Dear Mom

 


Dear Mom:

SOB (sister of blogger) and I had to have a little time today.  She went to Dad’s and your apartment alone and looked through pictures. What was she thinking?

The house is still filled with happy memories, even with your and Dad’s deaths there.  For each of you, the months before your deaths were the most honest, hilarious, screwball-comedic and emotionally devastating episodes of our lives. 

If you read my blog, you know that we made sure Dad had everything, including his cocktail hour — his sacred time with all of us.  Even if we had to use an eye-dropper to share wine with him.  And I know you would have laughed at all of this, because you loved that your kids were crazy when it came to you and Dad.  And you loved that, when we took over, it was gently and lovingly.  You raised us right — with love and humor.

You died before your peers.  They were there to mourn you and comfort us.  Luckily, there were many to mourn Dad.  He staked out a place in people’s hearts after you were gone.  Hard to believe but true.

He never forgot you.  We tried to get him interested in others.  But he was married to you and that was the beginning and end of the story. So, we took special care of him because he, like us, live every day with you in our hearts.

SOB and I are having a hard time on the weekends, because they centered on visits with Dad.  I think I drink a little too much wine on Friday nights so I can’t get up on Saturdays for the usual routine. 

But, the hole needs to stay for a while because, to fill it, would erase Dad.  And we cannot figure out how to fill our weekend and keep Dad’s spirit with us.  Yet.  Maybe soon.  But it is a process.

I don’t think we ever thought that both of you would be gone and we would relinquish our home with all of the memories that soaked right into the walls, shoring up the very building’s foundations. 

The other painful part is memory.  We can’t figure some of the faces in the pictures.  That is too scary for us, because maybe in two generations, no one will pick out you or Dad in the pictures.  And that is more painful that you know. 

Life is a journey.  And death is a legacy and that legacy is a gift to the generations that follow.  If only we make sure they remember.

I love you, Mom.

~ Blogger

Darling, so good to hear your voice

My calls with Mom and Dad (and then just Dad) always started:

“Hi [Mom][Daddy], it’s [Blogger]”

And every time, no matter the hour and what I might be interrupting, Mom or Dad would say, in the most enthusiastic and happy way:

“Darling!!! So good to hear your voice!”

Everything else was gravy.  And now I just smile at the memory.

Bespoke Blog

Sometimes you meet a person at work whom you just know, from that first moment, will tell you — when nobody else will — that you have schmootz on your blouse or you sat in mustard.  I am lucky that there are a few of us like that in our office.

But one colleague, in particular, takes you into her office and shows you all the supplies she keeps for “women’s issues” — from Motrin to safety pins to tampons.  And when she shows you, that means you can just take what you need, whenever you need it.

And this colleague often ambles into my office to one-up me, playfully, in our never-ending contest for whose family has the most bizarre stories.  (She is winning by a landslide — the blog she could write. . . .)

Today I asked my friend and colleague, via email exchange:

“How are you feeling?  Are you up for visitors?  What was the extra procedure?  What can I do to help?”

“Blog about me.  You know I love the media spotlight.  My acronym should be COBWARB (colleague of blogger with almost rocker body)”

“My pleasure, COBWARB.”

Why? Because COBWARB is recovering from a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

In the weeks preceding the procedures, we talked about what was going to happen and the mechanics of reconstruction.  The negatives are obvious; on the plus side, COBWARB was going to have her entire tummy suctioned into new, well-sized breasts.

“I am going to have smaller breasts because who needs to be so big if they cause back pain and I am going to have your flat stomach without working so hard on the Rings!”

Okokokokokok.  I didn’t have three children like COBWARB did.  So, I should have a flat stomach (but I don’t really).  And, I would gladly work out every day and eat quinoa and kale (G-d help me) not to make the choices and options forced on COBWARB.

But, hey, a rock star body? Flat stomach and perfectly shaped breasts?  Go, girl.

Still, you were beautiful as you were, and I fear, my friend, that the rock star body cannot replace what this episode has cost you, in mind, body and spirit.

Speedy recovery, COBWARB.

 

Phoning it in

Dear CLSFOB:

On or about August 11, 2013, you came into the City to save me from the ravages of the Rings and promised to come in every few weeks to coach me in a new fitness regimen.  Your torture of choice? Running.  See, further, http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5478.

SIDEBAR: Since you are a lawyer and a litigator, no less, I can indulge that lawyer-istic bull shit that makes non-lawyers sooooo annoyed.

It has been almost 45 days (don’t count, I will not be moved), since you have come in to run with me and save me from the curse of the Rings.

Since then, I have run three miles twice a week and I have completed the Rings.  Ok, not with the finesse that I imagined, but now I can fine tune my skills, having accomplished my goal.

I let you know whenever I am running. Which is a misnomer.  I schlep, I pant, I look like I am heaving my last breath.  But you would not know.  Because you are TEXTING it in, with “go! go! go!” and “you are amazing!”.

Even the family is wondering, “where is CLSFOB?”  No, no, really.  We are good with it.

OKOKOKOK.  Lots of Wingaters are going to read this. And, dear CLSFOB, you are first and foremost, a camp friend.  OMG, you are in serious trouble.  Once a month, could you come in? Also, there is a reunion coming up in November in NYC and be there or be talked about.

And, you are the one who spread the rumor about whether I had face work or a boob job.  Even a camper I NEVER knew at Wingate knew there was a “controversy”.

And it took Janet2OB —  who had never felt another woman’s breasts and didn’t really know what she was feeling for — to announce that mine were real.  And Wingate campers who are now doctors (we are so proud, Sam and Julia, among others) knew there was no ‘face” work.

No, really, I am good with it.  And I am even honest about how much I run. Nah, I am lying.

So you have until the next reunion to make me into a marathoner, or I will master the finesse of the Rings. And it will be discussed and parsed at that reunion.  Worse still, live on in the annal of Wingate alumnae FOREVER.  And Goldie may even be in town for that November reunion.  Your choice.

But this texting it in?  Gotta stop.  I would rather work on SOB’s peach pit ring.

Wingate love,

Blogger

The Challenge, Part X

The challenge of the Rings keeps calling my name through the haze of the summer and my various responsibilities in elder care and elder posthumous clean-up.

Without lots of practice, with many weeks in between, I give you, my status as of two weeks ago (as pathetic as it is):  IMG_1068

Yep, you and I — both — thought that, by now, I would be soaring through the air like a slightly ruffled, slightly uncoordinated, bird.

Nope, not there yet.

My agility this weekend was less than I had hoped.  And, Wendy, my trainer and my friend, was not available to push me and coach me from the sidelines.

But, soon, maybe even before Rosh Ha-Shanah.  Oy, it is early this year.  No time to waste. I may have to take days off from work and conquer the beast.

In the interim, CLSFOB has been reading my blog and decided that I needed to try her way of stress relief, running. She poo-poo’ed the “Ring thing”.

“You need to sweat this out; not dislocate your arms.  We are starting, ‘Operation Forrest Gump.”

SIDEBAR:  Is it just me, or do friends show their love and affection this way?

So, last weekend, dutiful and afraid, I dusted off my running shoes and met CLSFOB at the appointed place.  CLSFOB had already run her regimen in case I flamed out. To add insult to injury, she parked her car far enough away to run an extra mile before we met.

“Do you listen to music?” she asked.

“Why would I listen to music when I am running with you?  And I hate those ear bud things.”

“Ok, since you will be gasping, I will tell you stories to keep you going.”

“Horror stories?”  I asked, because it seemed appropriate for our undertaking.

“Shush.  Let’s start!”

Off we went.  We were not going very far.  Two miles down, stop for water, and two miles back.  And because, more than 30 years ago, she was a younger camper/counselor, I needed to do this and not flame out or look like a duck waddling on land.

I am 49 years old (or 53 depending on my blog), and I have not run any meaningful distance (except for the occasional cab or bus) in 5 years.  I had a pulmonary “issue” from May until early July.  What was I thinking?

True to her word, CLSFOB told me stories to keep me going.  She didn’t break a sweat.  And in truth, they were funny stories, except that gasping and laughing are not a great combination.

I was able to do two miles down, water, and less than one mile back up and walk another mile.

This weekend, CLSFOB had to work, but insisted that I run alone.

Her texts:

“Try three miles straight!”

“Don’t text back, run!”

“Don’t drink too much water, or you will cramp!”

Oy, I liked her stories better.  But I did run more and faster.

Then, the best text:

“You are awesome, I am so proud of you!!  Don’t forget to stretch!!”

Thank you, CLSFOB.  You are pretty damn awesome, yourself.  I can’t wait to hang out with you at our reunion and complain about my knees and hips because of this Operation Forrest Gump.

P.S.: what does stretching mean?

Hairless and Fearless

Below is Letty Pogrebin with her friend, who lost her hair to chemotherapy.

tWGdjCO - Imgur I don’t know these women, but I see something in Letty’s friend that we rarely see in anyone — the drive to live.

I have a dear friend who is battling cancer.  She recently had her beautiful black hair (no gray) cut off because it was falling out in clumps.  She was scared to look in the mirror.

I haven’t seen my friend without her hair, but I expect she looks beautiful.  Just as Letty’s friend is beautiful.  Because, when I look at my friend, I won’t see her lack of hair.  I will see her love of life and family and a resolve to live.  Even with horrible treatments that would test anyone’s will.

I used to think, if I had cancer, I would just let it run its course.  I would not go to extraordinary lengths and live in misery for months on end, just for the possibility of a cure.  I would die young and leave lots of life insurance for my family.

But I see my friend now.  And my plan is not so easy anymore.  I see that she needs to live for her husband, her children, her parents and, yes, us, her friends for 30+ years.  My friend is fighting hard and her friends are fighting mad that this happened.

And despite the anger and despair of standing by helplessly, my friend inspires me to love life even though I am not facing an existential threat.

I look at my friend and, all of a sudden, my aging body is not a tragedy of lost youth but proof of life and my vessel into the ensuing years.  If I am so lucky.

And, through my friend, I learned that my clever plan was just plain selfish.  I need to live for my family, my friends and all those I love. And I need to live for me and the joys (and pain) that come with every day on this earth.

To my dear friend:  You are beautiful and the power of your life force resonates hundreds of miles to me here in New York and, in possibly the most perverse twist, gives me strength when I should be shouldering some of your burden.

I love you, my friend.

The COB Removes a Blob

Sidebar:  I promised that my blog entry today would be more upbeat than these last few weeks (ok, months).

Everyone should have colleagues and friends as supportive as mine.  I have many (some, even, who do not yet have acronyms).  But this entry is about The COB. (He really likes having “The” as a part of his moniker.)

The COB, being a kind and gentle sort, was really disturbed by my decidedly gloomy (read: depressing as hell) blog entries, and took to heart my pledge to write less about death and aging and navel-gazing.

So invested is he in my mental state (and my blog) that, not only did he undergo a procedure so I could blog about it (ok, not really), but he took a picture for me and gave me title options for this blog entry.  “The COB Removes a Blob” won.  Here is why the other entries didn’t win:

  • “Don’t Sob, Dear Cob” — a potential winner, except my sister is SOB and that could be confusing.
  • “The Cob Gets His Head Bobbed” — my brother is BOB and he is a peaceful man.
  • “Corn off the Cob” — when you see what was removed, this doesn’t do it justice.
  • Using “Blob” was ok because I determined that that acronym would not go over well for anyone and so there would be no risk of confusion.

So, here is how the story that led to this blog unfolded:

The COB walked into my office one day, closed the door and sat down in a guest chair, all with an air of something important to say.

“You know that thing on my head?” he started.

“What thing?” as if I didn’t know.

“The thing-on-the-side-of-my-head thing!”

“Oh, the thing that I stare at when I lose interest in what you are saying?  That thing?”

“Hey, you can only tell when I get a haircut!!”

Really, are you sticking to that fantasy?  Stop, stop, stop.  Tell me!!”

“I am getting it removed.  It is time.”

“But what will I stare out when you are droning on?”

“My ears.  I stare at yours when I can’t possibly pay attention to you anymore.”

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  What’s wrong with my ears?  Still, it is about him and his thing and, showing uncharacteristic restraint and selflessness, I let that slide.  For now.

The COB had the procedure this week, and as I was waiting impatiently (ok, somewhat frantically) to find out if he was all right and if it was a benign growth, I get an email entitled, “It is what you think it is!!” with the following attachment:

FROM COBSo, based on the tone of the email, I knew all was ok.  Based on the picture, I realized that it wasn’t really a thing; it was a gross thing.

I emailed him: “We have broken the grossness barrier in our friendship.  It looks to be about 15% of your brain.  How is the other 85% doing?”  Based on the grossness factor of his email, I am thinking that his intelligence was heavily weighted in that 15%.

“That could be another good title for the blog!!” he emailed back.

Dear COB, I adore you so.

 

 

Wonder and Awe

Life is complicated.  The carousel of time often feels like a gerbil’s exercise wheel.

Now that we are adults, we are mostly surrounded by colleagues, other parents, strangers (and just plain strange people), and family.  But not friends.  (And while colleagues, life partners and family can be friends, it isn’t ever simple.)  And, while we may love our lives, our families and our work, “carefree” does not describe any activity that comes to mind.

I think we all go through periods when our self-esteem and our souls feel depleted.  If you are lucky, there is a special place you can go (either in your mind or with your body) for solace, resolve and validation.  And, if you are really, really, lucky, this place is there even if you forget about it for decades.

I am one of these really, really, lucky people.  This weekend, 49 similarly blessed women and I returned to Camp Wingate (and still others were carried to Yarmouth in our hearts and memories).

Once I drove past the camp sign, I was transported to another place and time, where the days were about friendship, nature and self-discovery.

No one could pretend that 30 or more years had not passed and no one tried (ok, I lunged for a ball on the tennis court that will put me in traction, but I digress).

We came to see each other and breathe in the memories of summers as young girls and blossoming women.  And to visit our special place, where we could do anything and be anything.

It is amazing how good the air smelled (still).  How gross the bathrooms are (still).  How thin the mattresses are (still).  How stiff we were in the mornings (now, not then).  How early we wanted to go to sleep (wow, full circle, huh?) but powered through to maximize time with each other.  How the tennis courts got bigger (ok, we just can’t run down those balls any more) and Elisha’s Pond got smaller (“lake” was never really an appropriate word).  How wonderful to catch up while making friendship bracelets in the art studio or playing tennis with wood racquets.

And the comfort that still, among the many unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable, mysteries of the universe, are:

  • How did Pearl know and remember every bad (and good) thing each of us did each summer?
  • What were we thinking when we used to walk on the rail road tracks to L’il Peach to buy candy?  It was an active train route!!! 
  • How did Pearl survive our childhoods?   How did we?
  • And why did she keep letting us come back?

But wait, there are a few more:  Where else in the world could I be considered part of an awesome DJ trio for compiling and playing summer pop songs of the 1960s-80s?  Where else could I dance with childlike abandon with my childhood friends and without regard to any rhythmic sequence?  Where else could 40-, 50- and 60-year olds (promise me no one was in her 30s) could have endless hours of fun singing these songs into hair brushes and flashlights and strumming on tennis racquets?

Wingate helped lay the foundations that made us strong, kind, purposeful people.   At campfire, even the words to the Circle Game or Anticipation weren’t so scary because here we were, decades later, standing with the friends of our youth and feeling enveloped by love, and realizing that the goodbyes said decades ago don’t always have to be permanent.

My spirit is revived, my mind is peaceful, my soul is nourished and I left an even bigger piece of my heart at Camp Wingate.

Combined in one big hullabaloo

Today, I signed up SOB and me for a camp reunion in September, celebrating 55 years of Camp Wingate.  SOB started in 1969. I, in 1971.  And one summer in 1974, so did POB.

Camp Wingate.  These two words that evoke sweet days of childhood and friends for a lifetime, and it is quite irrelevant whether or not we see each other for decades.  Whether or not we were in the same bunk.  Whether or not we even overlapped in years.  As long as we know people in common, we share the extraordinary experience that is/was Camp Wingate.

I didn’t know it at the time.  I thought our bedtime was horribly unfair, possibly in violation of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners.  I didn’t understand why we couldn’t get two toppings on our soft-serve at Dairy Queen (what is wrong with sprinkles on top of the cherry or chocolate dip?)  Obviously, prison rations.  Oh, and remember the year when there were too many counselors who offered navel-gazing as the evening activity, so that Pearl had to tell counselors to be at the volleyball court and the waterfront?

SOB and I have to stay at a hotel.  Those bunks won’t do it for our decrepit bodies.  I snore, so we will have to have different rooms at those scary drive-by motor lodges in West Yarmouth (SOB, are ya sure?).  Worst comes to worst, we are sleeping on the floor of Pearl’s house, which we used to call the “Winter House” as distinct from where the family stayed during the summer months while camp was in session.

So, my best friend for those many years (other than POB who stayed for one year and captured my heart) may not come to the reunion.  To entice her, I challenged her to a tennis match but using wood racquets.  (Where does one find a Jack Kramer anymore?)   Years ago, when our friendship was in trouble, we decided not to play the intra-camp tennis tournament.  My best friend was sure to beat me soundly.  The bunk was on my side but I didn’t want that type of division.  The bunk was sensing my anger at feelings I couldn’t fathom and casting Pat in the role of the villain.  And I knew that they were wrong to blame her. I had to deal with how my sense of friendship had morphed into romantic feelings and how afraid I was.  I wasn’t kind to her during that summer, but I never wanted the bunk to pick sides.  We opted never to play that final in the tournament and, in a testament to the principles of Wingate, Pearl told us she was proud of us because we put the embers of a friendship ahead of competition.  For the record, I didn’t stand a chance against Pat.  We all knew it.   But I punished her in my own ways.  Clearly she never deserved it.  I have been a coward all these years because I have never said that I was sorry, that I didn’t understand it all until much later and that maybe she felt betrayed by me.

Will my friend do me the honor of playing a set of tennis and win, lose or draw? It is a little unfinished business.  I do not care about the outcome.  She will win (let’s be honest).  But I want to face my friend and hug her tightly across the net at the end.

If not at Wingate, then at the court of her choosing.  Or we can just meet, hug, cry and talk like I have needed to for over 30 years.

A Remarkable Family

Like most remarkable families, they are not famous.  And they don’t look at each other and think, “gee, we are remarkable”.  It goes without saying that they don’t have a reality TV show.

A man, a woman and their four daughters.  Not the Brady Bunch.  Not hair of gold (like Carol Brady) and their skin was so white that a flash light could give them a sunburn.

I met them at Camp Wingate for Girls.  Not all at once.  First the eldest and then the third child.  A year later, the youngest.  A year or so later, the second child.

1971.  The eldest was someone whom people respected and she was engaged to a counselor at the boy’s camp.  I looked up to her and knew her every move, because she had an air about her.  I don’t think we ever spoke.   The third sister was an oldest camper and the oldest campers were too cool for words.  And I remember that her freckles increased with every beach day.  The weird things you remember 40-odd years later.

Our parents were connected through my aunt and uncle.  The men had survived the war that America won — good triumphed over evil.  Their father lost his leg and my uncle lost some of his soul.  But they soldiered on and their wives healed their wounds because they were our greatest generation and that what just what they did.

For the parents, camp visiting days meant seeing your kids during the day and gathering with the other adults for dinner to eat all of the seafood (tower of treyf) that could fill a stomach.  Being in the hell of war, and healing those wounds at home, entitled these couples to a few non-kosher meals.  At least that.

The youngest came to camp in 1973(?).  She wore tragic danskin top-and-short sets and really pointy keds.  Mom sent me with pointy keds as a second pair of sneakers and I hid them under my bed.  So, I felt for her.  Her legs had mosquito bites all over them.

And then there was the second born.  The photography counselor.  As crazy as this is, she seemed not of this world, and yet the world was too much with her.  I remember that she spoke softly and people listened.  I admired her ability to command that type of attention.

After ten summers at Camp Wingate, the friends you made were for a lifetime, no matter the decades in between communication.  And, even more, these four girls and their parents were family, indirectly, through my aunt and uncle.  But the fourth child  — the one with mosquito bites and tragic danskin outfits — she was my friend.

When the second child died, I knew that bubble of Camp Wingate had burst in some way.  I wrote a letter to the camp director that — however irrational it was — I believed that a cloak of immortality protected us and that belief was shattered.  I mourned the loss of a life and the loss of our collective Linus blanket.  The camp director never wrote back.  What would she say?

Time passed.

The eldest married.  The second was gone.  The third went her way.  And the fourth, dyed part of her hair purple and was a roadie for a rock band.

More time passed.  We aged.  Our parents aged.  Some of our parents died.  Some of life’s waves buoyed us, while others beached us with a mouth full of sand.  Life’s trajectory was no straight line for any of us.

And, yes, I have to thank Facebook for reconnecting with the youngest.  Although I saw her mom at family gatherings, I didn’t have a way of connecting in a way that wasn’t so stilted until Facebook came along.

POB and I decided to have a wedding even before Marriage Equality passed in New York State.  I had mellowed in my rather doctrinaire ways that it had to be legal or I wasn’t doing it.  I thought about the people whom I would want at that ceremony and so many had died already.  Did it really matter more that the Bible Belt accepted it or that Dad and Aunt Betty and Uncle Larry and Aunt Roz were there to celebrate? And if Aunt Betty, then her best friend of 65 years, Phyllis, must come.  And, if Phyllis, then my friend of 41 years, Janet2 must come. Because they are part of us.  Even the daughters I am just getting to know and the daughter whose pain will forever be unknowable.

At the wedding, I couldn’t stop hugging Janet2.  I needed to make up for the decades lost. I still may have to visit her just to hug the stuffing out of her, such as is left after her latest health craze (P.S.:  Kale is really hard to digest.)

Generations of family who are friends.  A remarkably resilient family and resilient lifelong friendships that don’t need to be watered or fed on a daily basis.  Because love runs deep in the earth that sustains us.

(P.S.: To the eldest:  If your kids need anything in the City (or just need a home-cooked meal), they should just come to our doorstep.  We are family.)