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Posts Tagged ‘Family’


Our annual trip to Maine was up in the air. Should I go so far from my medical team (8-10 hours by car)? If not, should my husband go for his much deserved vacation and leave me home alone? How would cars be juggled? Would I see my west coast son if I didn’t go? All these questions had to be considered. I had already cancelled my teaching obligations and gave up any possibility of attending any art classes myself – two of the things I look forward to each year.

As we approached the weekend we would leave, I felt good enough to chance it. We planned only one week, rather than our usual two, to hedge our bets. Being in the woods, sitting on a screened porch overlooking a lake was just what the doctor ordered. I spent little time in the kitchen. My boys and their friend cooked and we went out to dinner. I even ate a 2.5 lb. soft shell lobster!

The healing power of family and nature is certain. I was out of bed all day (albeit resting and sitting a lot). When I got back home, I was able to be out of bed, doing things around the house, food shopping, laundry, etc., before tiring.

Now that I feel some recovery is occurring, I need to face the rest of the journey: another surgery in the risky zone and a minor one to complete the mastectomy/ reconstruction process. But I have survived this nearly one-year nightmare and feel almost human again, and that counts for something.

This portion of the experience is being wrapped up with this post. If I write any more about related subsequent events, they will stand on their own. Thank you for sharing my journey with me.

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My cousin’s favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, and we shared the holiday with her and her husband for many years. This year, she was in the midst of packing to move and I wasn’t travelling, so we endeavored to have Thanksgiving at our house, even though I wouldn’t be able to assist in preparations. Our family, cousins and sister’s family chipped in on the cooking and cleanup to make a beautiful Thanksgiving feast. And to my utter delight, I was able to take my first bites of food beginning that week. Thanksgiving was particularly poignant as we all were so grateful for my survival and beginning recovery. Recovery began and proceeded, marked by small advances through December and January. One drain out; then another. First shower. First food after months of IV feeding. Weight gain (I had lost 15 lbs.) Walking further. Driving. Pain lessening. I scheduled the prophylactic mastectomy for June, sure I would be well enough to have the next surgery in seven months.

To be continued . . . . . .

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Why do we get more sentimental as we age? Is it the feeling (and reality) that our time is growing limited? Is it a yearning for days gone by? Or is it a combination of these factors?
I am joyful beyond measure for the time we get to spend with our family. It is so rare now to have them all together at the same time, and usually not all to ourselves. With friends in their lives, we are sharing our boys with other people. I am happy about the kinds of people they choose to be in their lives, and enjoy the young adults sitting around the dinner table having mature conversations. I love the amazing meals my son and his friend turn out for us to enjoy. I love the physical closeness phone calls can’t provide.
Then why am I also sad?
It’s because I know this time is limited.
It’s because they will be wretched from us once again – each parting as difficult as the first.
It’s because I do not know when we will next see each other.
It’s because we will be moving away from where they grew up, and when they go “home” maybe it won’t be where we are moving to.
It’s because all parents carry guilt about what they didn’t do even though the outcome was good and there is no logical reason to feel that way.
It’s just because sometimes.
So, now I will put it aside and go back to enjoying the time I DO have with my sons and their friends. They need help in the kitchen!

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Fair warning . . . . especially to family. The feelings expressed in this poem reveal deep, personal pain in the context of the family rift. If you feel it may negatively influence you about the family, please read no further.

These past six months have been difficult. While much of my life has been lived without the support of my mother, her decision to cut herself off from two of her three children is unfathomable to me. I understand some of the logistical and survival reasons for her choice. Yet I cannot imagine, for any reason, EVER, being estranged from my sons, therefore can’t understand how she can do it. Never mind the pain it might cause her (if it indeed does), but her lack of consideration about her children’s feelings – I just can’t wrap my head around it.

I’ve considered reaching out – many times – but I already know the score. I’ve been there so may times, each time emerging with freshly opened wounds, so I decided to stop hurting myself any more. Only a fool keeps doing the same thing, expecting different results.

So, when I pause to think about things, I become angry, in self defense. Writing is cathartic – so emerged the first poem I have written since I was a teenager. Here it it.

You Told Me I Couldn’t

Act like a child,

even when I was one

I had to be the adult you couldn’t be

Develop my academic talent

When I qualified to skip a year of school,

you held me back

Go to religious school when I wanted to learn who our people were

because you wouldn’t join the temple that offered you

a scholarship you viewed as “charity”

Take music or dance lessons

because you didn’t have the money

yet your poorer friends found a way to send their children

Go to a prestigious public school

because you didn’t want me to ride the subway

You thought your fears should be mine

Claim my spot in a desirable college

because I couldn’t go to that school

So I dropped out of a different college, already defeated in my belief I

that I could accomplish anything great

Go to art school

because I would be a starving artist

even though my teacher saw promise and helped me create a portfolio

Do the right thing

because when I stopped to help an injured child along my way,

you punished me for losing the money I was given to bring home dinner

Go to college unless I could find the money to pay for it

because you didn’t think my education was important enough

Or maybe you didn’t want to see me succeed

Your actions and words broke me in places no doctor could fix

But years of reflection, therapy and depression, provided some glue to hold me together

while I built my own foundations of strength

I made my life meaningful in spite of you

In the face of loss of

my childhood,

my innocence,

my health

jobs,

old friends,

my home,

two husbands,

and others I loved,

I built a life of worth, and still find it possible to be grateful for every bit it

A devoted husband

Two beautiful sons

A good education

Health

Friends

Meaningful work

And the privilege of finally, finally, being all those things you said I couldn’t be.

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I missed my kitchen. These are strange words coming from someone who used to struggle to think of what to make for dinner. But somehow (a little late for my kids unfortunately), I have come into my own, in the kitchen. It helps that I love it since we did a mini renovation, and made it more pleasant to be in it.

But the real pleasures are found in the zen of preparing the food, knowing what is in the dishes prepared and those with whom we share our meals.

So after being away nearly 3 weeks, I got busy in the kitchen. It was around Passover, and I was not hosting a seder, but for some reason (maybe its because I was returning from Israel?) I felt like cooking traditional Jewish food. Chicken soup, brisket, potato kugel, matzah brie, vegetables, lots of vegetables, charoset, hummus from scratch (from dried beans), cabbage salad, beet salad. My fridge runneth over.

I entertained many friends, sharing meals and stories, and lots of laughs. That’s the best part. With 11 of us crammed into my small kitchen, nothing could be more comfortable. There is nothing like the warmth of a kitchen filled with food and friends.

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Sometimes we are blessed with relatives we would choose as friends. All too often however, we are instead, “stuck” with those whom we wish we could disassociate.

As a second generation immigrant, my father grew up in close proximity to family; cousins, 2nd cousins, etc. As they moved away, staying in touch meant traveling pre-interstate highways, to (then) rural Connecticut, from New York City. I remember these trips to the farm; the friendly relatives, the chickens and bringing home freshly laid eggs. It was a treat to be in the fresh air and countryside. Ever an observer of nature and people, I took in the “different” sights, sounds and odors of the experience.

Because of the relationships fostered then, we continue in this generation, to stay in touch with some of our distant relatives. Of course, technology makes it even easier now. We share a common “memory,” which keeps us connected. Even though many years may pass between seeing each other, that common bond makes it easy to pick up where we left off.

I remain in touch with most of my first cousins, with various levels of contact, save for two of them, who have remained elusive. Despite a warm relationship with this aunt, uncle and cousins when we were kids, we became estranged at some point in adulthood. Our invitations to joyous family events were ignored, so we took the hint and just stopped reaching out. One of the two cousins stayed in touch for awhile, but only because her abusive lifestyle required money and housing. Eventually, she wore out her welcome.

My father and all his brothers are gone now. Recently, one of the estranged cousins passed away at age 53. Not shocking considering his family legacy of heart disease and a father and uncles who had early heart attacks. But sad just the same. He was the first of our generation and a wakeup call to us all.

They lived far away and only one of the cousins attended the funeral. some of us discussed it. We all felt no connection. There was no relationship, in spite of the blood that bound us. I vacillated between the “should” and “why?” question. The “should” because he was family; the “why?” because he didn’t include us as such in his life.

The “why?” won out and I have made my peace. I left a comment on the online memory book. I will reach out to his wife to express my sympathy. And that will be appropriate for this relationship.

As to his sister, I planned to do much the same, in spite of her past behavior. After all, she is the last in her family to survive. I understand she would feel alone in a way that most people her age would not. But I struggle to be benevolent with someone who has hurt and  cheated so many people and dramatized life’s events as all hers, without regard to how anyone else is affected. I resent her rambling public FB post insulting our family for not supporting her, as if she had a right to it. To those who know nothing of her past behavior and disrespect of her family, she looks like the victim.

So to my cousin’s immediate family: wife, children and grandchildren, who will truly miss someone they held dear, I will send my love. I will need some time to figure out an appropriate way to reach out to the self-centered sister whose only reaction at her brother’s loss is to try and make her the center of attention once again.

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It is not an uncommon phenomenon. Families “practice” behaviors with one another as they learn to navigate the world, with the hopeful outcome that they learn appropriate ones and extinguish the negative and dangerous ones.

But all too often, people carry with them those behaviors that doom them to a life of misery. And more unfortunately, when negative behaviors continue within the family dynamic, they can affect those who have worked hard through self reflection, to learn and practice healthy ones. Sometimes, the only way for the healthy family members to remain that way is to leave that part of the family behind.

Such is the situation I now find myself in now. I have tried numerous times to appeal to my brother, that it is in all of our interests to work things out through respectful dialog. He is unwilling and/or unable, and nothing I can do will change that. He is toxic and any interactions with him leave you exhausted, angry and tearful. So, to preserve my dignity, I have decided there is no other way than to eliminate him from my life.

It would be easy if there were no mutual interests but life is never that “clean” and simple. My mother and nieces live with him and are entirely under his control (and I choose that word deliberately). My mother is dependent on him, as are his young children.

It makes me very sad that my young nieces can’t interact with anyone without their father’s supervision. Because he is paranoid and suspicious about anyone’s intentions, he trusts no one. He claims to want his children to know their family, yet he does everything he can to push them away. He tells them and our mother what to think, how to think, what they like, and bullies them into submission. I keep trying to find a mantra strong enough to convince myself that I can’t do anything about the situation, unless I am prepared to do something drastic. I hope it doesn’t come to the need for that, but I can’t rule it out yet.

While I understand some of the reasons for his hateful, vitriolic attitude, I can’t imagine what brought it to the extreme. And I also know that this attitude only feeds itself, making any change less and less possible.

I find myself reciting the Serenity Prayer over and over, to help me stop obsessing about it. I am hoping that some day, my mother will want to leave the situation, but I hope that comes before something worse happens. I am hopeful that my nieces will turn to a healthy family member when someday they are free to move about without constant scrutiny.

Until that day comes, let me say: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Amen. (Repeat)

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