When I was a kid, my mom and I played a game. We hid a little rubberized clown named Bendable Buddy around the house in odd places for the other to find. Whomever hid him last often heard peals of laughter and knew instantly he had been discovered.
We tried to be clever with our hiding places. I tied him to the blade of the ceiling fan. Mom squeezed him in the egg carton. It was so much fun trying to outwit each other. Sometimes we caught each other in the act and had to abandon our plan. The hilarity continued for years.
I moved out when I was 18, but still lived in town. Mom of course was a frequent visitor and so was Bendable Buddy. She would sneak him in; on the lookout for a covert spot, me pretending I didn’t know what was going on. As soon as she left, the search began and still giggling over the cleverness of wherever he was discovered, I would call her so we could share the joy of our ritual. And then I always made sure he always found his way home to her again!
Bendable Buddy was quite the traveler too. His early journeys included Canada, around the United States and a Caribbean cruise, stowed away discreetly in my suitcase. I sent him to the Bahamas with her and dad. The search for him became as much of a game as hiding him.
I hadn’t thought about Bendable Buddy in a long while. He had been packed up with all my parents belongings that were stored in my garage when they moved to an Assisted Living Facility nearly a decade ago. Mom had been ill several years before that and no longer drove. The game had not been on our radar for some time.
After my parents passed away, most of their things were brought to my home, boxes and boxes of memories stored in our garage. I still haven’t been able to go through all the boxes. There are some memories I’m not prepared to deal with yet.
Then he appeared on day. I found him inside a drawer in a rolling cabinet in my kitchen that my dad had made, tucked in next to the silverware. The tears flowed and I broke out in a huge grin at the same time.
For weeks he sat on my dresser, his happy face greeting mine every day. Bendable Buddy may be just a toy to some, but to me he is a an important memory I shared with my mom. He reminds me of silly mother-daughter times, giggling and feeling loved. He helps me remember the twinkle in my mom’s eye and her beautiful smile and, how much I miss her.
Memories are powerful. They evoke so many emotions. But most importantly, they connect us to the people in our lives and the events we experience. They tell the tale of our past and shape our future too.
Our stories are composed of our memories. They are created with family or friends, or our own private journey. They bring joy, evoke tears and fill our heart.
Silly old clown. I’m so glad I opened that drawer.
On the four-year anniversary of my father’s passing, I attended a funeral. Well, I woke up that morning thinking I was going to a funeral. Instead, it was a celebration of life and a celebration of which I had never experienced before.
To put it in context, I am Jewish. In Judaism, we have special rituals, as do many other religions. We bury the dead within three days and sit Shiva in our homes for seven days. We don’t have viewings, we bury in a simple box, the body lovingly washed and then wrapped in white gauze by members of a ritual committee. There are no flowers as the origin of them was to perfume the bodies in cultures where the burial happened at a later time.
I lost both my parents four years ago within three months of each other. Attending funerals still makes me feel like I can’t breathe, my chest tightens up and I ache inside. But this day, for the most part was different and there was healing for me wrapped up in a different culture and the strong and beautiful connections I witnessed between the family, the congregation and the clergy and choir.
The service/celebration I attended was at the EBON (Everlasting Believers of the Nazarene) Temple. There was an open viewing the night before and that morning of the funeral, and lots of flowers. There were Deacons and Pastors, some visiting from out of town as well as a full choir and musicians playing the organ, electric guitar and drums. The family wore white, as did a group of women called the Mothers of the Church. The church was not elaborate, but the energy emanating from the pulpit and the congregation was moving, literally. People were on their feet, waving their hands, and singing praise.
The Pastor belted out The Lord’s Prayer, backed up by the choir. There were AMENS shouted out from those in attendance. There were testimonies from friends and memories shared from his adult children, all ending with “we know we will see you again.”
And then the Pastor gave his prayer, which felt like a sermon and testimony combined. The choir hummed and the musicians accompanied and the congregation swayed along. It was moving. It was stirring and it was riveting. It was a cultural encounter that I had not experienced and I could feel the love and compassion inside the building, but more so, throughout the community that was supporting the family.
It was a celebration of life. Three big-screen TVs, two hanging on either side of the pulpit and one over the entrance so those on the pulpit could also see, showed family photos throughout the service. When the pastor spoke, Psalms and Bible verses appeared on the screens. I have not been in a lot of churches, but knew instantly that technology was being used in this church in a way I had not seen before and was another link to connecting members with each other.
What finally brought me to tears and took me back to my losing my dad, was the military salute. I felt like I had left my body as I watched the two service men march slowly in their deliberate cadence and remove the flag over the casket, fold it and present it to his wife, and then two more to his children. I felt transported in that moment to four years ago when a flag was handed to me as the soldier looked me right in my eyes, thanking me for my father’s service.
Despite the celebration of life, there is still a family in mourning, missing a wonderful man, husband and father who impacted others in a positive way, as so many shared that day. I know their church community as well as friends and colleagues will rally around them. I felt honored to witness the connections they had with each other.
Before I left, I hugged his wife, whom I have known for several years and shared with her a piece of my culture. In Judaism we say, “May his (her) memory be a blessing.” I already know from what I witnessed, that it is.
Originally published in The Huffington Post
The four-year anniversary of losing my mom brought expected tears. There were also smiles and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all she instilled in me.
She didn’t have the easiest life. Her mom was always sick and eventually went blind from Type 2 Diabetes. She dropped out of school in the 10th grade to care for her. When her three siblings all married and moved away, she continued to care for her mother until she met my dad in her mid-twenties and moved my grandmother to a nursing home. The birth of both her children were difficult; she endured 36 hours of labor with my brother, and lost nearly 30 pounds while pregnant with me due to asthma, which she suffered from for the rest of her life.
Although she was not a risk-taker and often saw the negative aspects of a situation first, I could not have had a better role model than my mom.
Here are three reasons why.
1. She Taught Me Determination
Mom was left-handed when she started school and at that time, left-handed children were judged as being wrong and different. She was forced to switch to writing with her right hand, which she says caused her to stutter for years to come. It was something that always made her self-conscious and affected her self-esteem. Yet, if someone threatened one of her children, “Mama Bear” came to life and any personal fears she had disappeared. My older brother also started school left-handed and when the school system tried to switch him over as they had done to her, Mom was in the principal’s office giving him a piece of her mind.
While communicating verbally was challenging at times, she easily expressed herself with art. I have memories of many oil paintings she created and a few hang in my home today. Although she never felt confident about her talent, she was good. But more than anything, her determination to live for eight years following a major heart attack, coupled with diabetes, kidney issues, congestive heart failure and MRSA contracted in the hospital reminds me how possible it is to fight through adversity.
There is always a path to the goal and a way to make something happen. Mom taught me that.
2. She Taught Me To Help Others
From a very young age, I remember my mom reaching out to others in need, often volunteering behind the scenes. She invited every stray to holiday celebrations — people who had nowhere else to go — and called the local colleges and Navy base to invite students and service men or women who had no family or friends to be with. She would even send my dad to pick them up. Mom didn’t know how to cook for just four, the size of our family. She excelled at cooking for 30, so we <em>always</em> had lots of leftovers!
My mom was kind to everyone. She never expressed racial or religious prejudice to me. She was a peacemaker through and through, and even when family members would not speak to each other, they always had a good relationship with her. She loved to gift friends with her crafts and cooking, showing me that it isn’t always about buying gifts, but sharing your heart.
3. She Taught Me To Love
I never doubted for one minute my mom loved me. She literally told me every day. As a child, I never left the room or went to bed without a hug and a kiss. And she always asked me, “Do you know how much I love you?” It was important to her that I knew that. On the day she died, it was one of the last things she said to me.
My parents walked through grocery stores still holding hands after 50-plus years of marriage. Although she had many medical issues that contributed to her death, I know seeing my father with Alzheimer’s broke her heart. I still have three voicemails on my phone I can’t delete because I am afraid to lose her voice, but in every one, she asks how my father is. (He had just been moved to the Alzheimer’s section of the Assisted Living Facility they lived at). The day before she died, I took her to see him. I could see how painful it was for her and for the first time, she asked to leave. She couldn’t bear it any more.
The lessons my mom instilled in me have gotten me over some tough hurdles in my life, including caring for her during her illness as well as dad’s. He passed away three months after her. I am grateful for those lessons. I have channeled my inner Mama Bear to protect my “cub” when need be. I love having big dinner parties and inviting people who have never met each other, to connect and become friends. I volunteer and try to smile at everyone I meet. I am grateful that I grew up seeing the good in people and I have a great capacity for love. I am one of those moms who is guilty of saying the same things my mom said. Happily guilty in this case. My grown son absolutely knows he is loved. I make sure to ask him often!
Originally published on The Huffington Post
I am sitting in my favorite chair, listening to the birds chirping madly away in their morning reverie and thinking of my dad. How he loved the birds that played in his back yard. He constructed feeders for them and would point out the cardinals and blue jays that would swoop in to eat, competing with the squirrels that thought the food was theirs.
I have so many great memories of times with my dad. He loved puzzles, road trips, cracking jokes, silly puns, and gardening. I love all those things too and truly wish I had spent more time with him in those activities.
Moving my parents to an Assisted Living Facility was life changing for both of them. The backyard birds, the gardening, their car, and many of the things dad loved went away. I left the bird feeders up at their place, but now wish I had brought them to my house.
When someone you love is ill, as my dad was with Alzheimer’s, you often forget about maximizing the time together. It’s easy to get caught up in caring for them while you are still running around maintaining your own schedule and busy life.
If I could spend some more time with my dad, I would carefully maximize every moment, even if it meant just hanging out together enjoying each other’s company.
Here are 3 things I wish I’d done to make most of my time with my dad.
Preserve the Memories
Journal their stories, or record an audio or video version. I wish I had used a tape or video recorder to capture his memories. I can’t pick up the phone to call him anymore to ask about a relative or event I am fuzzy on, or one I heard him tell me in my much younger days.
Create Meaningful Memories While You Can
Take the time to take that road trip or whatever activity is important to them. We get so caught up on our lives, with work and taking care of our home and running our own kids around. My dad wanted me to try out for Wheel of Fortune with him and I was too busy. What a memory that would have been!
Learn from Him
Dad love to woodwork and I have a charming cabinet he made. He was a bit of a handyman who also taught me how to hang wallpaper, change a tire and the oil in my car. But he always wanted me to learn to play Bridge, his favorite card game. He would travel to tournaments around Florida and sometimes to other states. I wish now I had learned to play from him and with him. We could have combined that hobby and a road trip and gone to a tournament together!
I realize now how precious my memories are. I think that is why I love to connect seniors to their memories.
My son and daughter-in law will be home in a few weeks. They along with my husband are big bowling fanatics and I’m not. But I decided to go with them to watch, laugh, take pictures and make some memories we can all cherish.
Previously published on The Good Men Project
Have you heard about the guy that wanted a red Ferrari?
Story goes, it represented a symbol of success, of working hard and finally making it in the business world. He could visualize it parked in his driveway, for all the neighbors to drool over and turn green with envy when they drove by.
The red Ferrari would mean he had achieved a status that set him apart from others. It told the world that was not a failure.
He had to have that red Ferrari.
This guy worked hard. He worked days and often worked nights. He worked weekends and holidays, all in pursuit of his goal. He was exhausted, but consumed.
His wife and children rarely saw him. Family time that included Dad was almost non-existent. He was gone before they were awake and often came home after everyone else was in bed.
He was driven. Driven to drive that damn red Ferrari.
Not only would his neighbors be envious, so would his friends. They would all see that red Ferrari in the driveway and they would finally understand why he had worked so hard. His family would know that he did it all for them.
The guy was so tired, but he knew he would never accomplish his goals and his dreams without working as hard as he did. He was stressed, but so determined to drive that sleek red machine that was his symbol of success.
The thing is, his kids didn’t care about the car. All they wanted was their dad to throw the ball with them, to attend their soccer games and school play and to just hang out like their friends’ dads did. His wife didn’t care about the car either. She also was tired of raising the kids alone, of not going out as a couple like they used to, or as a family.
But there weren’t enough hours in the week for those “leisurely” activities. He barely slept, because his mind was always racing with all he had to do. Stress was his middle name.
One day, he found himself in a most unusual situation. His afternoon client cancelled and he had no one else scheduled. His reports were filed and his boss told him to go home.
Imagine his family’s response when he showed up. He played with his kids, ate dinner with his family, laughed and relaxed and had the best night’s sleep in a long time. The next day, he awoke rested, another feeling he had forgotten about.
He was so refreshed he discovered how much work he got done the following day. With a clear head, his focus was on point and he was amazed at how much he had accomplished.
The following week, he purposely scheduled an afternoon off and enjoyed more family time and again, was incredibly focused and productive at work. By the following week, he added a day on the weekend. He discovered his productivity at work increased 25% although he was working less. His family life increased even more.
In time, the guy made an important discovery. As he learned to take time for himself and his family, his ability to balance his life enabled him to achieve more – more money, more success, more quality family time, more rest, more focus and most important – he could finally afford that red Ferrari.
And suddenly, he didn’t want it any more!
Here are 3 things this guy wants you to know about life and work balance!
Success Isn’t a Thing
You will never feel fulfilled if you gauge your success by an object – the fanciest car or the biggest house. Yes, they represent wealth, but not necessarily success.
Giving Up Family For Business is a Lose/Lose Situation
You will never get back the time you could have spent with people that you love. Or have time to develop a relationship. You lose and they lose
Without Balance in Your Life, Your Health Will Suffer
The stress will never be worth it –a never have enough syndrome creates stress that can affect not only your sleep but your quality of life.
Having things does not equate to having a life. Money will purchase objects, but it won’t purchase the feeling of being fulfilled. That comes from within and from having others to share our lives with and create memories with. You can’t recreate what you miss out on.
Previously published on TheGoodMenProject.com
Several years ago, after coming to the painful realization that they could not take care of themselves any longer, I moved my parents to an assisted living facility.
I did my best to keep them in their home, hiring caregivers to come by daily for a few hours each day, which was all I could afford. I began cooking their meals and helping out as much as I could, grateful I already had power of attorney for both of them so I could pay their bills and handle other details of their lives. It was exhausting, even with help. Their expenses were greater than their income from pensions and social security. Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Mom had diabetes, congestive heart failure and was on oxygen. Life as they knew it had to change.
It took some time to adjust to the ALF, but I knew it was where they needed to be. Dad was eventually moved over to memory care as his disease progressed. I learned a lot about memories in the process which helped me to help others who are caring for people who have dementia.
They passed away within three months of each other. Now, nearly four years later, I have begun the process of sorting through all the extra things that ended up at my home after theirs was sold.
Clothes that would not fit in their much-smaller apartment now crowd my closets. Boxes of books and memories I wasn’t ready to explore or let go of still line the inside walls of my garage. The door to my back bedroom is kept closed to hide additional boxes stored there. More of their clothes are strewn on the hide-a-bed couch that used to accommodate guests before my parent’s surplus possessions overtook the comfy cushions
I finally reached the point of being ready to sift through some of the piles. Grief defies all things rational and rendered me unable to deal with the their things. It was painful to go through them, and yet I was grateful to have them.
I started with clothes that were on the couch; Dad’s suits, Mom’s dresses, and some various sweaters, blouses and shirts. Some of them were stained, from hanging in the closet too long, as well as from wear.
Looking at each piece of clothing was a journey down memory lane. A favorite dress of Mom’s, Dad’s wild floral tie I made him in the 7th grade because I am Jewish and didn’t want to make the class Christmas stocking.
Then I noticed the white paper peeking out from an inside pocket on one of Dad’s suit jackets. I pulled it out and unfolded the two pages that were stapled together. In my hands was a printout of Mapquest directions to a church in a neighboring city dated May, 2006. A friend of Dad’s had passed away. He had printed out directions to the funeral. In the pocket on the opposite side was the program from the funeral.
I began checking each item of clothing for hidden treasures. The next suit yielded another surprise. A spoof on a song that I grew up with – My Grandfather’s Clock, turned into My Grandfather’s Kit – written for my son Joel when he was a baby. Dad had put together an assortment of baby products and toys and written a little diddy to go with it. My dad the creative performer! Makes me smile thinking about it.
A man’s suit coat is fun to rummage through — there are so many pockets. Outside ones with flaps and more pockets nestled away on the inside.
As I continued exploring I found a candy wrapper, it’s contents long gone. He used to keep them in his pocket during Shabbat services in case he or mom had a scratchy throat or a cough. Speaking of services, two tickets for the High Holiday (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) the Jewish Holy Days. They are listed for the year 5767 in the Hebrew calendar, that would be 2006, more than eight years ago. Two finds from 2006. It must have been the last time he wore suits.
Another wrapper. Antacid tablets. I see any kind of antacid tablets today and still think of him. Dad had what he called a nervous stomach. I think it was just heartburn. He had a penchant for foods like garlic and onions.
A silver paper clip attached to a very young picture of one of my cousins. It is dated April, 1958, the year before I was born. Odd this was in his pocket. I wonder why he carried it with him.
A pen with the real estate company he worked for so many years ago printed on it. He sold us our first house and gifted us back his commission. A note in the same pocket (written with the pen?) to remember call the library about a book he had on reserve.
I would have loved to sit with Dad on the couch, chatting about the treasures I found and maybe pulling a story or two from him as we laughed about the paper clip and antacid wrapper. I wonder what the book was that he’d reserved, and if he ever read it.
It may seem silly to some, but for me, every memory I discovered in my father’s pockets made me smile and then miss him all the more.
You may also want to read: How Losing My Father to Alzheimer’s Helped Me Find Joy for Others
Previously published on TheGoodMenProject.com