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Do We Share Sad News and if so, how?

Recently someone very dear to us in our community passed away suddenly after a car accident. When I found out about the news via an email that arrived in my inbox, I struggled with whether or not to relay the news to my sons.

As my sons were each very close to this man over the years, their hearing the news would no doubt upset them. My first instinct was to let them hear the news from someone else. Unfortunately, bad news travels fast. Two of my sons live in the New York area, two live here in Los Angeles, and one lives in Israel.

And yet, and yet. I thought what if they find out in an abrupt manner from a stranger? Or what if they don’t find out until after the funeral? I knew that there would be several memorials held – one on the East Coast and another in Israel. A video hook-up was held here in LA during the East Coast set of eulogies.

So I ended up calling a few of my sons and telling them slowly. One of my sons told me afterward that he appreciated my telling him the news, but he felt I said it too slowly and gradually. He said he got overly frightened and felt that it was not necessary.  But he moved right into “Thanks Mom, I will go to the funeral. I’m glad I know. You had to tell me….”

Another son was so upset when he heard the news that his knee jerk response was anger and denial. “Ma, why do I have to hear this now? I can’t stand this!” He was clearly very upset and felt safe letting his sadness expressed as anger out on his mother. Soon, he also calmed down and moved forward into visiting the family, writing a letter and also attending the funeral.

And so it went with each of my sons. One son already had heard the information from one of his brothers, and another son heard about it from his wife.

At the end of the day, it’s not about us and how our family hears the news. It’s about the family. My first thought when hearing about the sudden passing of this man who was a Torah giant, brilliant man and the kindest person you’d ever meet, was “Oh my gosh – that poor wife and children…how does someone handle such news?”

Of course there is no “good” way to share sad news. And sometimes it’s best to say it quickly and abruptly. Other times maybe more gradually. I know of a case where someone heard bad news in a gradual way – as she was told that her dad was in an accident and later told that he didn’t survive the accident. She told me she guessed even before the words were said.

It’s important to be sensitive to others when sharing bad news -and maybe sometimes it’s best not to share it. Why be the one to pass around bad news if there’s no actual benefit to the person hearing? If they don’t know the people or if the news will ruin their day, why tell them?

Sometimes we feel as if we want to unburden ourselves and share something sad, and in those cases maybe it’s best to check our motivations and put off sharing. Praying, writing, and planning how to help the family may be a better initial reaction.

It’s certainly not black and white, right or wrong. These things are in the grey areas. We don’t know what is the right way.

We don’t want to bury our noses in the sand and pretend bad things don’t happen. We want to be able to be there for our friends and community and we know others want the same thing. But we only hope that we are gifted with sensitivity and wisdom when we have unhappy information to pass on.

I welcome any and all opinions on this matter.


Tu B’Shevat – The Holiday of Trees

 

Can we extend the growth obtained on Tu B’Shevat throughout the year?

Today is the 15th day of the lunar month of Shevat, also known as Tu B’Shevat, because the Hebrew letters that denote the number 15, spell out the sound of “Tu.”

Tu B’Shevat – the Jewish holiday that falls in January or February (depending upon the year) – inspires growth and renewal.  It is a holiday of the birthday of the trees. Unlike the regular Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashana, Tu B’shevat is the New Year or birthday for Trees. This year, Tu B’Shevat,  The 15 of Shevat corresponded to Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Jewish or lunar calendar revolves around the size of the moon.  The arrival of the new moon means a new month. The new month usually symbolizes a chance of us to evolve – for renewal and personal growth.

Rosh Hashana is a New Year for humans, and  falls in September or the first day of the first lunar month of Tishrei.  The arrival of Tu B’Shevat signals renewal and personal growth for trees. Since man is considered like a tree, man is encouraged to grow and renew ourselves, as inspired by trees.

In the month of Shevat, on the 15th day, Jewish people in the Land of Israel and elsewhere celebrate Tu B’shevat, which is the day that marks the beginning of  a new year for trees. The first trees bloom in Israel during the month of Shevat.

They emerge from the winter slumber and begin to grow fruit.

The New Year for trees is the time that various tithes (10 % of the produce that is separated) are removed from the fruits grown in the Land of Israel.

Jewish people eat certain fruits on Tu B’Shevat, as a way of celebrating the day. These fruits are grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. We proclaim that “man is a tree,” and man symbolizes a tree. We can derive many lessons from the metaphor of a tree, such as growth, gratitude, renewal, nourishment and maturity.

Let us extend the growth begun in the spring throughout the year.


End of an Era Inspires Continuity

 

My mother-in-law passed away recently, and now that my husband’s thirty days of mourning known as  shloshim have passed, we as a family notice the changes that have already taken place, along with new ones to come. All the things that have been and no longer are with us, indicate the “end of an era.”

Certain traditions are no more. The Friday afternoon before Shabbos visits to her home for chicken soup are no more. You see, back in the days when she cooked that for the kids, we’d pile into Grandma’s home every week.  She’d also cut up the fresh fruit for the grownups while we gathered around her kitchen table. All this is no more.

 The phone calls to Grandma every day to and from her house, and the visits as soon as the couples arrived from out-of-town are also over.

Conversations with Grandma are over. The talk was about the kids and what everyone was doing, who was working and who was learning, the cute remarks of the grandchildren and great grandchildren. And the discussion of manners. And how the children were behaving. Or not. It was all fodder for discussion and as much as I often complained to my husband “why does she have to be so particular about placing the fork and knife next to each other when finishing the meal?” and various other wifely whines, I kind of sort of miss it all.

Whenever someone from the previous generation passes away, I think of how we’ve reached the end of an era. Since that person represented certain traditions unique to the days gone by, and since that person is no longer physically in our lives, my nostalgia kicks into high gear and I become a bit depressed. We somehow thought she’d live forever, as we do with every loved one in our lives. We expect things to remain the same and they do not. And when that happens, we go into nostalgic mode of the past being gone forever.

I’m reminded of another memory. I was a little girl, on Friday nights we’d often walk to my grandmother’s apartment down the block. My grandmother gave us chicken soup. Shabbos afternoon we’d visit her and she’d give us what was called “Neopolitan” ice cream. I liked the chocolate and sometimes the strawberry. We’d spend a lot of time at my other grandmother where my cousins and I ate what I called her meat with the gravy. I called it the shiny meat.

When my grandmothers passed away – first my paternal Grandma and a few years later my Omi – whom we refer to as Omilein, we felt it was the end of an era. 

My mother-in-law knew my grandmothers, so the two eras overlapped. I was married about fifteen years when one grandmother passed away, and then another one a few years later. Eras overlap. There’s continuity. My grandmothers represent the European era – they both were born and raised in Europe and although they spoke English, they lacked the sophistication and fast paced personalities of present day grandmothers.

My mother-in-law was born and raised in Shang-hai, China. Hailing from a Sephardic family, where heir parents and grandparents were from Iraq and India respectively, had different customs from what I grew up with. Her value of manners, old school rules and proper etiquette is a throwback to the older times. No matter how polished a person is nowadays, they don’t compare to the standards of my mother-in-law. She was queenly and royal and she demanded it in all her children.

An end of an era. Or is it? It’s only the end, if we close the door on her values. We don’t have to. Every day when I drive around in my car and take care of the food shopping and myriad tasks I have to do, I can think of my mother-in-law. The era can continue and I can model some of those ideas for my children and grandchildren.

The end of an era is the beginning of another one. It’s the realization that we are just the continuation of a long chain of traditions. An era doesn’t end abruptly but it overlaps into the coming years with our actions that mimic those of our ancestors.

As much as my mother-in-law was from the “old country” of Shang-hai, China, she was a modern woman who ran a business with her husband, drove sickly people around, and took care of and worried about her family with extreme zealousness.

Those are values we all can incorporate – each in our own way. It’s not the end. It’s a continuation of a special era that we will never forget.

 


On Happiness, Loss, and Mixed Emotions

A lot has happened to our family and me the past month.  Many happy events and also some not-such-happy events.

From birth, bris, haircutting ceremonies, engagements, marriage, and death – our family has experienced the vast life cycle in just one month. Many of my nieces and nephews had new babies, my grandson got his haircut at 3-years-old, and our son got married.

And sadly, my mother-in-law, the matriarch of our family, the force, the backbone, the constant presence in ours and our children’s and grandkids’ lives, passed away at age 97 1/2.  I plan to write more about my dear mother-in-law in a future post, but suffice it to say that with her passing, we’ve felt the gamut of emotions from sadness and shock at her brief illness and sudden passing, to confusion and overwhelm at the timing a few days before our son’s wedding, and to gratitude and acceptance that she lived a long and fulfilling life.

And these happy and sad events spurred many strong emotions. Life is full of paradoxes and happy events spur good feelings – along with a sense of loss. Sad events cause mourning and loss – along with a sense of acceptance.

Back to our happy occasion – our son got married. Mazel Tov! A myriad of emotions have spread across our hearts. First and foremost are the feelings of  overwhelming gratitude. Gratitude to G-d for helping and guiding us to this stage. Gratitude to family for supporting us emotionally while we raised this child and our others. Gratitude to friends for being there with us through thick and thin.

And mixed with all that happiness at our son’s marriage (Did I mention it is our youngest son?) was (is!) the feeling of “loss” of my position as his daily Mommy, and of my stature as the one and only woman in his life (And did I mention he doesn’t have any sisters?)

Till now, I was the one he called when he wanted to discuss something (besides his rabbi and friends of course!). I was his go-to person. No more. Now, it’s his wife. And of course – that’s the way it should be. Right? That’s what we pray for and long for. That’s what we want in life – that our children move on. But still. Still. Just because we want something, doesn’t mean when we get it – there won’t be a change in the dynamic that takes getting used to. Change implies loss of one thing and replacement of another.

Other  mundane losses for me surround our son’s marriage – ranging from my missing seeing his stuff in his room, to my longing for of his many phone calls to me during the week. In general, the idea of having him all to ourselves has now gone away. We have to share— share him with a wife, a new family and in-laws.

With loss comes sadness, void and emptiness. Sadness that things are not the same. Void and emptiness for the space that used to fill the busy-ness of taking care of that child. Change is never easy and when I acknowledge those changes and move gently with them, I know things will be good.  Then, I can fill those spaces with good things.

What are those good things? Time will tell. But for now, I’m acknowledging and even accepting the void, the lack, the space. The Quiet. The Emptiness.

It’s all good.

 


A Potato Chip by Any Other Name….

From time to time I post stories about things I learned from my toddler grandson. We really do learn a lot from our children and grandchildren.

So the other day when my grandson who is turning three next month corrected me on my terrible vocabulary mistake, I realized how important language is and how we need to pay attention to our words.

I asked him how he was enjoying his “chips” which is what he calls “potato chips.” Without skipping a beat and barely swallowing said chips, he corrected me, “It’s NOT chips, Omi! It’s Bissli.”

 

Oh my! How could I make such a serious mistake?! You all know that Bissli and Potato Chips are two entirely different snacks and here I had the audacity to imply they were one and the same.

Lesson learned: Watch your language; you will be called on it.

I think there is much to be said about calling things by their appropriate names. About a month ago, I wrote a thank you card to a friend who had done a huge favor to me. She commented later to me that she appreciated that I spelled her name correctly. Apparently, she spells her first name differently from the typical way to spell that name. Without divulging who she is, here’s an example: If her name is “Judy,” she spells is “Judie.” Or if her name is Rebecca, she spells it Rebeka. And she was glad that I – unlike many others – remembered to spell it correctly on the card.

I thought of my grandson and how he was particular not to confuse the names of Bisly and Pringles. And I realized that I’m going to pay attention to other people’s desires for precision in spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary usage. If it doesn’t make a difference to me, why annoy the other person with sloppiness?

A person’s name is precious to him or her. He or she values a name. So the next time you buy a canister of Pringles,

 

don’t you dare call them potato chips.

 

 

Or Bissli……………

Call them by their proper name, or you WILL be corrected. By your toddler or pre-school aged grandson.

Show respect for words and their meanings. Don’t ever say, “Oh it’s the same thing….let’s not make a big deal.”

Because it is a big deal. Words matter.


Groovy Granny’s Back-To-School Musings

It’s back to school for  my grandsons and that includes a couple of toddlers in playgroups, a kindergartener, first grader, a fourth grader and a fifth grader.

I remember those days back when I was in those classes and beyond. I recall the mix of emotions – from anticipation, worry, excitement, happiness to eagerness. I remember looking  forward to the daily music, art, lessons and new friendships. To the newness in everything.

Children’s Art

 

And today,  as a grandmother who doesn’t attend formal school anymore, I still can relate to every one of those feelings of going back to school. The newness and freshness of a back-to-school child are feelings I enjoy in my everyday life with all its mundaneness.

“Back to school” feelings don’t only belong to children who begin school each year. The feelings and experiences are universal to everyone in our everyday experiences, even grandmothers, bubbies and all of us in middle-aged years.

Here they are – the newness of our lives as groovy grandmas and groovy grownups.

  1. New Friends – Both online and in person I tend to collect friends and acquaintances.
  2. New Clothes – Ya, I buy those sometimes and it’s a great feeling.
  3. New Lessons – every failure and success is a chance to learn new lessons.
  4. New Classrooms – whether in the grocery store or at our computer, we create our virtual classrooms.
  5. New Teachers – I look to my friends, family, students and grandchildren as my mirror and teacher.
  6. New Books – We feel like we are inundated with reading material, but each day I try to weed out the relevant material and incorporate
  7. New Chances – Opportunities abound every day of our lives. Do we grab them or let them pass?
  8. New Games – Our leisure time is spent with games, laughter and fun. Or do we create unhealthy games to mask our true feelings in relationships?
  9. New Rules – We are continuously reconciling old and new rules and figuring things out.
  10. New Shoes – Who doesn’t love a new pair of shoes? Or two or three?

 

What are your Back-To-School Life experiences?

 

 


Farewell to Challah: An Open Letter

Dear Challah,

After many weeks of deliberating on my relationship with you, I’ve decided to say good-bye to you. I am putting this letter on a public forum in the hopes that others may also gain insight in what works for them.  I think it’s crucial that I finally address our co-dependent relationship. Hopefully, this will be the first step toward my recovery.

First, let me say that I appreciate all you have done for me over the years. Every Friday night at our Shabbat table, since my childhood, you’ve provided me with comfort, warmth and excellent taste. As my father would make the blessing on the bread with our entire family around the table, then cut you into even slices, and pass around a piece to each one of us, I’d wait with my mouth watering and eyes glazed with love.

Then, invariably, after everyone took their first bite, the compliments would flow. First my father would praise my mother for baking you so perfectly. My mother would smile and shrug, and kind of humbly say, “Oh it’s the new oven” or “It’s my friend’s recipe.” But we knew she was just being modest. You were great. Maybe she brought out the best in you, but still you were great and we all knew it.

Truth is, you were special and you excelled on your own, without anyone to help you out.  Your recipe was quite simple and accessible that when my mother bought me as a wedding gift a Kitchen Aid mixer, I learned quickly how to bake you almost as well as my mother.  Yea, I compared myself to my mother when around you, which was also a problem. But still, I felt good baking you so well and of course you were yummy to eat.

Your ingredients were so basic and earthly: flour, oil, eggs, salt, sugar, yeast. So even when you had a bad day and didn’t turn out as well as other times, you were still great to have around. Soft, sweet and tasty. The best comfort food around.

Over the years we’ve become attached at the hips – (mine, not yours).  I’d eat one piece, then two, then three. My mother would look at me with that expression of “control yourself, there’s a whole meal ahead of us.” But I was on a roll and I couldn’t stop. Back then, it didn’t matter that gefilte fish, chicken soup, brisket, salad, chicken and potato kugel were to follow. I wanted you and only you. I was willing to share my stomach with the others, but you came first.  Your aroma was enticing, your flavor and texture were wonderful. But you became addictive and  your calories were  way beyond my allotment for a meal.

These days I’ve evolved and have become more introspective than I was back in the day. But at some level, I’m still that little girl. I may tell myself that I’m big and grown-up and I can eat “just” one piece and stop. I may try to convince myself that “come on, just have the crust or end of a piece and stop right there.” And here’s the thing: I really like you. I think you are good.

But you don’t work for me. At least not right now. Dear Challah, no matter how many times I promise myself that I will just have one small challah roll (the equivalent of a few points on Weight Watchers) or just one end piece, I always go back for another. And another.

You’ve been calling my name for so long that I hear your voice calling out “Eat me, eat me…I’m here for you…” every week at our Shabbos table. I’m a mother and grandmother and I still find you very seductive.

I can no longer succumb. I have to say good-bye. Just as an addicted alcoholic says, “One drink is too many and a thousand is not enough….” I say the same about you.

“One slice is too many, and a thousand is not enough.” You are an addiction and I must let go.

A few weeks ago, I was at a wedding and a friend and we made a pact. We both promised ourselves that we would not eat the challah bread at the wedding. We were going to hold back, and just eat the meal. No challah for us. Well, it didn’t work. I found myself washing my hands, making the blessing and then eating it. I didn’t ask my friend if the pact worked for her, but for me, it was a no-go.

And so dear Challah, in spite of my efforts to cut down, to use portion control, to enlist a buddy to do it together, nothing has worked for me. Our relationship has become toxic.  We need a separation. I need to make that difficult decision to not even have a tiny piece of you. Because as much as you arouse those warm and fuzzy feelings of childhood, and as much as I adore you, our relationship is not working out well at this time.

I say this all with sadness. I admit you are delicious, charming, charismatic, warm and inviting, but I can no longer hang around you. Ironically, I can still eat your cousins – certain kinds of whole wheat breads and matzoh. For some reason, I am able to have them in my life in moderation. But not you.

You – my dear challah – I can no longer have you in my own life. Not for now.  Not when you’re clothed in whole wheat, spelt, white flour, or poppy seeds. Not your water recipe, nor your egg recipe. Not your raisin toppings, nor your sesame seed toppings. Not your round ones nor your oval shape.

None of you. I say good-bye.

Good-bye Challah. Farewell.

Your friend,

Miriam


Give Them a Break, Okay?

It’s getting a bit unnerving the way the media is grabbing every opportunity to  find fault with Donald Trump’s family.  I know that President Trump has many quirks, all great fodder for cynical writing. I know that he argues and gets defensive and twitters and tweets and all that.

I get that. And I’m not going to debate that here.

But can’t the media give his family a break? Why does the media have to poke fun at his wife all the time?

In my opinion, the Ralph Lauren blue dress she wore to the Inauguration was beautiful and classy.

But instead of leaving it at that – a beautiful first lady in a very appropriately chosen dress – the media has to rip it apart and analyze it.   They write that  she “channeled” (code for copied) Jackie Kennedy’s blue outfit back in 1961.  Like they know what was on her and her designer’s mind.

Now, I don’t remember what Jackie wore back then (I was only 1), so I did a search  and my impression was that the only thing the two outfits had in common was they were both blue. Melania is a woman with class in her own right and she is not trying to mimic Jacqueline Kennedy.

But the media already has decided that she did. And so it becomes fact.

Then there’s the son, Barron. From the facts I’ve read about him, he seems like a smart and typical kid. He seems pretty cute to me. On the night of the election he was tired and seemed to struggle to stay awake. Big deal.

The media has to rip him apart. At the election three months ago, he wasn’t smiling and seemed tired and bored. Hello, it was late. One time a kid is bored and tired and suddenly everyone is making up stories. Playing the game of Dr. Google.

Suddenly people are inventing – no, diagnosing  things about him that are just untrue.

A famous celebrity and someone else actually wrote false things about him having a certain neurological disorder. They have since apologized and hopefully retracted (but not before Melania threatened to sue), but this is wrong. Children of politicians are supposed to be off limits to rude comments.

Today I saw a clip of him playing peek-a-boo with his toddler nephew at the inauguration. To me, that’s a perfectly appropriate behavior for  a kid his age. I think all the Professor Googles can put their diagnostician hats away.

It’s none of these people’s  business. It’s none of anyone’s business to diagnose another person’s child, or to project what’s going on in their own life onto someone else’s life.

It’s none of anyone’s business why the First Lady is keeping her son at his NY school till June. That’s her  prerogative to decide, and frankly, I respect Melania for that. She’s putting her motherhood before her position as First Lady. I think that’s admirable.

Another thing – while I’m on the topic of ridiculous things that the media writes about is the green outfit that Ivanka wore the day before the inauguration. I read in a particular article that the green symbolizes growth, change and moving forward. And, then the writer  went on to say that green also signifies jealousy.

Maybe someone can enlighten me as to what the point of that article was?

And finally, the mystery gift that Melania gave to Michelle Obama before the inauguration was received awkwardly according to the press and now the media is up in arms and pointing out that Michelle must have disliked receiving the gift.

Instead of just saying “oh, isn’t that lovely that she gave a gift to Michelle,” people have to analyze and overthink things.

Whether it’s a beautiful dress at a special event, a young child’s fatigue or boredom, or a gracious gift given to another politician, I really wish the media would just take some things at face value.

I know there’s a fascination with the family of the president but can’t people just give them a break already?

 

 


No More Complaining About the Weather!

In NY where  it gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer, people don’t really talk much about the weather. Over there, where the leaves shed from trees in the fall and the flowers bloom in the spring, nobody talks much about it. They don’t complain. They don’t boast.  They are grateful for the pleasant seasons and are quiet when the not-so-good climate changes come around.

The only time someone might bring it up is if they address a practical concern such as how to dress for the weather. Or someone might grab the topic  as an anchor in order to politely redirect an unpleasant conversation, as in “Ummm, how’s the weather down there?”

But here in Los Angeles, we talk a lot about the weather.

When it’s sunny, we boast and gloat. When it’s chilly — that means 60 degrees or below — we complain.

And when it rains – and boy does it rain in a typical winter of December through February —  the conversations begin in unison while putting on boots, rain jackets and other gear.

girl-with-umbrella

 

As we bundle up, dramatically pulling a scarf around neck, we share  with friends how we either love — or hate– the rain.

And then came The Drought. No rain for five or six years. Yeah, a trickle or a tease here and there. And maybe a few short ten minute showers, but for the most part? Nothing. Nada. Grass turned brown. The air was dry. The reservoirs dried up.

We conserved water. We set our sprinkler timers to spray water one or two times per week. Or we ran the hose around the lawn for a few minutes only. We took shorter showers, loaded larger and fewer washing machine and dishwasher loads.

Instead of chatting calmly to each other about the weather, we listened to the experts warn us: If we used too much water from our starving reservoirs, we’d be fined.

We silently hoped, wished and even prayed for rain.

Now, after five or so years, we  finally have some serious rain.

And…something interesting happened.

People stopped complaining.

For one, it’s no longer politically correct  to whine about the nastiness or draft. These days,  no self-respecting Angelino after experiencing the drought would complain about rainy weather.

But the real reason we don’t complain about rain anymore is that we’re happy. We genuinely appreciate that rain, the freshness, the feeling of water coming from a higher Source.

Once we lose something we miss it.

And then if we are lucky and blessed enough to have that lost thing or experience returned to us, we value it. We know that good things in life are not to be taken for granted.

We realize that there are some things in life that we just cannot take for granted,  can’t control or hold onto forever.  At the end of the day, we don’t have control over every facet of our destinies.

We can lose stuff in the blink of an eye. We saw that with the rain.

We may have personal instances where we lose things in our lives and then are fortunate to have those things returned.

A lost item is found. Someone without a job finds a good one. An ill friend is cured.

A stream of bad fortune in life is followed by some happy occasions: An engagement, a marriage, a new baby.

Bad times  become good. Things in our lives improve.

When I broke my ankle three years ago, I was in pretty bad shape.

Buzzzz…ohhh. it tickles

For the better part of a year I dealt with surgeries, bed rest, and pain. Finally, after almost nine months, the physical therapy began. And when I was once again able to walk, I was thrilled.

As the pain lessened, and my limp lessened and then disappeared, I felt gratitude for every step I take on firm ground.

Till today, I wear comfortable shoes and have banished most high heels but I don’t care. Three years after I broke my ankle, I remember the pain and anguish I suffered. And I will (almost) never forget to be grateful  for the miracle of a working ankle.

Nowadays when it rains here in the Hollywood, you’ll hear people saying, “isn’t it great?” or “don’t you just love this weather?” Or  “Oh, yes, G-d knows we need it,” or “We prayed for this.” Because even if people hate cold weather no one would express that during these days of rain after drought.

Let us look around us at all the blessings we have today. Things are far from perfect. G-d knows, our country has its arthritis and its bones are aching. Many are without jobs. Families and friends have stuff that’s going on in their lives that makes things hard for them.

But let’s open our eyes and ears for the good that comes our way. When we do get those showers of blessings, let’s embrace them.

Let’s sing in the rain how happy we are.

Let’s show empathy for those who have less in some areas. Let’s have courage to try to improve the lacks in our own lives.

Just yesterday I heard the radio announcer predict rain for today and the weekend and although I was tempted  to vent, complain, kvetch and rant, I stopped myself.

Instead I say:

Bring on the rain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Conversations With Grandparents

 

It’s  Chanukah and we’ve had a few family get-togethers with all grandparents (my husband and me!) and great grands (my mother-in-law), plus a few aunts and uncles and cousins. I always enjoy being with family, especially when the various generations get to mingle together on the holidays. During holidays, some grandparents reminisce about their past. Others are more quiet about their histories and need to be drawn out and engaged in conversation. And finally, there are those who try to reminisce and no one really listens. Or even worse, no one asks.

As a child, I was one of the few who had  grandparents. Most of my friends’ grandparents had passed in the Holocaust and my friends’ parents emigrated to the US to start new families.  My grandparents each survived the War and traveled to the U.S. with their children – my parents – in the late 1930’s and early 40’s respectively.

Many of my friends tell me that they didn’t grow up hearing stories about the Holocaust from their survivor parents.  Aside from the stamp that their parents  had on their arm indicating the years in concentration camps, there was little proof that they had experienced atrocities. These survivors were reticent to share their horror stories with their children and grandchildren.

And then there are those who do talk about their experiences. In his later years, my father-in-law who passed in 2001, freely shared stories of how he and his brother escaped from Poland and other interesting stories. My husband and his siblings lapped up these stories as well as those still being told by my mother-in-law who is well into her 90’s (may she live till 120).

Children ask a lot of questions but adults don’t always want to prod. They may have the dilemma of how much to probe, to ask, to engage in conversation. They may wonder: Do the elders really want to talk? Are their memories really accurate? Is this act of eliciting reminiscence really for their catharsis or therapeutic benefit? Or is it for us – so we can record it all for posterity?  How do we know if we are being sensitive to their needs?

This is the subject of a book that I’m reading now called The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey H. Konis.  Mr. Konis recalls his Grandma Ola whom he adored and spent a lot of time with, but after her death twenty years earlier, felt regret at not getting enough information from her about his family’s history.  His father never asked questions and he repeated the trend of not asking anything, despite having spent a lot of time with his grandmother. And so, he set out to write this book which is a recollection of his thoughts on his grandmother combined with what he did know about the Holocaust and his conversations here and there with his father. He weaves together all the warm and loving memories about his grandmother.

The book’s  title is somewhat self-deprecating if not self-critical. He wishes he would have asked more, started more conversations and he has a fantasy that his grandmother might have poured forth with story after story.

Notwithstanding his not having war discussions, the author had a most loving relationship with his grandmother.  His Grandma Ola –who actually was his “real” grandmother’s sister, raised his father after the war because the actual grandparents died in the War before his father turned nine.  Grandma Ola found her little nephew hiding on a farm in Poland and brought him  to America to raise him as her own.   Thus, Grandma Olga (“Ola”) was the only grandmother Mr. Konis  knew.  As a young adult, Mr. Konis spent time with Grandma Ola when he was in law school, living in her apartment which was close to his school. She doted on him, made sure he was comfortable and gave him the space to study, party, and be his own person.

Many of the elderly who went through the Holocaust do not want to relive their past. My own father (RIP) and my mother (till 120) were/are Holocaust survivors. Although their stories may be fewer and less dramatic than those of my in-laws as they did not experience concentration camps, they did not regale stories of their past. The only thing I remember is my father telling us bedtime stories about his childhood in Antwerp before the war. A few years before his passing, my brothers recorded him as he spoke on tape about some of the more fascinating escape stories – leaving Belgium, France and coming to the USA.

The opportunity to interview our elders – both informally and informally – are many but often we don’t grab the chance.  Either we think they aren’t interested in talking, or perhaps they really are not interested. Or maybe we aren’t asking the right questions to get them to talk and share.

Bottom line is that many of us go through our lives without having these important conversations with our grandmothers, grandfathers and even our parents.  Later we may regret those missed moments and conversations.

I think the message of Mr. Konis’s book is that we ought to delve into the situation with our elders and find out what and how much they are willing to share. If they are willing to share and reminisce, then we take out a pen and paper and write down what they say. Pull out the tape recorder or  video camera and record them talking. Make a collage or scrapbook using old pictures. Interview them, tape them and give out a CD to the cousins.

But if they are not willing to share, accept that reality. Enjoy their presence and glean your own stories from the time you had with them. That’s what Mr. Konis did and his story “Conversations We Never Had” is a testimony to his great love and memory of his time with his grandmother.

 

 


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