Sunday, November 2, 2014

There are All Kinds of Grief I Suppose

I have a friend who is grieving for a child who succumbed to cancer. I worry about her, but there is little I can do for her at the practical level. When she reaches out on social media, the outpouring of love and understanding is immense, but I wonder if it really helps.

I wonder too, about how my friend’s grief affects her family dynamic. Does her husband prefer to turn inward, rather than air his feelings? Does he feel as though he failed his biological purpose by not protecting his family from harm? Does he show impatience with his wife’s need to talk about her sadness and her longing for their child?

I know that grieving can be postponed, but not indefinitely. And I wonder how much grieving is normal: how long my friend can grieve before her spouse or some expert tells her time’s up. Stop the grieving now.

Normal Grief?

Some say there are four stages of grief, while others say there are five. The experts talk about “normal grief” and something called “abnormal” or “complicated” grief. This is grief that has staying power, or grief that is delayed, for instance. Some people grieve too deeply, while others are denied their feelings by society: told their feelings are unacceptable, to put a cork in it.  

My father died when I was 13. It was unexpected. It was over in a split second. I wasn’t home when it happened and having said goodbye to him at an airport within hours of his death, I feel I had decent closure. He was smiling. He kissed me goodbye. We had no unresolved issues. My adolescence hadn’t gotten to the awful stage yet (my mother was the unlucky sole beneficiary of my teenage angst) so things were good.

I mostly felt shock when I heard the news. Shock and emptiness. Yet not shock. Because I already knew. A friend had a premonition and told me about it. He walked me home from school prior to the event and said, “I have this feeling that when you come back from your trip, your father won’t be here.”
At Falling Water a year or so before my father died. My parents, me, and my sister Devera.


And when I woke up with a tummy ache at 2 AM, the exact time listed as his time of death, I was not surprised when a little while later, I heard the phone ring and my aunt, with whom I was staying, say, “Oh my God.”

I told myself it must be my grandfather, my only remaining grandparent, although he too, was well, and actually would not die for another decade.

I was not surprised when my aunt stood up for the mourner’s prayer at my friend’s Bat Mitzvah service, which was the reason I was in Buffalo, NY, with my aunt and uncle, rather than at home in Pittsburgh. And I was also not surprised when my aunt told me, as soon as the service was over, that we would not be attending the luncheon, that my father was very ill and that we must return to Pittsburgh at once.

I knew. I knew. I knew.

I cried a few quiet tears in the backseat of my uncle’s car. And what had happened was confirmed when we crested Ferree St. and came down the other side that led straight into the driveway of my childhood home on Asbury Pl. The front door was open. The house was lit up. And I could see people milling about inside.

I knew it was a shiva house, shiva meaning seven, for the week of Jewish mourning. I came in and everyone said, “Shhhh. She’s here.”

My mother sat me down on one of our matching loveseats in the living room and said, “Daddy passed away last night.”

I wanted to ask questions. Why? What had happened? But I didn’t want to be a burden. Later I was told that my mother had said repeatedly, “I don’t know how I’ll tell Barbara (the name by which I was called then).”

I was encouraged to go up to my bedroom and rest. My uncle, a pediatrician gave me pills. He said they would help me sleep and urged me to take them. People came and went. I was numb. They all wanted so deeply to help me not to feel.

So I didn’t.

The next day we stood in a receiving line at the funeral home. Each person said the same thing to me. “I’m sorry,” they all said, one at a time. Each time someone said it to me, tears fell from my eyes in huge wet drops and I’d watch the blue fabric of my dress absorb them soundlessly as they spread and then disappeared.
Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma Meyers


I don’t remember sadness or pain. I remember soundless tears and fearing to be a burden. I remember numbness.

Then, six months later, I was sitting in class and started to sob. Wracking sobs. Uncontrollable sobs. It HURT.

My teacher was smart enough to know what she was seeing: grief, finally coming out, months later, unbidden, without any particular trigger. It just happened. She found a quiet place for me to sit and asked my best friend at that time, also named Barbara, to just sit by my side, which she did, rubbing my back a bit, just being there, which was enough. I needed a witness. I had finally opened the curtain on my grief at my father’s passing.

And every day for the rest of my years at home, I would awaken at 5:30 AM to listen for my dad leaving the house for work. There should have been the telltale sound of his hand gripping the cuff of a brownbag lunch as he got ready to leave. But every morning, for years, only silence.

I ached inside, but was well-controlled. The pain subsided sometimes and I’d forget until something would remind me.

40 years later I still light a candle on the anniversary of his death. I post photos of him on Facebook and people commiserate. They say, “The pain never really goes away.”

And I wonder if something is wrong with me, because I haven’t felt sad about my father in a very long time. I feel that he can see me and that he approves. I feel that I live my life in part for him, to make him proud of me.

There are all kinds of grief, I suppose.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

SPECIAL MESSAGE about Shuja'iya in Gaza

h/t Barry Shaw via Real Jerusalem Streets

Shuja'iya in Gaza has been identified by the IDF and Shin Bet intelligence as an area rife with Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror hideouts. These terror groups store weapons in Shuja'iya, launch rockets from Shuja'iya, and dig tunnels to be used for terror attacks from underneath Shuja'iya.
The IDF warned the residents of Shuja'iya to leave for several days. Leaflets were dropped, thousands of phone calls were made, and text messages were sent, telling the residents to evacuate the area. While thousands of residents managed to get out, others were prevented from vacating the area by Hamas. Hamas prevented civilians from leaving the area because, like the residents themselves, Hamas knew that the IDF intended to target and eradicating several years worth of stockpiled weapons and the significant terror infrastructure they have built in this heavily populated urban neighborhood.



It is from Shuja'iya that hundreds of rockets have been launched into Israel.
Hamas asked for and received a humanitarian ceasefire, a lull in the fighting in Shuja'iya. Israel agreed to a humanitarian ceasefire of two hours, from 1:30-3:30 PM. During this time, Hamas brought in the foreign press corps to tell them about the "genocide" in Shuja'iya. Many civilians were killed and wounded because Hamas prevented them from leaving. The press reported the so-called "genocide" without mentioning that several dozen terrorists were the real targets and were among the many killed and wounded. 
The humanitarian ceasefire gave the terrorists an opportunity to treat and evacuate the wounded and to move their weapons and explosives from the area, ahead of the serious fighting expected to take place in this neighborhood later today. It is believed that ambulances were used both to remove the wounded AND the weapons stockpile from Shuja'iya during the ceasefire period.



The ceasefire was still meant to be in effect when Gaza launched rockets into Israel, at 2:15 PM. These rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. IDF artillery responded shortly after, shooting several rounds of shells into Gaza.
This report has been confirmed by Reuters.
This is the third ceasefire in the current conflict hat Hamas has failed to honor.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Day the Soup Ran Out

Today is the day the chicken soup ran out. And still, my chest continues to grind out ugly pneumatic music, alternating between a rhythmic rattle to remind me at every turn that something is wrong, dreadfully wrong; and a wheeze that makes me look around to see who else is there in the room with me (answer: no one).

Though I long to stay in bed, I force myself up and out of my soft, warm, flannel cocoon. It is a kind of a test: am I well enough to work today—to cook and do housework?

This is the way I have lived my life in the sick zone since becoming a mom. If my hands and legs respond to basic commands, I’m well enough to be up. If not, not. You just can’t tell from a prone position.

So today, on the day that the soup ran out, I test my limits, moving with slow caution to see what I can do, what I will do, because will has everything to do with it.  The phrase, “weak as a kitten,” comes to mind without much thought about what this actually means. Is a kitten weak? Do I care?

The soup has run out and I need soup, as any mom knows, and I’m a mom and surely know this. I need soup to get well—to get back the strength that will get me back into the workforce, where I need to be. Back at my desk at Kars for Kids and also at my other full time position: Resident Mom.

So working by rote, I gather the ingredients I need to get well: a can of chopped tomatoes and one of kidney beans, an onion, 6 cloves of garlic, and a red bell pepper. Squash and carrots and potatoes, too. I know what I need because I’ve made this soup so many times I can put it together in under an hour with no thought whatsoever.
(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

It’s not art in the bowl. Not like my chicken soup which is practically speaking an all-day process. But it’s good, it’s healthy, and it warms me from the inside out.

I ladle out a bowlful and breathe in the steam. “This will make me well,” I think. And there is satisfaction in knowing that the power was in my own two hands, all along.

Minestone

Ingredients:

•    1 red pepper
•    1 onion
•    6 cloves garlic
•    3 Tablespoons olive oil
•    3 carrots
•    3 potatoes
•    3 vegetable marrows or zucchini (kishuim in Hebrew)
•    Frozen chopped spinach
•    1 can chopped tomatoes (agvaniot kubiot in Hebrew)
•    ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
•    3 liters vegtetable stock or parve chicken soup (marak adif in Hebrew)
•    ½ cup broken spaghetti or other pasta
•    1 teaspoon oregano
•    ½ teaspoon basil
•    ¼ teaspoon thyme
•    1 can kidney beans, rinsed, drained
•    Grated cheese for serving

 

Method:


1.    Chop in food processor or by hand, the garlic, onion, and red pepper. Sauté on medium heat in olive oil until onion is translucent.

2.    Chop carrots and thinly slice potatoes and vegetable marrow either in food processor or by hand. Add to pot along with 3 liters of vegetable stock or 3-4 heaping soupspoons of soup powder and 3 liters boiling water), a handful of frozen chopped spinach balls (I like the type that is frozen in clumps), the canned tomatoes, and the crushed red pepper.

3.    Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and cook, covered, for 30 minutes to 45 minutes or until potato slices are almost tender.

4.    Add pasta and herbs. Turn heat up and cook until pasta is al dente. Add beans.

5.    Serve with grated cheese.







Wednesday, January 8, 2014

On the Side of Love

I don’t so much choose what to write about as my subjects choose me. A lot of the time that means I end up writing about really grim stuff. Not today.

Today, a lovely feel-good story grabbed me by the arms and wouldn’t let go. It was a trailer for a movie called The Drop Box and the minute I watched it, I knew I had to write about it.

The Drop Box is the story of the Give Out Love Orphanage in Nangok; a rough, blue-collar neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. Baby abandonment is common here and hundreds of unwanted infants are abandoned to their deaths each year. Pastor Lee Jong-rak thought to save at least some of them and to that end he set up a drop box where people might leave their unwanted babies.

"The Drop Box" - Documentary PROMO from Arbella Studios on Vimeo.
The pastor wasn’t sure anyone would follow through, but a slow steady stream of babies began to arrive, some with their umbilical cords still attached. The babies came with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and a host of other physical and mental deformities. Thirty-two babies have been dropped off since the drop box was set up in 2009, though “just” 21 are in residence today. Each baby gets an enormous amount of love from the Pastor, his wife, and the devoted volunteers who offer their time at the orphanage.

But not everyone is happy.

The child welfare people got wind of the orphanage after seeing a television special. They say there are too many people living in this four-bedroom residence. They say that conditions are sanitary. They say the anonymity of the drop box encourages child abandonment and robs the children of knowing their biological parents.



In an interview with the LA Times, an orphanage volunteer, Peter A. Dietrich said, “Rather than look at what he can bring, they focus on what he doesn’t have. The enormity of [Pastor Lee Jong-rak‘s] mission hits you between the eyes. I don’t know anyone who goes there for the first time and doesn’t tear up.”


I concur. There’s so much wrong with the world and here is one man, at least, who is trying to right some of those wrongs. It’s a little like bailing out a boat with a teaspoon. But it’s something.

It’s that same something that had me claw my way into a job at a nonprofit that provides mentoring services for children. I’ve earned my living by writing for the past decade, but until I took the job at Kars for Kids, I didn’t feel my writing made a difference. Now I do.


I love reading the success stories of the children we help. The letters come on a daily basis through interoffice mail, from grateful parents and from the children themselves. We give these children a way to steady themselves as they make their way through childhood and on into adulthood. We get them through with a lot of love.

And love is an international language, understood by all, whether in an orphanage in Seoul, or at a summer camp in Upstate New York. I’m proud to be on the same side as Lee Jong-rak: on the side of love, bailing out the world, one teaspoon at a time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stir Crazy



The snow to end all snows is still on the ground here in beautiful Efrat and I am feeling a little bit nutso. I would say I’m stir crazy but the truth is, it’s not about being stuck in the house—it’s about not being ALONE in the house. There are people all around me, all the time.


AIEEEEEEEEEEEEE.


I vant to be alone
It started Thursday. It began snowing and it didn’t stop. It snowed and snowed and snowed some more. We ended up with over 3 feet of snow on the ground and we were all home because when it snows in Israel, everything shuts down.


It’s not that we’re wusses here in Israel. I grew up in Pittsburgh and my husband grew up in Chicago. We know snow.


But Israel is a young country and snow is an unusual occurrence so we’re just not prepared for the white stuff when it does come down. Israelis don’t have snow shovels or ice picks to clear icy sidewalks. You can’t buy rock salt here at your local hardware store. The city doesn’t have many if any snow plows or firm snow contingency plans.


Panic Buying

When the weatherman predicts snow in Israel the supermarkets overflow with people and the shelves empty out as panic buying ensues. So you’ve got to do it too, or you’ll be without basic staples like bread and milk. Stuff runs out.


The streets are narrower in Israel, so they become especially hazardous in difficult weather conditions. The low-lying areas flood. People don’t have snow tires or chains. We get especially heavy winds in Israel that down trees and electric lines. At the same time, people flock to Jerusalem from the warmer areas of the country to see the unusual weather phenomenon so you end up with icy, jammed up roads.


Furthermore, houses in Israel aren’t well-insulated and most people don’t have central heating. The cold seeps into your bones.


In short, it’s best to stay home and cuddle with the kids if you have them until everything is back to what passes as normal. Which at this time of year should be rain and not snow and freezing temperatures.


"The Look"

Now I like my alone time. I like my family, too, but not all around me all the time, especially not when I’m trying to write as per my job at Kars for Kids. And of course, my desk is in the living room and I don’t have a way to cloister myself from noise and distractions. The most I can do as my family members naturally forget to be quiet around me is to give them “The Look.”


It helps. Until the next time. Usually five minutes later.


*sigh*


So when I realized my writing just wasn’t going to happen today, I packed it in and looked for distractions on the ‘net. Since I was cooped up in close quarters with too many people for too long a time, the distractions I found had to suit my morbid mood. And oh lucky you, I’m good at sharing (don’t thank me, I’m a giver, as my friend Dave Bender always says).


A Movie About You

This website lets you customize a movie to be about you by inputting the address of your home from back when you were a kid growing up. At least that’s what it’s supposed to do. You actually don’t see much of your childhood home—it’s more expectation than wish fulfillment. But when you’re feeling nostalgic due to the weather, it’s nice when you start to type in your old address and the search engine spits it out for you. You feel acknowledged.


Here is the movie it made for me. Note that Google Street View is not comprehensive for Israeli streets, so I couldn’t make a movie for my kid with our (current) address.


Next, I found this social experiment pictorial. Here’s a quote from the page:

“After Candy lost someone she loved, she went through a long period of grief and depression. With time she felt gratitude for the time they had together and eventually she found clarity in her life by contemplating death so much. But she struggled to maintain this perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. She wanted a daily reminder and she wanted to know what was important to the people around her. So she painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.

It was all an experiment and she didn’t know what to expect. By the next day, the wall was completely filled out and it kept growing: Before I die I want to… sing for millions, hold her one more time, straddle the International Date Line, see my daughter graduate, eat more everything, abandon all insecurities, plant a tree, follow my childhood dream, be completely myself…  People’s responses made her laugh out loud and tear up. They consoled her during hard times. She understood her neighbors in new and enlightening ways, and the wall reminded her that she’s not alone as she tries to make sense of her life.”

Morbid enough fer ya?

A Fun Guy

Moving right along, here’s a fun guy. He pours molten aluminum into ant hills. But hey, Kiddies, these are fire ants that are pests, so it’s okay to torture them with the equivalent of a manmade mini-Pompeii. Besides, it’s ART.

It actually is really cool art. You have to watch the whole thing to see why (alternatively, if you don’t like to watch fire ants tortured you can just skip to the end of the clip).



Next up, I contemplated some really neat architecture, which is a depressing thing to do when you’re living in a moldy rental, so yeah. Really fit my moody blues.

Last but not least, I found this totally useless item. Actually, it may be useful for you, if you’re the type to fall asleep on buses, trains, or planes. Unfortunately, I am too hypervigilant—I’d be afraid I’d miss my stop—to ever appreciate the merits of this estimable sleep travel hat that both cushions your head from bumps and shields your eyes from the light. It’s called—you guessed it—the ostrich pillow.

Come to think of it, maybe I could use that ostrich pillow hat to feel more, um, alone. That is, if they’re all still home tomorrow. Until then,

AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Rare Judean Snow Day

Yesterday it was gusty and cold and the rain came down in torrents. It was the kind of rain that would soak through your clothes clear to the bone in the dash from door to car. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I wanted to crawl beneath a quilt and think warm thoughts. But it was Wednesday, and Wednesday night means choir.

There was a chance of snow, so I called to see if our choir director was going to brave the roads. But I already knew what she’d say. Judy’s too tough to let a bit of wind or rain push her around. Besides, she said, they always say it’s going to snow and it never does.

I got home from choir at 10:15 PM and the first reports of snow came in half an hour later on our local Efrat e-list. Dov sniffed. “It’s not going to really snow until Thursday night.”

No School

But I woke up this morning and there was my youngest on the sofa. “No school?” I asked.

I looked out the window. Oh my. It was a world of white.

I love the way that happens. That surprise of seeing thick snow first thing in the morning, when the night before, there’d been none.

Usually, I’m the first one out there making snowballs and angels. A good snow is so rare in Efrat and I don’t like to waste it. I love to play in the snow. But today, I just wanted to stay in and be warm.

Work, Work, Work

Besides I had to work waiting for me. *sigh* Thursdays are all about that rush to fill my weekly quota of articles over at Kars for Kids. Still, a snow day is a snow day and that’s not to be taken lightly.

My firm belief: a snow day can be celebrated, even with work beckoning and even from inside the home, all snug and warm. I put up a pot of soup and brainstormed appropriate snow music, but the truth is, it was a no-brainer. I give you The Snow is Dancing, by Claude Debussy.



Son number six stumbled out of his room on hearing the music, cocked his head to listen, and then looked out the window at the white. He said, “By the way, Eema, that music is perfect for snow.”

I smiled my secret Mona Lisa smile. My next step: I changed my Facebook profile picture to this:


Snow in Efrat (photo credit: Varda Meyers Epstein)

It was kind of cheating because I’d taken the photo during last year’s storm. Still, it was a nice photo and several of my friends asked if they could share it. I was happy to share.

My snow photo got me thinking about snowflakes and how cool they look when you magnify them. I googled “snowflake photography” and found this amazing side show: macro photos of snowflakes by Alexey Kljatov.

In particular, the first photo in this series caught my eye. Doesn’t it look like Superman’s logo? One of my kids asked me why it looks like metal. Great photo, right?

 

Optical Illusions

Anyway, more about snowflakes: you know how everyone always says that no two snowflakes are alike? It’s only somewhat true. Snowflakes fall into specific classifications. I found this page of stereo snow images. The photos are supposed to be optical illusions. Alas, my eyes didn’t see anything special. Worked for my son, though. Did it work for you?

Last but not least, crafts. In particular, you guessed it, snowflakes. For Game of Thrones freaks. Here. (I even made a new Pinterest board for this one. I called it, “Crafts I’ll never do.”)

It’s a peaceful day. The house is filled with the good smells of baking and cooking, my kids are playing a game, and with this blog piece, I’ve filled my work quota for the week. Life is good.

Until the next time, stay warm, wherever you are, and if you brave the snow, throw a snowball for me.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rabbanit Kapah: Like Nachshon Jumping Into the Sea

(photo credit: CC-BY-SA עוזי ו, Wikipedia)
She went in the same modest way she lived, her death overshadowed by that of Arik Einstein. There was half a day’s grace. He died later that night and then the country went into shock. An Israeli icon had died.

But earlier that day Dov had mentioned it to me, first thing in the morning. “Bracha Kapah died.”

“Baruch Dayan Emes,” I said. Blessed be the True Judge. “That was one special woman. Imagine! She fed the poor of Jerusalem.”

She deserved more than a passing mention in the morning, in between email correspondence and sips of instant coffee. So I stopped for a moment and allowed the loss to wash over me. I shut my eyes, imagining the reception that awaited Rabbanit Kapah in the heavens. 

“The righteous sit with crowns upon their heads and enjoy the splendor of the shechina.” (Talmud Brachot 17a)

Angel Escorts?

I imagined heavenly choirs, angel escorts, a diamond and ruby crown held aloft in midair to be placed upon her head, a golden chair where she might rest after a lifetime of good works. Would this be her welcome?

For years she’d existed as a one-woman army against poverty in the Holy City.

I thought about Rabbanit Kapah the rest of the week. There was very little media coverage. She had lived in modesty and died without fanfare in this world, despite my overworked imagination about her reception in the Next.

I thought about her as I read an article based on the same premise as one I’d written earlier in the week and which in fact, quoted the same experts I had quoted. The article was written by a well-known academic, a professor.

I'll Dither

I am no professor. But I had dared to voice the same ideas.

I’m not always so brave. Often an idea comes to me for a story to write, an important story, yet I will hesitate and think, “It can’t be that nobody wrote up this topic. It’s so important, so obvious. How can it be a new idea??” and I will dither. I will think, “I am no professor to write such thoughts.”

I will search a bit more on Google looking in vain for the story in my head and see that indeed, nobody has written on the subject.

The Words Come

Still finding it hard to believe that my original idea is in fact original, I will begin tapping out the story on the keyboard. At first my touch on the keys will be tentative, the letters and words not flowing. But I begin just anywhere and soon, the words come.

After the fact, I will wonder at my initial hesitation in tackling a task that had all but walked itself over to me and tapped me on the shoulder. What stops me at that juncture and tempts me to give the topic a miss—to leave the job to someone else?

I thought about a volunteer job I’d been asked to take on at work, a mentoring position. Most of my colleagues at Kars4Kids volunteer to take an active role in the work of our organization. But I had hesitated. I worried how I would fit another task into my overcrowded schedule. I worried whether I was capable, whether I’d be good at mentoring.

Dirty Breakfast Dishes

I doubt Rabbanit Kapah suffered from this sort of existential angst. Was that the secret to her success? For her, feeding the poor was a task that needed doing: that fell to her. Feeding the poor was a task to be approached like any other: a sink full of dirty breakfast dishes, for instance. You don’t stop to intellectualize the task or worry about whether you can carry it off. You don’t pat yourself on the back, preen at being chosen, or think, “Why me?”

You just do it.

Rabbanit Kapah reacted. She responded to the pain of the people who approached her, crying out in hunger, pain, and fear. She was Nachshon jumping into the Red Sea as Pharaoh’s men approached, with all the Jews in despair and indecision milling about in a panic all around him. Rabbanit Kapah did what came to her, what needed to be done. She did it the best she could, for as long as she had the strength. She did it because it was hers to do.

And she showed us the way.