Archive for October, 2009

Saying goodbye…

Posted in Tiny spaces with tags , , , on October 11, 2009 by talesofanunfinishedmom

Three weeks ago my grandmother passed away. She was my paternal grandmother and the last grandparent in my family to die. She was 88 years old.

By all accounts, she lived a long and full life. She was married to my grandfather for more than 50 years, had two sons, two grandchildren, and even lived to meet and know three great grandchildren.

Her life was hard though…she had a lot of setbacks, physical and emotional. But, she also had the determination and the drive to keep moving forward. She spent little time with regret. This after a difficult childhood (her mother, my great grandmother escaped the Holocaust) growing up in Brooklyn and dealing with anti-semitism, suffering three miscarriages later in life, a stillborn baby (the daughter she always wanted), a near-death car accident where both she and my grandfather were nearly killed by a drunk driver and a long recovery after the fact,  a diagnosis and ultimate recovery from breast cancer, a long several years of taking care of my grandfather as he slipped away with dementia and Parkinson’s and ultimately death, and finally, her own diagnosis with macular degeneration and loss of sight gradually over the last several years.

One would think, expect, and even understand how she might have gotten a bit crabby after facing so many challenges, but her courage and determination were like nothing I’ve ever seen. After my grandfather passed away and her sight began to go, she relocated to an assisted living facility up in the Sierras to be near her two sons. It was a big adjustment for her – dealing with the grief of losing my grandfather and moving away from her home and community in Southern California. She talked about my grandfather a lot but she also began to create another community for herself almost instantly. She’d always been an avid exerciser and meditator and before long, she was leading exercise classes and private meditations, encouraging all of the other “old folk” to get off their butts and get moving. She also began to take tai chi and was on the resident board of her facility.

None of this should have been a surprise to me. I can vividly recall my grandma coming to visit when I was growing up on the East Coast. She was not like other grandmothers. She would be out in the street with me and my little friends playing jump rope. And, when we were done with that, she would then give us all hand massages. She had the strongest hands I ever felt – even up to the very end.

The last eight years have really been a gift as for the first time in my life, I’ve lived close enough to my grandmother to see her more often.  Instead of visits every couple of years, we started seeing each other for every holiday and shared many summer dinners and visits. When I got engaged, finally, she was SO happy to be a part of my wedding. And, when she suddenly went into the hospital for a kidney infection two days before my wedding, she told every doctor and nurse at that hospital that she would be dancing at her granddaughter’s wedding and had NO intention of staying. As usual, her determination won, and she not only made it to my wedding, but, stuck by her promise to dance the night away. She was 83.  I can still see her smiling tear-stained face yelling Mazel Tov as my now husband and I exchanged our final vows.

Soon thereafter, I suffered miscarriages of my own and my grandmother was always quick to say that although it wasn’t meant to be, that she knew I’d have a child someday. She was right. Two years after that, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I so wanted to honor my grandmother by giving our daughter Ellie part of her name but that wasn’t considered appropriate, given that my grandmother was still living. It makes me sad now that she’s gone not to have had that chance.

I remember how excited I was for my grandmother to meet my daughter for the first time–to introduce her to her great-grandaughter. What a wonderful moment. And, after each visit, even though it was hard for my grandmother to see I always sent her picture after picture so she could see how Ellie was growing and changing. I know it brought her so much joy and I loved for Ellie to have a chance to get to know this woman who had been a part of my life for so long.

The last couple of years had been hard for my grandmother. Between her broken hip, polycystic kidney disease, and congenital heart failure, she found herself finally having to slow down. And, she didn’t care for that one bit. Her dinner parties became fewer, her cane was traded in for a walker, she started to miss her tai chi classes , her vision became darker, and slowly but surely she started to lose her zest for life.

The last year in particular was very rough. She spent more time being ill than not and had at least five emergency visits to the hospital. Incredibly, she’d rebound after nearly every one and we’d find her at our family dinner table once again, flexing her sharp wit, and always dressed impeccably.

This all changed a few months ago. Her bouts of heart failure escalated and a medical procedure that could have caused her relief, ended up weakening her.  She didn’t really have the energy to travel to my parents’ house anymore so on one of our last visits up there, Ellie, Paul and I made it a point to go visit her. Ellie was always so happy to see her “Gigi” and I know it made my grandmother happy too to spend time with her girls.

Our last real visit in August was a lovely one. In typical Sierra fashion, it was a warm summer day dressed with a late afternoon breeze. My grandmother and I sat together on a swing while Ellie frolicked in the grass in front of us. I don’t remember specifically what we talked about but I remember looking at my grandmother and noticing how frail she was starting to look . I recall that for many moments, we just slowly swung, taking in the beauty of the day and listening to Ellie’s squeals of joy anoint the air around us.

The next time I saw my grandmother she was in the ICU – her last time in the hospital. God how she hated the hospital. My mother and I visited and I recall when I first saw her how gaunt she looked. Honestly, part of me secretly wondered if she was already dead. She was peacefully sleeping, finally having experienced some comfort with the help of medical assistance. I felt funny about waking her up but my Mom insisted. I’m glad she did. She was only awake for a few minutes but it was long enough for me to lean close to her and look in her still beautiful sparkling blue eyes, give her a kiss on the forehead, and tell her that I loved her. A smile crept across her face only seconds before she was asleep again.

That was the last time I saw her.

When my mother called to let me know that my grandmother had finally returned home from the hospital, I felt relief. But inside, I knew that she probably couldn’t rebound this time — as much as I had hoped.

Two days later I got another call from my mother to let me know that my grandmother had passed away peacefully in the night– on Rosh Hoshanah. As a woman whose Judaism was so important to her, a part of her, that seemed fitting to me.

This past weekend, I attended a memorial/celebration of life for her. My brother and I made the trek up to the Sierras for the day, enjoying some rare sibling bonding time and uncommon quiet in a car that was free of toddlers and babies. I had planned to make some notes for the service on the car ride up knowing that I was expected to speak but I just couldn’t bring myself to make an outline or create bullet points to talk about someone I love. I wasn’t so much worried that I wouldn’t know what to say but more that I would collapse into a sobbing mess while I was saying it.

I was so touched during the service by the words of family and strangers (at least to me) who had been so deeply touched by my grandmother, who had been so uplifted by her buoyant spirit, and felt such a deep loss with her passing. With my grandmother gone, her assisted living facility seemed so lifeless. I noticed out of the corner of my eye, an elderly woman bawling on and off throughout the service. I tried to avoid her eye as much as possible so as not to lose it myself but also felt so drawn to her despair. After the service I went up to her to snag a tissue (she had an entire box sitting on her walker) and asked her if I could give her a hug. She began to cry again and at this point we both were sobbing. When I pulled away from her, she asked if she could wipe my tears away. I couldn’t help but think that as a woman with no children and grandchildren that that was a very maternal thing to do.

I asked her if she had been close friends with my grandmother as I’d never seen her before and she said that no, she hadn’t. But, she said that my grandmother had the most amazing spirit that uplifted everyone around her and how much she’d miss that.

She did. And, so, when my turn came to get up and say a few words about my grandmother, instead of collapsing into the sobbing mess I anticipated, I held steady and strong, sharing a few stories and vowing to honor her memory by living a better life myself–remembering to make time for play even when there’s a lot of work to do, remembering that if given the choice to work or dance, to always choose dancing, and to always live life with gusto and zest. I know that’s what my grandmother would want.

Goodbye dear grandmother. I’ll miss you more than you’ll never know.

Mother's Day 2009

Mother's Day 2009

Native American Prayer

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there I do not sleep

I am a thousand winds that blow

I am a diamond’s glint on snow

I am the gentle autumn’s rain

I am sunlight on ripened grain.

When you awaken in the mornings hush

I am the sweet uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

So do not stand at my grave and cry

I am not there…I did not die.

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Discretion…

Posted in Workin' 9 to 5 with tags , on October 4, 2009 by talesofanunfinishedmom

It’s been a month since my last blog post. I never intended for so much time to pass by. But, life stepped in and dumped some big changes on me and since then I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about them with discretion. It’s been such a struggle that I’ve even had some regrets about not creating an anonymous blog to start with.  It’s a terrible feeling to think that you can’t be completely open and transparent on your blog – a place that you own and created for the sole purpose of sharing your experiences. 

But, discretion is important in my world. Or, should I say to me.  So, backing up a few weeks…

After a long, mostly relaxing Labor Day weekend, I returned to the office to receive some big news. By most accounts the news was good. I had just been promoted to a pretty big position within my company. Actually, it was more than pretty big. It was freakin’ huge. My immediate reaction was one of shock. If you worked at my company, or frankly, any publishing company, you’d know that promotions are hard to come by. And, generally speaking, promotions are projected to be received with excitement.  And, actually, there was a lot of excitement — emails flooded my in-box, passersby offered their congratulations, and I received many personal visits from well wishers. And, yet, amidst all of the excitement, I found myself feeling grateful but grim.

Please don’t misunderstand. Amidst the shock, there was excitement — a feeling of deep accomplishment after working toward this for a long time. But, you see, this wasn’t exactly the direction I imagined my life taking – at this point in time. I don’t know why I say that, really, since starting from when I was 5 years old, I imagined myself being some big corporate executive living in some fancy schmancy New York apartment. Not that I am anywhere near being a big corporate executive nor do I think the average publishing salary, even a decent one, could ever buy you much of anything in New York. But, I digress.

When I had those dreams, I didn’t factor in that I wouldn’t actually get married until I was in my late 30s. And, I certaintly didn’t imagine I’d become a Mom in my early 40s.  These events kind of changed things for me.

So, recent events and developments have come at an interesting time for me — a time when I’ve been desperately trying to achieve some balance in my life; a time when I’d finally maybe figured out how to squeeze in a bit of exercise, and a time when I hoped I could figure out how to spend more quality time with my daughter.

My new responsibilities are tremendous and currently, there aren’t final solutions for what’s going to happen to my old job, which I may not have mentioned, I’m still reponsible for. I felt like I was doing the job of two people before. I’m not sure I could put a number on it now. It just feels incredibly overwhelming, at times exciting, and mostly preoccupying. At this moment, it feels as if balance will elude me forever.

I’m really hoping this book will help me sort some of this out (one of the perks of working in publishing is getting free books!):

488195_cover_2.indd

New York Times bestsellers have all the answers, right? And, this book promises big. It promises happiness — for all working moms–whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or manager of your local McDonald’s.  All you need are some good tools rooted in positive psychology.

Sign me up!

To be continued…