Sisterhood

Every year as December 21 approaches and passes I am filled with more emotions than I can explain. Most of them leave me with twinges of sadness or longing, but today I feel more than that. I feel fully grateful now.

When my sister died, I felt like an invisible tether was cut and my lifeline floated away with her. 

Then, with time’s passing I realized that the many humans in my life could help me regain my tether and form a new lifeline, if I let them. I’m grateful for all the family and the friends that shed light over the last five years time. I have learned more than I could possibly explain, but most importantly I have come to realize that gratitude is the key component to making my days robust. 

I am grateful for the circle of friends, (thank you to Maeve Binchy for your book to reference, but I digress), specifically the women who have become pieces of a sister puzzle in my life. I have learned that no one can or ever will replace or fill the shoes of my birth sibling. But here’s the thing, perhaps even the secret to understanding my personal loss and grief is this: time heals all wounds, or rather time transforms everything

I can now see that Debbie and I had the fullest relationship and set of experiences that taught me lessons, filled me with joy and hope, and can still make me laugh today. That was the true gift that time bestowed upon us, our memories and the moments that we shared. 

Now, I can clearly look at my other relationships that have blossomed in my garden. I know that each woman knows how grateful I am for them, but sometimes it’s helpful to say it out loud: Thank you. 

Thank you to the friends and family who have helped shape a new meaning of sisterhood for me. Thank you for sharing your little people when loss filled my life. Thank you for sharing a momento as a reminder of love I can wear every day.  Thank you for reading my blog and holding my hand from afar. Thank you for covering me with prayers and kindness when waves crashed down. Thank you for sharing humor and holidays when I missed that sense of knowing someone else’s thoughts on familiar days. Thank you for dropping off food, letters and care packages when I had tiny humans to hold and feed. Thank you for writing, texting, and calling me when fear and judgement clouded my mind and I sought refuge in your council.  Thank you for reaching out and sharing your gifts of time. Thank you for filling tea and coffee cups and holding my hand. Thank you for passing the cupcakes and saying eat up without judgement. Thank you for welcoming me to your city and showing me new adventures. Thank you for shedding advice on love, loss, and motherhood when the going got rough. Thank you for answering my texts, calls, and keeping a connection going, even with distance and time. Thank you for allowing new bridges to be built and time to heal. Thank you for holding me in hugs and allowing tears to flow without explanation. Thank you for sharing your weekend days and time to meet and chat. Thank you for holding my tiny baby boys and filling their hearts with love.  But most of all, thank you for allowing me the space, holding space and time and loving me just the way I am. 

You know that if you read this and connected in some way, I’m giving you a virtual hug and that I love you. 

Thank you.

Gratitude exemplified through joy and laughter.

The Art of Letter Writing

What do letters mean to you? They’ve always been the connection that I had to friends and family who lived far away. And, let’s face it, when you live in Anchorage, Alaska, everyone and everything feels quite far away.  My first pen pal was my Grandpa Woody. He was my cowboy grandpa who would come up for a visit every November to spend Thanksgiving with us, most years. I would look forward to my monthly and holiday letters. I loved his spring time letters too. He would write to me in his fashionable cursive handwriting that I would decipher slowly, being the emerging reader that I was. I can vividly remember opening a letter one spring, probably in late March or early April and tucked inside was a furry gray pussy willow bud that he had gathered from a tree outside of his house. The opening of that letter has stuck with me to this day. His letters are now bundled together with a ribbon alongside my sister’s letters for safe keeping.

My second pen pal was my sister. She was ten years older than me and left home for college shortly before her eighteenth birthday. I vividly remember the day she left.  The leaves clung to the branches with a foreboding coldness, brilliant maroon, yellow, and brown hanging by thin invisible threads, similar to how my heart felt when she drove away in dad’s pickup.

She would write to me weekly, send me updates on all the happenings in the lower forty eight, the seasons, the sounds, and the adventures she took. Some of my favorite letters were enclosed with photographs of her adventures or cartoon drawings she created to entertain her tiny sibling. I loved it all. I would mail her cards and drawings, long letters that mom and dad helped me spell out letter by letter. When you’re a dyslexic writer of seven, things take a little bit longer to complete. One Hannukah I received a tape recorder box with a giant speaker and microphone. I recorded a sung letter to Debbie that ended with a rousing rendition of, “Puff The Magic Dragon.” I’m sure the tape is long gone, but I know she remembered that particular letter/package and the enclosed demo. Ha! Who knew that all these years later I would pull out the letters of the past and read her words to hear her voice again. Her letters bring me comfort and make me laugh aloud even now.

The most indelible thing about a letter is that you know the person who wrote it for you, held it, cared enough to write it, and mailed it with love. It always felt like such a gift to receive a letter from someone in the mail.  I want my son to know what that feels like as both the sender and the receiver. So, letters we write together, each season and each holiday. I think it’s important to take time to think about those in your life that you care about and pause enough to reflect upon that and give them a token of your heart.

I had the idea to begin a blog this past fall, to mark the passing of time in a daily way, that perhaps our son could look back upon one day. I decided to use the voice of our beloved dog Kimmy to narrate our daily adventures together. In a way I feel like I am giving him a small piece of what I have in the letters I have kept and cherished throughout the years from family members.

What else can we draw from as humans except knowing that the passage of time is marked in human history through the written word. So I leave you with this thought: think about the last time you wrote a letter, and why. Now, who could you write to today and thank, make laugh, or draw a smile from when they open their mail box and see it waiting for them?

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Spring Thoughts for 2020.

Four Years Gone

You know what the funny thing about death is? Nothing. (Cue the sound effects please. I’m completely aware of the first line’s seriousness.)

What is funny however, is how death can make everything illuminated after the fog has lifted. By fog I mean, your initial emotions, the pain, the constant reminders, it’s the sense that comes after a storm has ceased. I would liken the passing of a loved one to experiencing a fierce storm in your own body that takes time to progress and then begin to calm.

It has been four years, to the day, since Debbie passed away. If I stop and mediate on that day, what transpired, how I felt in those moments, I am taken back to those emotions quite rapidly. Even with the passage of time, nothing can erase how an experience made you feel. I remember saying to my husband, “Now I know why people drink and do drugs. The numbness is a medication to what they’re experiencing in life. This hurts.”

Everything in life is a lesson. Once I understood this, fully, I became more present and open to facing the choices I had every day, and really, in every moment.  Learning how to grieve, face pain, and move through life with it, was and still is a journey. There are times, days, and moments when I am hit severely with a wave of grief that washes over me. I try to recognize my triggers, sometimes it’s just something as simple as a word, or a song. I find it helpful to create a visual of a wave and allow it to wash over me and provide a salve of tears. Nothing and no one can replace a loss because it is an experience that is now a part of your very core. The loss becomes woven into your story. It becomes a part of the framework that trails along with you every day.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I have learned that I am not my grief, it is a part of me. I lean heavily on the truthful, beautiful, harsh, and comical memories I shared with the amazing person that Debbie was. Carving out an allowance of grace for my emotions and journey is essential. Continuing to learn about how the human brain processes trauma, loss, and growth has helped me tremendously be more empathetic towards myself and others.

If I could tell my sister anything it would be this:

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for always loving me, even when I was hard to love. Even though you’re not here physically, you’re always near to me and in my heart, as cheesy as that sounds. I’m using my elephant memory that you said you’d rely on. You’re still teaching me so many things, thank you. You’d be so proud of your son. He’s grown tall, and handsome and he is still really sweet. He knows how to be kind and he can be humbled by life which is key. He’s so loved and he’s doing fine. He loves his cousin Leo, who holds your initials. You’d love your nephew too. He’s a spunky, book loving toddler who is obsessed, with your Declan. He calls him, “Yea-Yea,” and tries to talk to him with every phone call that comes in. We’re all ok. I love you more every day.

Love,

Your little Sister

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7:04

Time has a way of bringing significance to something that you never really considered in the moment. Seven hours and four minutes into the evening in 2018, our son was born. On July fourth, 7-04-2017 we found out we were expecting a child. Up until this moment, on our baby’s birthday, I had not realized the significance.

Life has a funny way of bringing things full circle. Here we are, numbers, moments and life at play later. These events roll past, the day moves by, and we look back over our shoulder at the impact these events have made in the tapestry of our lives.

I had not paid much attention to all of our little one’s numerology, but the idea behind the moment of his birth and the date we learned of his existence, is purely beshert.

Nothing can quite explain the feeling of hearing your child’s cry for the first time, and holding them close. I waited years for him to come. In the first moment he looked at me, and I at him, it felt as though time stood still, and spun around all at once. There are very few things in life that I am sure of, but one of those is the fact that I was always meant to be LDB’s mama. Thank you for choosing us as your parents little one.

L’Chaim!

Risk

What is the biggest risk you have taken in your life?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the risk to stop giving into fear and instead, turning around, metaphorically speaking, and facing it.

For the longest time I was fearful of a great number of things. These included but were not limited to: Saying no, standing up for myself, tolerating bullshit from friends and relationships, worrying about things I could not change, fearing the worst when falling ill, and reading articles about all the, “what if’s,” that could happen in my life.

Then, in the course of one month, over three weeks, I learned a lesson: all things can go wrong, shit has hit the fan, and I am still standing. I am still here. 

I attempted to make lemonade out of the lemons I was dealt. Nothing motivates you more than facing that fear and realizing how ludicrous it is to give into it. Another motivating factor is realizing how imperative the nature of today, really is. The gift of this breath, and the moment you are being given when the person you love, whose hand you were holding, slipped away before your eyes. Life never simply prepares you to deal with the tragic, it merely provides you with experiences in which to learn that you are capable of handling it, because of the experiences that propelled you until you reached the edge of the mountain.

There were a few things that propelled me into 2016:

One: My sister’s death.

Two: Having two car accidents over the course of a month.

Three: Seeing a positive pregnancy result, seeing blood weeks later, and learning that it was not an actual viable pregnancy, but a molar one.

Four: Being told that the D&C was successful, only to find out that the betaHCG results had risen ten fold, I needed a chest X-ray to make sure cells had not traveled and multiplied in my body forming cancerous masses, receiving an internal ultrasound twice, and then taking chemotherapy shots in order to resolve the issue.

Five: Going weekly for six weeks to see an oncologist and receive chemo shots for an unviable pregnancy after walking similar pathways with my sister the year before for different reasons.

Life has a way of providing opportunities for rebirth.

That was my moment.

I hit my rock bottom on a cold, dreary day in January after leaving the hospital. I drove home in a wash of tears and bathed my sorrows away. Later, I found myself still grappling with many frustrations in the aftermath of grief for multiple reasons. I happened upon a video and blog that changed the course of my life. Gabrielle Bernstein’s work propelled me to make a dramatic shift. I cannot say how grateful I am for the book I read, May Cause Miracles, and the course work I practiced. I opened myself up to facing my ego, learning from my fears I had clung to, learning about my desire for control and deciding to grow as a human and not cower in the shadows of comfort.

Here’s the thing: it is never easy to take a risk. Be it in a small change, or a large shift in your life. However, in doing so, committing to the risk will invariably provide you with room for growth. Change does not happen over night. It happens in your daily thoughts, routines, and the patterns that you pave in life.

Risk is what you make of a situation, not what makes you falter.

Butterfly Heart

Sometimes someone who knows you well says just what your heart needs to hear. “Don’t let yourself be hardened by the world Rachel. Don’t close yourself off from those feelings. Enjoy those times and keep your heart open.”

(Insert tears that spring forward.)

Something about this time of year is challenging for me, for a number of reasons. So I reflected and realized a few things.

Each school year I am reminded of the fresh opportunity I have to work with the next generation. I am so reminded and reminisce on how I would share with my sister our plans for the next school year. To say that miss her is an understatement, it is a yearning I feel in my soul and always will.

Everything changes in an instant, in a moment. The only constant is change, this I know. I have watched my baby boy growing like a weed over the last five months and it feels like just yesterday he was in the womb kicking me to let me know he was there. I look at him and I wonder who this little person will be. I watch him in wonderment as he observes the world.

Whenever I read a new book or see a, back to school book list, I stop and think about Debbie. Occasionally I still have a mind slip and think of telling her something. It’s like a small heart tug when that happens. A little pull each time I long for communication.

This school year I am excited for the new group of students to work with, the new and old book friends that I will get to share with them are inspirations from Debbie. I can’t wait to share with my students and continue to tell our son how this amazing librarian auntie of his still touches lives today.

We always read one of her favorite books to LDB each day, The Very Hungry Caterpillar 🐛. Much like in the book, I felt enveloped in a cocoon these past five months. I am ready to spread my wings and fly, but unfurling the wings and jumping off is always the hardest part. 🦋

Notes of gratitude

Before LDB was born he knew about music. I would sing to him every day in the womb. We had a morning playlist we listened to. Sometimes he would kick or boob me in response to what music we sang or listened to.

I have found a surreal sense of gratitude in sharing music with him each day. Today, on his fourth month birthday celebration we sat down at the piano and he listened, touched, kicked his feet, and observed his mama’s music time.

We sang through three songs and there were no tears or cries, just curiosity and joy. Music can always find a way to touch someone’s heart even when words are not known. 🎹 🎶

Mommy of a new Bebe thoughts

My current thoughts include but are not limited to…new mommy funnies:

-When you go to turn the pump machine off and turn the dial up to the next level at 1am with less than functionable fingers… unexpected surprises await!

-Walking in the dark to the kitchen and back becomes your new stealth mode ability.

-Deciphering breathing patterns and the rate to which they dispell how much time you have before a cry is heard.

-You’re used to hearing, “You look good for…” from other adult humans when not asking for said feedback.

-You take pleasure in pottying alone and unaccompanied!

-A trip to the mailbox is delightful!

-You make friends withe late night creatures crawling along your walls and consider how much effort it would be to remove them… and then… you let it be.

-The rapid joy to which you feel when the first few ounces of milk are pumped more quickly than expected.

-You watch for the rapid fire eye movements under the eye lids and know that REM sleep has finally been achieved. Huzzah!

-When you can finally lay down on a yoga mat and not think of labor.

-Discovering spit up down your back after you’ve left the house.

-Considering how many sheets of tissue equate to a baby wipe when desperation sets in.

-When you lie awake and cannot fall asleep because the babe is sleeping. 🤦🏻‍♀️

-When you find yourself swaying, shushing, or rocking, when alone.

-Talking body functions and minutes asleep is critical conversation between yourself and your partner.

-Your high fives with your partner feel like gold medals of success.

-Making up songs about everything you’re doing.

-Describing aloud your actions so your babe can learn what is what and why.

-Releasing my introverted tendencies for verbal processing techniques.

-When you close your eyes and see your babe’s smile and the flashes of contentment set in.

Surrealism come to life

When I was a little girl I would play a wide variety of imagination games. I grew up bouncing around the house, creating games with my friends, and pretending I was most often times Laura Ingalls Wilder.  My closest friend from Kindergarten through middle school and I would often argue about who would play Mary Wilder and who would be Laura. I vividly recall arguing amongst the vegetable boxes in our backyard while popping raspberries into our mouths. “You were Laura LAST time!” definitely came out of my mouth.

Growing up I never envisioned my wedding day, or marriage for that matter. I always felt like I knew that I would find a partner one day who would be the person I would love for life. One thing I did envision was a child. I grew into a full fledged babysitter when I was in sixth grade. I worked a full summer between eighth and ninth grade caring for three families children. I absolutely loved it. I would pretend what I would do if they were my child, I gave them their supper, helped with the jammies, read stories, and tucked them into bed. All the while I would wonder, one day, what a child of my own would be like.

Watching my nephew and nieces grow over the last twelve to fifteen years has been a remarkable experience. Being an aunt is hands down, the best role I was given in life. I had the benefit of loving, participating, and giggling with three adorable and loving children, but not having to do any of the tough parenting business.

Now, holding our three month old son, life seems completely surreal at times. Perhaps it is the lack of sleep and the settling hormones, but my feelings have shifted. At first mamma and baby hold there was an instant connection of, “I know you, but not your face yet…” and those moments turned to minutes, to hours, and then days of care for the tiny human. Now watching him develop and grow out of infant stages I find myself feeling more connected to our tiny babe. Is that possible? To feel more receptive, loved, and dare I say possessive of? I sit and rock him to sleep and don’t want to put him down. If I just hold him he’ll stay little forever right?!

The answer is yes. Just yes. Yes to all of it. A remarkable friend of mine said, “You’re in the middle of the emotion ocean of motherhood.” Hands down, this woman knows, and gets my current state.

Emotion ocean waves are strong. The fierce feels of concern, love, fear, and the balance of it all is mind boggling at times. Then there’s the surrealism aspect. Those breaths in between the shushing, the nursing, the burping and the rocking when I catch myself in the act of mothering and realize, “Wow. I really am a momma after all.” It makes me cry tears of gratitude for the little life in our hands, and also tears for each small milestone he accomplishes and realizing just how much he has grown, and how fast it all seems to go.

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Learned Hate.

Learned hate.

Ever since I can remember I have identified as a human being who was raised as a Jewish American.  The first time I can recall feeling ostracized was in late second grade at my class lunch table:  “Ew, what’s that???? Why are you eating crackers and meat for lunch, weirdo. Is that like a JEWISH thing?” I had never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I didn’t know how to respond, I felt ashamed, I felt confused, I just sat there and stared. I listened to the snickers and laughter around me. I wrapped up my food, threw it away, and went to the bathroom. Later in that same year my teacher announced that I could make a puzzle wreath and paint it blue for the Jewish Christmas. This was in response to when I had just told her, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, is there something else I could make for my parents?”

In high school my sister received a permanent marker swastika drawn on her locker. She felt paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. However, Debbie was blessed with the gift of a remarkable friend and it was her friend who informed teachers, and took it upon herself to back that fellow peer up to a locker and confront his foul decision herself. She is still a heroine in our family’s life today. The student who attacked my sister was given a specific amount of hours of course work, videos, and lesson work all completed at school on the Holocaust. He was provided with the opportunity to learn about the hatred he had been taught, and reflect upon it. 

Later in high school during, “American Studies,” history class work in 2000 I questioned my teacher about why our text book had no reference to the Holocaust. She promptly replied we could discuss that more later. When we moved past 1945 in our course work I asked her again, this time after class and she replied, “If you want to learn more about WWII or the Holocaust than you’re welcome to take the next history course after this required course, but we don’t cover that in depth. We discussed the dates, the events that transpired in American history, but we don’t go in depth about what happened to the Jews.”  I told her that I felt, personally, that it was shocking and greatly concerning that a part of world history was not being covered in a history class.

Indifference.

One of the most memorable teachable experiences I have had with a student was the following:

I used to pass out math designs as enrichment work after an assignment was completed. There were multiple options for students to work through, throughout the course of a math unit. I handed a child a decimal worksheet that was next in the unit and I moved along checking in with other students. The next morning, one of the tasks for morning work I had assigned was to pull out their math design and get started. This particular child refused, the table team members at this child’s desk started talking about the reason why, the child’s neighbor responded with, “Just pull it out and work on it, it’s not a big deal.” I respectfully asked them to focus on their task at hand. I knelt down next to the child and asked if they wanted to talk about it later. I received a nod.

One on one in discussion the child revealed the following, “My mom said that I’m never, EVER, allowed to like that symbol, it’s a bad symbol, that’s what is on the worksheet Mrs. B. That’s why I don’t want to do my work.” I said, “What symbol?” “The star, the Jews, or the Jewish people star, or whatever it’s called is bad!” I looked at the child and took a slow breath. “What do you mean it’s bad?” I inquired. “Well, in my religion, we don’t believe that the Jews should like, I don’t know how to explain it, I just know that I can see that symbol in that worksheet and I feel uncomfortable.” To which I replied with, “Ok, I hear what you’re saying, let’s have you put that worksheet aside for now and we’ll have you think about it. As for Jews being bad, can we talk about that?” “Yeah!” the child replied. She continued, “Well like my people, or my mom told me that they are not nice, they don’t like our religion, we don’t get along, and that it’s a bad group or something, I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Now, I have to pause here, in my head, as Jewish person, I was extremely torn. I really wanted to respond with, “Did you know that you’re teacher is Jewish. Am I a bad person because I’m Jewish?” However, I stopped and I reflected that I did not want this to become a personal battle, I wanted instead for this to be an opportunity for learning and growth in perspective for this child.

Over the next few weeks, into months, the discussion continued. When the opportunity arose to tie in WWII, the Holocaust, and the President Roosevelt leveled reader book together into a literacy study, the opportunity for more teaching evolved. This child became intrigued by the idea that Jewish people had been persecuted. This child and their friend requested literature about WWII and children during the Holocaust. I provided more children’s literature to which they chose to read during independent time.

Later the following transpired, “Mrs. B. I had no idea that the Jewish people had been killed during WWII. I ….did you know that there were 6 million people that were Jewish who were murdered??? Why would that happen?” Staring at me with wide eyes and astonishment, the child continued.  “It’s like in my religion, being a Muslim, I get really upset when people say that all Muslim’s are bad, because, I’m not a bad person! I love Islam.  My family are good people.” I nodded my head and replied, “So then, I guess there was a lesson to be learned, we can’t always judge someone based upon what religion they believe in or practice?” To which the child quietly looked down at the book and whispered, “Yeah,” followed by, “Did you see the books we got at the library?” This child and friend proceeded to pull out multiple books on WWII, the Holocaust and Anne Frank.

The purpose for me sharing these encounters is this:

Through education, through discussion, through reading, through dialogue, bridges can be built in our understanding of one another. Human beings can connect and unlearn the hatred they have been taught.

Hatred is taught.

Hatred is learned.

Hatred is not an innate ability.

Love is an intrinsic response.

Love is a natural desire.

Talk.

Discuss.

Question.

Listen.

Learn.

Love.

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