Please don’t say you’re sorry for my loss or give me your condolences. You don’t have to say anything. I’ll still be where I am and feel the suck of my soul regardless of these words you use, which are society’s assigned phrase to help not the grieving but the dispassionate deal with the grieving.
They are generic attributes of the most heartbreaking and fundamental part of our lives and are an insult to the grieving. They say you are distant from the pain. They say you’ve chosen to remain apart and not open yourself to connect, even for a second, with that part of life that rips the most precious people from your world.
If you do want to help, even a silent touch or a heartfelt hug is better than the meaningless banter of those hollow words. Just say you’re so sorry. That’s enough to let me know, even if you don’t feel my pain, that you wish I wasn’t feeling it either.
If you go even deeper and tell me what a good daughter or mother or friend I was, then you’ll be forced to share in my pain of knowing how simple it would have been to have done more and maybe, if I had, then he’d have been happier and made a bigger effort to get stronger and fight to heal his body and chase the demons from his mind.
If you say I was lucky to have had him at all, you would be right and I could feel the gratitude in that. His memory is my reality and right now it’s less a blessing than a feeling of emptiness that it’s now just a memory.
I wish we could take it all back, Papa, and you could be here again.
There’s a time in my life for which I should be very grateful. That’s what the doctors have told me every time they’ve heard the story and every time they’ve seen my scars. One doctor even said, had the accident happened 15 years earlier, I would be missing a leg for sure.
But I am old enough to know that what should be and what is are often very different.
When I first met my husband, I hid myself. He didn’t know what was beneath the clothes or behind the girl. Because it was a new relationship, in every moment I was reborn. I got to recreate myself in his eyes and through his eyes, I saw that I was pleasing.
As we strung the days we spent together into a happy little fantasy, there came the time he brought me home after a date and we were kissing on my couch. I had rehearsed the line in my head all day. Maybe even the day before, anticipating it’s inevitable arrival. As I felt his hands start to move beneath my shirt, I knew the moment had come. Instead of excitement, I felt dread. I stopped kissing and moved my head back a few inches, preparing to say the line. “Are you ok?” he asked.
“I have some scars,” I whispered, and waited into the moment. Preparing for rejection, a tentative drop of his hands and the space growing larger between our bodies. He didn’t say anything. I felt shame course through my heart. I felt his fingers lift my face and a wonder at the laugh I heard him make. “Um, yeah,” he said. “I figured you’d have some scars.”
Five years before that night, I had been in a motorcycle accident. It left me in the hospital for almost two months. I flat-lined twice and the doctors had told my parents to say goodbye because I wouldn’t survive the night. I had lost 90% of my blood, draining the hospital of its A+ blood supply through transfusion. I had a compound fracture in my left leg, a broken wrist and three broken ribs that had punctured my lungs, my heart and my liver. As a result, I also had a tracheotomy.
The tracheotomy scars were easy to fix. A plastic surgeon just snipped out the scar tissue and glued my skin together. You can’t tell it was there.
My insides healed too. But I was left with a wide, angry white scar down the middle of my torso from being held open by a surgical retractor.
It divided me like a playing field, each side populated by opposing asymmetrical circles, like little players ready to charge each other. The plastic surgeon was worried that if he tried to make it look prettier by cutting the scar tissue out and reattaching it, I wouldn’t have enough skin left to have healthy kids. He was afraid it wouldn’t stretch enough and their little brains wouldn’t have enough room to grow. So even before motherhood, I was making sacrifices for the kids.
So, instead of prancing the Earth, throwing fairy dust into the air from the gratitude I felt for not only surviving this accident but also managing to thrive afterwards, I was instead engulfed in feelings of remorse and nostalgia for the times I was able to walk around in shorts, worry free (because now I also had two vicious round scars on my calf and shin from the bones popping out + a white stripe on my thigh from the skin they had to peel off to cover that mess). And I was never going to wear a bikini, I decided. No way was I going to expose my ugly middle to a world of judgmental, media scarred people. No way. It didn’t matter if I worked out all the time to look my best, a tankini was the closest I’d ever come to barring my body.
And that’s just how it’s been all these years. But for all the negativity that surrounds getting older, there are some rarely talked about benefits. For one, I’m not as hard on myself. Not every thing I do or every way I look is a direct reflection of who I am.
I love too many things about myself to keep letting myself get dragged down by trying to be the person I think everyone wants me to be, instead of discovering and embracing the unique person I am.
So fast forward 10 years to the boyfriend who is now a husband who tells me, when it comes up, that he doesn’t even see my scars.
This now husband and I have three children we’re raising and friends we love so much, we want to travel with them and so we do.
We went to Club Med this past summer for our annual big trip.
And on this trip I have decided I no longer want to hide myself from the world. I am going to throw myself open and let the world do what it wants.
I have too many other things to be grateful for to worry about getting the seal of approval from strangers.
And you know what? No one looked twice. And what did my family think?
When I became a stepmom eight years ago, there were few resources to guide me over the rough spots in my new life. I read the only thin book I could find on the subject of parenting step children, and its bottom line was: “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have and no one will ever thank you for it.”
Before step-motherhood, I thought I was a kind and thoughtful person.
But based on my troubled relationships with my stepson, my in-laws and – as a result – my husband, I soon began to think there must be something inherently wrong with me. I imagined that someone else with a different background, a different disposition, or even a different hairstyle would have handled things better.
Recently I took Kathy Hammond’s course, How to be a Stepmom: 51 Ways To Save Your Marriage, Your Shirt and Your Sanity, online at Udemy.com and realized that even Mary Poppins wouldn’t have been up to the tough job of stepmothering without at some point thinking she was losing her mind.
Hammond is a business development executive and lifestyle coach living in Yorba Linda, and has mothered two stepsons for 23 years. Her course includes advice on money, legal issues, discipline, extended family and relationships. This is one woman’s experience, but I felt it addressed the most common situations a new stepmother will face.
The first lecture alleviated the guilt that had haunted me from the beginning of my marriage. Hammond said: “You can’t fix a hurt you didn’t cause.”
I went into my relationship with my husband, who was a widower, and his son, trying to soften the pain they had experienced with the untimely death of my husband’s first wife. I was never able to do that, and I wish now that someone had told me it would have been impossible for that to happen.
I wish I had had the benefit of her insight eight years ago. It would have saved a lot of energy and heartache. This 90-minute course was definitely worth the $9 price of admission.
Check out the course yourself at www.udemy.com.
The original article for this post appeared in LA Parent.
I’ve always tried to change things for the better. Or at least my interpretation of the better. I believe I know what’s right and how things should be and can never understand why people don’t do the right thing. Some people may call me controlling. But those people aren’t very nice.
After years of trying to change the world, I’ve finally had to admit, I can’t change or fix everything. Believe me, I’ve beat my head to a raw pulp trying to budge some of those brick walls that shape things into what they are.
|This is how my world would look|
Today that brick wall is my dad. I’ve had very limited influence over his decision-making processes in the past but I’ve had more than most. I’ve been trying to use that limited influence like a snake charmer trying to coax him into The Sand House.
We went back to have lunch there last Saturday. My husband, Howard, took pity on my solo plight and offered to have his dad watch the boys so he could accompany us. I wasn’t sure about this. On one hand, I really needed the support and felt relieved to have him hold my hand as I traversed the narrow path between love and fear. On the other, I was afraid he would break the bubble I had created in my head to better deal with this situation. Within this bubble sat my dad who reluctantly agreed to enter into this new senior living situation and found he was much happier, healthier and surrounded by new friends. I didn’t want Howard asking questions or giving opinions that touched, or even worse, burst my bubble. But I appreciated that he acknowledged how difficult this has been for me and wanted to help out. This was the part of marriage that felt like a partnership or a team.
So we picked up my dad and took him to The Sand House. Lunch was being served in the dining room which felt more like an oceanfront restaurant.
|I think an ocean view helps with digestion|
|view from amazing room|
He said no.
I heard the no, between his chuckles and warped speech, the kind I usually have to rummage through to find the words he actually means to use. I feel myself starting to sink. I tread harder but play dumb because I’m tired and don’t have the energy a commitment to this conversation will require.
“No?” I ask, hoping I’m wrong about what I’m suspecting he means. “No, what?” I always have to have an idea of where he’s going with his words, to help guide him to his meaning. Like a game of charades but with half syllables instead of pantomime. Since his brain tumor and ensuing stroke, he has had a problem with word retrieval. He knows what he wants to say, he just can’t find the words to say it. Sometimes he uses words from the other languages he knows, thinking they’re the ones he needs, but usually they’re not. Unless I can figure out the terrain of where his meaning lives, we’re both lost and when he’s lost, he gets frustrated and waves me away with an impatient groan, stops trying to say anything and instead resigns himself to be locked in the prison of his mind.
But during this conversation, he seems more lighthearted. I wonder if he’s had some drinks.
“Sand House.” I can decipher the words through his mirth. “Sand House!” he repeats, louder, like a tourist speaking to someone who doesn’t understand his language, assuming a greater volume will make everything clearer.
The Sand House is the assisted living facility we visited together. And, in this stage in his life, it is the perfect senior living situation for him.
The Sand House is in Santa Monica right across the street from the beach. My dad moved us to Santa Monica from ‘Little Russian’ in West Hollywood just before I went into the fourth grade. He hasn’t budged since. Santa Monica is the one place on Earth where he sees God. Or at least His handiwork. The beach is his altar. When he is at the beach, he is in his version of heaven.
The problem is he hasn’t been going to the beach in the last few weeks. He hasn’t taken his regular walks on the boardwalk or really done much of anything.
Since he was duped by his Internet Bride, he’s just been sleeping all day. He wakes around 4pm to sit in front of the TV, and barely eats, if at all. The gold-grubbing thief arranged for a woman who takes care of an ailing, next-door neighbor to come every day and cook and straighten up for him. But this caretaker woman used to drink wine with the Internet Scavenger so I’m not sure about her morals or her intentions. When I ask my dad what he’s eaten each day, his first meal is always cheese, yogurt and coffee and then a soup as his dinner. The skin is flapping around his spaghetti-thin arms. He is looking as skinny as a concentration camp victim. Each of these conversations breaks off another little piece of my heart.
How could this have happened to my dad?
|This is the room where they execise|
They have physical, occupational and speech therapies, all covered by Medicare so it would be 100% free. My dad’s ego has always prevented him from getting the therapy care that he’s needed after each of his medical maladies. His dragging left arm and leg and his stunted speech are the result of his inaction. I can do it myself, he always said. Here, I tell him, he can give his body and brain the attention they need to finally heal.
“You deserve this,” I told him, when we first toured the place. “You’ve always taken care of everyone. Please, please just this once, do something for yourself.”
We even went back again to see the actual rooms that were available, to get a sense of what his life would be like living there. I felt tears meekly slide into my eyes as I looked at the view that he could have.
|Actual balcony view from the room he could have|
It would be like living in a college dorm except with older people. Sure, when I looked around there were a few people that had special needs but the majority seemed like they were there because they wanted to live their lives fully, not be locked away in some isolated apartment like my dad’s.
When we got back down to the lobby after seeing the two available apartments the last time we visited Sand House, my dad’s ailing leg forced him into an awaiting chair and it appeared, but I didn’t want to look too closely, that he was softly weeping under his fedora. I wanted to give him his moment and had to admit that although I can see the beauty of this potential situation, he might see it differently.
|Here’s what I saw (the rooftop deck)|
|Here’s what he might see|
I know, after doing yoga for many years, that what we see in this world may not be what actually exists. People see a blend of what is in front of them and what has happened to them in the past and/or what they are expecting to happen in the future.
I’m sure my dad has seen images of terrible nursing homes, although I would never call this a nursing home. I’d say it’s more like a resort exclusive to seniors.
He said, after his brief weeping episode, when I leaned down to see if he was okay, “I am not in my grave yet.” This was quite a sentence for someone who normally has trouble stringing together more than three words. He proclaimed this with a hot burst of frustration born from the tension taking over his body.
I know when he gets like this not to argue. Besides, there was nothing to argue. “Of course not.” I tried to smooth his rising hackles. “This is not a grave. You’re apartment is more like a grave. This is living. This is being surrounded by people who want to be your friend, who have enough of their own money that they don’t want to steal yours. This is where you can meet a nice woman who will think you are so handsome and like you for who you are. This is where you can do things you enjoy all day long or do nothing at all. Or go for a walk on the beach, which is only across the street!” I ended, sounding more like a cheerleader or a spokesperson for an infomercial than the scared, defeated daughter I was actually being.
Yet, when I called to check in on him the next day, he told me, in no uncertain terms, No. He would not be moving into The Sand House.
Okay, I told him, feeling like a deflated balloon, trying not to get stuck in the slimy swamp of inviting hopelessness, trying not to let anger take over the situation and bring it to an unshakable end. I wished him good night and hung up the phone.
The next day, I called him again and told him I wanted to take him to lunch. “Okay!” he said with excitement in his voice. I couldn’t imagine how lonely he must be now that the greedy witch had abandoned him.
“I’m coming on Saturday and we’ll go back to The Sand House and have lunch in their restaurant and you can meet the Russian server that works there and wanted to meet you.” During our last visit, the nice lady who was facilitating our tours, Kortney, told us there was a woman who spoke Russian and was excited to meet my dad but we were running late that day and she had already gone home.
“Okay,” he said, sounding a little less certain.
“Great!” I wasn’t going to get dragged down by my fears for his future. I wasn’t going to get tangled in my frustration that this situation was going to be harder than I imagined, that his Old World Ego wasn’t going to let him be cared for. If I went down, there wouldn’t be anyone left to see him as the strong, determined man he is that brought us to this country and fought for our survival until we could fight for ourselves. And now I had to fight for him.
Saturday. It was another chance.
|My dad sitting in what could be his room|
When I was four, I wanted a colored pencil set more than anything in the world.
The memory of this seemingly trivial desire has followed me into my 40s, a permanent etching in my mind.
At the time, we were living in Italy. We had just left Israel, where we had sought asylum as Russian-Jewish refugees.
|Our Soviet Union family passport photo|
Now we were awaiting permission to enter the United States. I know now, as an adult, when we left the former Soviet Union we were not sent off with kisses and well wishes. We were stripped of our possessions and sent into the unknown with $100 to mark our family fortune.
But my dad is stubborn and a hard worker. I’m sure we were given some type of social assistance when we arrived in Israel because they really do try and take care of their people. I know my dad was a reservist in the Army.
|Dad on left|
But by the time we went to Italy, to await the bureaucratic green light, we still weren’t living anywhere near the financial elite. We shared a rented room in a boarding house in Rome.
|This was not our room in Rome.
This was actually taken in Israel right before we left
for Rome. In Italy we didn’t take any pictures
because we didn’t own a camera.
I sincerely sat down, crossed leg, pondering on the checkered tiles in the aisle of the market. I put my little chin into my small hand and asked myself with unflinching honestly: could I really make this commitment? Was there anything else I would ever want? No! I answered myself. There was nothing else. This was truly it.
I got the set. My parents took pity on my passionate plight and relented, I’m sure spending a good percentage of their remaining financial resources to satisfy their four year old’s questionable needs. And needless to say, I have asked for one or two things since then.
This memory comes to mind because now I have a new wish that falls in the same category of urgency and fervent desire with which I yearned that pencil set. Only this wish is for my father. I want him to live in a nurturing, safe environment. One in which he would have help and supervision. He’s reached the age where he shouldn’t drive, he can’t cook for himself and cleaning has never been his forte. He won’t come live with me. I know he doesn’t want to be a burden, though he never would be, or so I tell myself now. He also doesn’t want to leave his paradise: the beach in Santa Monica. So, I need him to move into an assisted living apartment.
It is a vision I never thought I’d have for my dad, the pillar of strength in our family who threw away everything he and my mom had known to walk into the unknown, in search for a safer, more secure place to raise their daughter and by the time they got here, a soon to arrive son.
|Except for my visiting grandmother in the middle,
that is my entire original family in our first apartment in America. I’m on
the right, my grandmother is holding my brother (born here).
|keep this woman away from your daddy|
It is in the aftermath of that drama that I now find myself. My dad needs help. Because of his stubborn, self-sufficient nature, he never got the therapy that he should have had after any of his ailments. Since his second stroke, he is limping and no longer able to do the yoga handstands that once stood for his ability to survive despite anyone else’s prognosis for him. He has never asked anyone for help and would thwart any attempts when it was offered. That’s partially why it’s been hard to admit to myself that the best situation for him would be in an assisted living environment. I know what a battle this is going to be, one that needs to be fought with finesse and patience rather than muscle. It’s an amount of energy that, on most days, I can’t muster.
The other reason is I still see my dad’s bulging bicep and his defiant attitude towards anyone that would dare tell him he couldn’t do something. I still see that glimmer of mischievousness as he joked with my friends and flirted with the check-out lady. I still see the sailor that learned all of the Soviet propaganda he had heard growing up, about the United States, wasn’t true.
He found there was hope for a Jewish man, raised by a single mother with three kids in the wake of a vicious war, to find freedom.
|My cutie-pie dad on the left|
Freedom to raise his daughter without the anchor of racism weighing down her ability to soar.
Everything my father has ever done has been for his family. I only hope now, with the desperate hope of a four-year-old who still sees sparks of her father as the superhero he once was, that he now allows his family to do for him.
I was honored this month to be published by LA Parent Magazine.
It’s the story towards the top of the page about Dating Your Husband. The article is based on a post I wrote for this blog called Secret Dates and if you haven’t run out and raided your local Vons, Pavilions, Gelsons or library for a print copy of the February issue…..you could read it here (and leave a comment if you want to make me look good, I mean, help others with some great ideas of your own, ha ha). But it’s so much more fun to see it in print. For me anyway.
I had thought there was a possibility that we would even be on the cover because they sent out this very talented photographer, Jodye Alcon, who took countless pictures of the families that were able to come to the park for the shoot. This is the photo they used in the magazine:
|I think we look a little like a soap opera|
|yes, their mouth are blue|
|Don’t they look handsome?|
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the eventual mutiny.
|Maybe just not in our mouths, yuck.|
I really wanted to impress the editors with my creativity. So we went for the Charlie’s Angels look.
|I think we look very intimidating….or confused….why are we trying to look scary with roses again?
And then we started taking pictures of the families individualy, which was really fun so go with me here….
|she really is quite dramatic|
Terri is a down to earth, true blue friend. She cares about the planet, treating other people with kindness and dignity and homeschools her two boys Truman and Ethan.
|Ethan, 6 and Truman 9|
And she is happily married to her (working) musician husband, James Harrah. They prioritize their relationship because they know it all starts with them.
|Zach, 6 is between Trevor and Dylan, 4 – who are TWINS|
God bless her. Did I mention that her husband Jeff is helping to open restaurants all over the country, called Firehouse Subs so he travels A LOT. Good thing she is patient and takes the time to plan outings that keep their fires kindled (oh and yes, they like to camp a lot too).
|I don’t know how they make it look so easy|
Laurel Janssen Byrne is a writer too. She is writing her own life story with strokes of compassion as she is the gal to go to if you need a little TLC fix, and some steely nerve. I keep forgetting she’s not from NYC because she and her husband Matt are so edgy. No, not cranky just so off the cuff honest with each other and the world. It’s refreshing.
|Yin and Yang – such a perfect fit|
And they make cute kid.
|good thing she is cute cuzz this couple is ONE AND DONE|
And of course, there was my family.
|Kyle wasn’t here because he went surfing this day|
And my guys were unusually patient and smiled on cue.
|brotherly love (rare moment)
Kaleb, 5 – loves rainbow loom, dodge ball and bey blades
Knox, 3 – loves his doggie blanky, all sports and homemade biscuits
Morgan and Todd Addab (not their real name, ha ha) couldn’t come because Todd had to work. Todd and Howard used to be fraternity brothers (insert the Animal House soundtrack here because I’m sure it applies) and their friendship has travelled the circuitous route that our lives sometimes take and has brought them together again at a time when our families are child compatible. And how many of our friendships end up being based mainly on this criteria? But in this regard we got lucky and I just love his wife Morgan who is one of the most gracious and kind people I’ve met.
|Jon Jr., 20, Morgan and Todd, Justin, 5|
Nicole and Danny Baraz are the hip element of this article. Oh the days when we were hip…..
|Danny and Nicole, Mason (now 9) and Odessa (now 6, but gosh arent’ they the cutest!)|
Thanks for reading and I hope you find the article useful or helpful in some way. Even if your relationship is solid and you couldn’t squeeze more romance into it, at least there are some great date ideas! Now, go and spread that love! And Happy Valentine’s day!
This is the chair I have lived with for over 8 years.
It’s the chair that I have come to accept as a practical part of my life. It’s not my style but it’s functional and there’s no reason to go out and buy another chair since this one works. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for 8 years.
There’s a bit more to this story than just a functional chair. This chair used to belong to my husband’s deceased wife. Her passing, 14 years ago, is a tragedy. It is one that we all live with, in subtle ways, everyday. I’ve done many things around the house that I inherited from her, things to make living here not feel like I am living in someone else’s life. The living room has been remodeled, painted and shifted. The dishes have mostly been replaced. The bedroom furniture (and mattress) is new…..except for, of course, the chair.
I didn’t understand how much it bothered me. I realize now that, unconsciously, I used to picture her sitting in it and getting ready for her day, bantering with the husband we now share and laughing with the child she had to leave behind. In a way, the chair is her anchor to the new life I’ve tried to create with my husband and my little boys and, of course, the boy she had to leave behind. But for some reason, I didn’t have the guts to get rid of it. Maybe, my reluctance was my way of letting her hold on to her grip to the most intimate part of my house. Maybe, in some small part of me, I felt guilty.
I finally shared the meaning of the chair with my husband one night.
He was surprised. He had thought I had brought the chair with me when I moved in. He had no recollection of it previously at all. He asked why I hadn’t said anything sooner. I couldn’t really answer past the tears clouding my vision.
This past Monday I celebrated my birthday. I love birthdays. I’ve decided that as we grow older, every year should be a party to celebrate that we’re still here, that we still get to enjoy the gifts we’ve been given and resolve, in the next year, to become yet even better versions of ourselves.
My husband waited until the end of the day to give me his gift. I could tell he was up to something when I tried to go into our room and the door was locked. OK, honey, I called out. I have no idea what you’re up to, wink, wink, I said to him through the door, laughing to myself that he always waited until the last minute to do these things.
Then the door opened and I rushed in to get something I needed for one of the boys. I stopped right in my tracks. And this is what I saw:
This is the stuff that favorite childhood memories are made of. These are the moments that cast bonds between fathers and sons that transend the body and tie the spirit.
On this father-son day, it was the water that brought God into the moment.