyote urine to keep them away.

When the summer was over, he would mulch his flowerbeds to be ready for the next year’s plantings.

My parent's large cactus plant!

My parent’s large cactus plant!

The rest of the year he focused on indoor plants. He had many succulents, including a beautiful flowering cactus and a large spiny cactus. He kept them in great shape. As well as many other plants that grew in their living room, kitchen and on their terrace.

My Mom and I had always joked about our winter ‘schlumbergera’ flowering cactuses (Also known as Christmas cactus). We fought over whose had more blooms. I will admit, my Mom and Dad won that battle.

His love of plants worked to my benefit, as twice a year my parents came to spend 10 to 14 days with my family in Kansas. They came every Passover and Thanksgiving, and since Dad needed to keep active, I kept a list of ‘chores’ for him to do. Which meant every spring, he and my husband worked on outside gardens. When we first bought our home, 29 years ago. It was brand new, with no gardens. Over the years we have put in massive gardens and plantings. My Dad helped to dig out the first gardens. And as the plants and gardens grew, Dad was in charge of mulching and weeding. He also helped in choosing the perfect new plantings each year.

A portion of my outside gardens.

A portion of my outside gardens.

When my Dad became unable to do heavy work, he would just do the mulching with my son. We hired a gardener for the other jobs.   And then when he could no longer even mulch, he would sit out on a chair and direct and chat with John the gardener. John and Dad had lots to talk about. Thanks to both of them I have wonderful outside gardens.

In autumn, Dad would focus on my inside garden. I had many succulents, both inside and outside. But it was my inside ones that Dad kept going. Every autumn he would repot those plants that needed the extra space. He would trim back dead areas, and keep my plants look wonderful.

When he was not here, I just watered and removed dead leaves. I waited for him for any repotting needs. I knew he loved to do it. When my children were little they always helped. It was a great bonding time for them.

It worked out just fine.

Then the unspeakable happened. My parents passed away nine months apart. It was a stressful time. My Dad did not come out in the autumn, as my Mom was ill. He did make it in the spring, but was unable to do his usual ‘chores’. When he fell truly ill, he ended up being in a hospital and then rehab for the last three months of his life.

My Aunt and Uncle and parents with the cactus planter my Aunt now keeps.

My Aunt and Uncle and parents with the cactus planter my Aunt now keeps.

At his shiva, it was obvious his lovely plants needed help. My Aunt Mickey took the planter with succulents that was on the coffee table. My brother took the living ivy and small plants. My sister took the giant cactus. Since I lived in Kansas, I did not take a plant. Dad would have been happy to know his plants were in good hands.

Over the past few years, since my parent’s deaths, I have not touched my succulents, except to water them.   Included in my plants is an aloe plant that is over 50 years old. It had been my husband’s Mom’s. It became mine when she passed away 30 years ago. It, along with my other plants, began to suffer. A friend of mine would occasionally cut back the dead leaves. At times she watered them when she came. But even with her care, some succulents did not survive. I would take the empty pots and put them away.

Eventually she told me that I had to re-pot and care for my plants. She was right. My Dad would have been very unhappy with me. Even though I was caring for the outside plants, I had ignored the inside ones.

For some reason, this May I finally got the inspiration to fix my plants. I bought seven new succulents for inside. I bought several new ceramic pots. On Memorial Day, after I went to a veterans’ memorial service, I repotted my plants and I planted the new succulents.

Just as my Dad always did, I put old newspapers on my counter. I got the potting soil and the new pots and plants. And for a good hour, I worked on my plants. Placing some of them on my kitchen garden window, and others in my planter. I planted so many that I ran out of room. So I put two on my cookbook shelf.

My kitchen window garden.

My kitchen window garden.

While I worked inside, my husband worked outside. He planted herbs and flowers in the flower boxes on our deck. He planted new yellow speckled lillies in one of our outside gardens. And we planted a beautiful new peach-colored rose bush, called ‘Cinco De Mayo,’ in our front gardens. I chose this rose bush in memory of my Mom. I plan to plant a blue hydrangea for my Dad. We have white ones, but he always wanted some colored ones in my yard.

As I finally fixed my indoor gardens and saw my planters filled with the life of new succulents, I felt a burden lift from my heart.