"Mom and I" - 5 new articles
When failure is a good thing.
This story has been over a year in the making. I first drafted it on December 25, 2009.
That Christmas eve, my beloved mother Celia tried to take her own life. This story is about what lead up to her decision and what has transpired since she failed.
Failed. Had she succeeded, she would be dead.
Her failure wasn’t due to her lack of trying. She was quite methodical. Was it luck or fate that she had chosen to take some 60 pills but not the ones that would have killed her or that her niece made a routine wellness call just as she was overdosing.
At 87, Celia wasn’t doing well physicallly or emotionally. She was having chronic pain in her shoulder. She had reflex. She was basically miserable and didn’t want to be a burden on the family.
Lee and I were worried when her sister Sarah moved into a senior facility. While, we thought that it was good for Sarah and we were happy that Celia wouldn’t have to schlep her places. In a sense, the responsibility of worrying about Sarah, gave Celia purpose. Without that purpose, we were concerned that she’d lose her will.
She had become increasingly reclusive. It was a gradual process since giving up driving about a year earlier. She no longer wanted to go on weekly outings with her nephews.
It’s really hard being an absentee daughter. I moved from Pittsburgh after I was graduated from high school. My relationship with Celia had always been long distance. But we are kindred spirits. I can hear pain in her voice, see joy in her eyes, feel love in the air that surrounds her. She could never con me into believing that she was ok if she wasn’t. But I wasn’t there.
There was a lot that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that she was giving away her treasured possessions. Had I known, it would have been a red flag. In the weeks or months that lead up to December 24, she had unloaded her jewelry, her grandmothers samovar, and family photos. I can’t help but wonder what the people to whom she bequeathed the gifts were thinking?
She also gave her niece a key to her apartment, “just in case” something happens.
No one seemed to notice that Celia wasn’t her perky self. And if they did, they chalked it up to age. She was never a complainer. So when she did complain about her shoulder hurting, we were quick to recommend that see see her doctor.
Celia had seen Dr. W for years. He was like family. She loved and trusted him. I wasn’t so sure.
He ordered tests and prescribed drugs. Heavy duty drugs including Vicodin. He was treating her for reflux and a number of other typical senior ailments. More drugs. She was popping pills to kill the pain, stop the nausea, aid with sleeping, and help the depression. She could barely keep her eyes open. The pills didn’t help with the pain and her depression worsened.
Usually the upbeat life of the party, Celia had changed. This is her story.
I was concerned that she wasn’t eating.
She also was shaking a lot and her doctor said she had Parkinson’s and prescribed more drugs. (She actually didn’t have Parkinson’s; it was a misdiagnoses).
Celia continued to complain about her stomach, shoulder and exhaustion. She couldn’t stay awake.
I was usually able to cheer her up. I know that she looked forward to our weekly calls. I started to call daily and it didn’t help. Her goodbyes sounded final. “You two take care of each other.” It wasn’t right. She was saying goodbye.
I didn’t like that Celia was taking so many drugs. I called Dr. W to complain. I wanted Celia to see a psychiatric social worker. I asked her niece to throw out the Vicoden. Celia weighed 110 pounds. The pills were’t helping anyhow and I thought they were contributing to her depression and excessive sleeping. They were probably the cause of her stomach issues too. No one listened.
However, God was on our side that fateful December day. Celia was rushed to the hospital. They didn’t pump her stomach because it would have been too hard on her heart. They monitored her for 24-hours. The triage doctors recommended that Celia be committed for psychiatric help. They said there was no alternative. She couldn’t go home.
The program at Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric was amazing. We found a new medical team consisting of geriatric specialists, an internist, psychiatrist, gastroenteritis, etc.
Lee and I spent New Years by her bedside. She wasn’t particularly happy that she survived, but we were working on that.
The counselors highly recommended that Celia move into a senior facility. Being alone was not acceptable. Celia was sad but not resistant. She understood that she needed to get better and that living alone was too isolating.
We researched the alternatives and found a lovely senior complex that she could afford not far from her apartment. Schenley Gardens had full services including PT and medical care on-site. The apartments are small but functional and the community space offered everything that you could want. The food even seemed good!
Celia spent several weeks at Western Psych and moved into the new apartment once discharged. The care there has been fantastic. And now, a year later, she is pain free, has new friends and enjoys an active social life. Her Joie de Vie is back.
She goes on outings, enjoys on-site entertainment, movie nights, concerts, book clubs, and most importantly, loves the caring staff that looks after her every need. She feels a little like a princess. She is safe and comfortable. And, while she still doesn’t want to be a burden (she never has been), she is enjoying her life and family as much as we are enjoying her.
Celia is a fabulous mother and aunt; an incredible person. She is important and vital, caring and compassionate, a love who is loved by so many.
Suicide was not the answer. I am so thankful as is she, that she had a second chance.
For anyone who has contemplated suicide, please think of Celia and don’t succeed. Choose life. Tomorrow will seem so much brighter.
I have a lot of acquaintances, not a lot of friends. That’s by design. So losing a friend makes the loss that much more tragic. My good friend Laura Hansen died suddenly on March 31. She was just 50. Way too young to leave this world. She wasn’t sick, at least not that I knew. She apparently had a heart attack and died in her sleep. The exact details are unknown. What we do know is that she talked to a handful of friends and complained of back pain and shortness of breath. She didn’t go to the doctors. She didn’t believe in Western medicine.
Understandably, her family is in shock. They were very close. Always a caregiver, Laura’s mother had been ill and Laura was spending a lot of time between her own home and the rehab facility caring for her mother. For her family, I’m sure that the loss is unbearable. I haven’t talked to them, but I can feel the heartache. I remember my own when my mother died at 45. The loud wailing of my grandmother’s cries, my dad’s nightly sobs. Three years later my brother died at age 25. I don’t think there’s any greater sadness than loosing a son or daughter.
How do we go on? My mother always said that life is for the living. Like Laura, she loved life. She never expected to die young and she would want us to celebrate her life as she did everyday.
Laura was an old soul—wise beyond her years. Spiritual. She knew and believed life is temporary. She visited yogis. She believed in spiritual guides and spoke of her own, with whom she communicated through a pendulum she fondly called “pendy”. If Laura thought you could handle the “woo-woo” discussion, she’d happily share her thoughts and offer guidance and advice. She never went anywhere without her pendy and if you were lucky, she’d pull it out of her purse and ask her guide to answer important questions, offer words of wisdom and affirmation.
After meeting Laura, I bought my own pendulum. Trying to make sense out of Laura’s death, I recently asked the pendulum if Laura knew how much we missed her. It answered with an emphatic yes.
Laura was a larger-than-life character. She had a twinkle in her eye, a contagious smile, and a brilliant wit. Her heart was the size of the sea.
Her circle was broad. An avid foodie, she dined out weekly with friends, family and enjoyed masterful cooking for herself at home. She wrote an award-winning blog, BestoftheBestDiningChicago.com and contributed to the Chicago Examiner. Food and writing were just two of her passions. She posted her location on Twitter as “Planet, World, Chicago.” Her bio simply says foodie, writer, painter, direct marketer, and networker.
About Laura and me
There was something about Laura that was familial. I felt like we had always known each other. I couldn’t wait for her to meet my husband, Lee. He joined me in my business after we were married. His background was in marketing and publishing technology and for some reason, I thought that the two would get along. They could talk tech. Little did I know, that was an understatement.
Laura and Lee finally met about a month later at another press event. I seated them together while I was running about being the host. What happened next was amazing.
Laura turned to Lee and said: Lee Barrie, I have three words for you, Group W Cable. As it turned out, they had both worked together at Group W Cable of Chicago in the ‘80s. Lee often talked of his work at the Six Corners office. Laura and Lee hung out together. They were good friends and they shared a lot of experiences. Lee moved to New York and the two lost touch until that evening.
Small world coincidence or fate?
If you believe in fate, you may believe that your life plan is written before you are born. Laura believed that you are put on Earth for a period of time and when that time is up, you are on to the next adventure. I know she believed our life here is just one of the many lives we experience. I want to believe my relationship with Laura has fared the test of time. It probably wasn’t our first encounter and hopefully, it won’t be our last.
I can’t help but wish that she had gone to the doctors to find out what was going on with the back pain and shortness of breath. Had she, maybe she’d be here today. But that wasn’t to be.
Last February (09), I wrote a recommendation for Laura on LinkedIn. Here’s what it said:
“Laura is my blogging hero. Laura has embraced social networking and blogging in a big way. Because she’s just plain brilliant and has vast knowledge in many areas, she’s been able to incorporate her unique and fabulous understanding of direct marketing (she’s a real expert in the field) to make her award-winning blog one of the area’s most highly respected. I’m lucky to have met her. She’s help me to understand how to create my own blog. While her primary career isn’t as a journalist, her real passion for food and her creative writing style has given thousands of people who have discovered her writing, whether it be through her blog, Best of the Best Dining Chicago, her musings in The Examiner or elsewhere, a real treat and understanding of food and dining in Chicago. If you are as lucky as I have been, you’ll get to know Laura and if you have the chance to work with her, it will be pure joy.” February 28, 2009
Laura–Knowing you has been pure joy. You will always be loved and remembered. Lee and I miss you. I hope that you were right about life ever after. Until we meet again my friend.
Laura’s family has arranged a mass for her at 11 a.m. FRiday, April 30 at Our Lady of the Wayside, 434 West Park Street, Arlington Hts., IL (847)253-5454/
Thanks for reading Mom and I Blog. Please contribute your own stories. I’m finding it therapeutic and I think you will too. Having wonderful people like Laura in my life has helped to make me a better person. Tell my readers about the Laura in your life and may his or her memory live on through your story.Take Our Poll
We picked up two large plastic bags of clothes, a box of photos and my baby portrait from Weinberg Village,
Miriam’s home for the past 10 years. She lived in lock down on the fourth floor dementia ward. Don’t get me wrong. Weinberg Village is a lovely place and the care given is top-notch. It couldn’t have been better. I stopped in to express my long overdue gratitude to the angels of mercy who cared for my aunt in my absence and for all the others whose care they are entrusted. Their job is truly thankless. They are the lifeblood to so many, and for Miriam, her savior. She would have been long dead if it were not for them.
Miriam passed away on March 7. She was 91. Single, never married and my father’s only living sibling.
But, how well did I really know her? As I gazed at the bags, I couldn’t help but wonder. It this the sum total of what was left? Two bags and a box. What could it tell about my aunt who lived most of her life in a self-imposed solitude.
While her death certificate read March 7, she really died 10 years ago when dementia took over her mind. It was a gradual process. The defining moment was when her car was stolen from in front of her house. She reported it daily for a month. As her only living niece, I was the only person who could help which is kind of ironic because I was always her least favorite. I was, however, the closest living survivor.
I’d like to think that I imagined it…her distaste for me. But even my aunt Sarah recounted a memory of when I was only three and Miriam was arguing with me about something. She couldn’t understand why Miriam was picking on a three-year old. Sarah said that even then, I ignored her.
Now years later, picking up her remains, I have to ask: how well did I know her? I knew that she was an “old maid.” Not something that I called her but often heard in whispers around the house. She was 37 when I was born. Hardly an old maid by today’s standards. But in the 60s, an unmarried woman of 37 was considered past her prime. Miriam seemed not to mind. She had a group of friends, all unmarried. All interesting, mostly educated and all attractive. She was perhaps the most intellectual. They traveled together and often talked of their escapades with men they had met at the Grossinger’s in the Catskills.
Today, we would question whether or not Miriam was a lesbian. She wasn’t. At least I don’t think so. She loved men. Her favorite was my brother Phil. And, while she loved to fight with my father Charlie, he was a close second.
She wasn’t, however, so crazy about women. At least, not my mother or me. She did seem to like the underdog though. She maintained a relationship with my father’s first wife Ann and my half-brother Marshall. It didn’t seem to bother my mother Ruth. She was always kind to Miriam and even took her in during her bout with bone cancer in the mid-60s.
I wasn’t alone in not really knowing Miriam. No one really knew why she never married. She didn’t talk about it.
I was four when my grandmother Dora passed. My brother and I were visiting Miriam. My father and mom were at my other grandmother’s house across the street. I remember the phone argument like it was yesterday. Miriam was yelling at my dad about the funeral plans. It was when I learned that my dad was adopted and not “really” Dora’s son. It turns out that my grandfather Isadore arrived in Pittsburgh in the early 1900s, young “Saulie” in tow. A single man with a son. He married Dora Mervis and they had two children together, Miriam and Maury. My father was their older half-brother.
As the telephone fight ensued, I couldn’t stand listening to Miriam’s maligning my dad. I left and walked across the street to join my parents. Phil stayed.
Miriam always found something wrong. She didn’t like my bangs, the way I wore my hair, or the clothes that I had on. She wasn’t crazy about my friends and she thought my parents loved me more than they loved my brother. She loved to criticize everything about me.
When it came time for Valentine’s day, she’d send my brother a large box of chocolate. Me, a small one. My mother was furious. She returned it telling Miriam to treat us equally or not at all. Miriam just grunted and mumbled, she’s just a little girl.
My feelings were always hurt and for whatever reason, I knew that Miriam just didn’t like me. I didn’t know why. It was just the way it was.
If Miriam were alive today. I don’t think that she’d disagree. She once told Stefanie, her social worker, that she didn’t know why I treated her so well. She had treated me so poorly.
Well, Miriam, you have my dad to thank for that. He never held a grudge, no matter what someone said or
did to him. Aside from being a good role model, he also made sure that I always visited and called Miriam. I can still hear him ask: “did you call Miriam?”
It made me crazy but dutifully I called. And long after he was gone, I continued, making sure to visit, call and ultimately taking over…the bills, the care, the advocacy… everything to make sure she was comfortable and well care for.
As difficult as she was in her youth, she seemed to mellow in her senility. While others around her were loud and argumentative, Miriam was kind and gentle. Polite and appreciative. Something that she had in common with my father. In the end, they both knew how to make others feel good about themselves and in return, they were treated well by caregivers.
I watched in amazement. When my dad was sick and in the hospital, every doctor and staff person would stop by to ask “Mr. Kurman, how are you today.” He introduce the nurse like this: Cindy, this is nurse Mary, isn’t she beautiful? Or Cindy, this is Dr. Jones, such a handsome man and great doc too!
Wouldn’t you stop by to say hello and be complimented? They all did faithfully.
In many respects, Miriam turned out the same. The staff at Weinberg remembers her as a kind, quite woman. Never a problem. Always nice. And she genuinely always seemed happy to see me. Luckily, she always remembered me and was eager to introduce me to the other people sharing her Weinberg space.
But who was she? While she couldn’t remember what happened five minutes before, she could remember what happened 30 years ago. But she was never a big talker. And, rarely talked about herself or about her life.
I was surprised to learn that she saved every canceled check that she had ever written. Her attic was full of them. And reviewing them gave me insight to who she was. She made a lot of small donations $10 here and $20 there. Dozens of charities, mostly Jewish ones, and ones for animals.
She also saved ever letter that my dad sent to her and my grandmother during the war. Details from every port. Discussions about their living situation. The sales receipt for the home he bought them on Mellon St.
I was surprised at how eloquently my dad wrote. I knew that my mother was a writer. She made a living at it. I had no idea that my dad was equally talented.
What I didn’t find was equally telling. No hidden boxes of love letters. No personal memorabilia. Really not much more than some knitting needles, embroidery hoops, plastic jewelry and tchotchkes from exotic trips and the synagogue.
The most that Miriam ever talked about herself was at my 50th birthday. She was over medicated and giddy like I had never seen. I actually hired a private nurse to help manager her for the affair.
We had a large group of friends and relatives. Since Miriam was so talkative, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask the burning question.
Did you ever have a boyfriend and why did you never get married? The answer was sad and perhaps helps me to understand Miriam better.
She said: “I was in love once. He was a boy. He wasn’t Jewish. My mother told me that he was anti-semitic and that I couldn’t marry him. I told her that if we couldn’t marry, I will never marry. And I never did.”
That had to have been more than 70 years but at that moment, for Miriam, it seemed like yesterday.
I’m guessing that every family has a Miriam. In the end, I don’t really believe that Miriam didn’t love me. She just thought that I was loved too much by others and didn’t think that I needed any more. I’m not sure if this makes sense or not, but I think this is how she felt. I do know that she appreciated all of the things that I did in the end. She permitted me to provide for her and whether or not she felt deserving, she was comfortable. My father would have been proud.
I’d love to hear your own story. Tell me about the Miriam in your life.
I don’t know what it was like for you, but in my family, Sunday’s were relegated to family time. It meant a weekly trip to Pittsburgh to have dinner with my grandparents and whatever family could join in. I spent my first 13 years at Mellon Street in East Liberty, every Sunday. It was the ritual.
The routine included my attending Sunday school, picking up awesome Italian lunch meats from DeLallo’s in Jeannette, and fighting over the Pittsburgh jaunt. It really wasn’t my father’s favorite thing to do. Although, the trip often included stops at local jobbers where he could pick up stock to supplement his stores inventory. Dad owned a mens and boys clothing store in downtown Jeannette. After lunch, we all packed into the car and made the 28 miles drive.
The visit was for my mother. And whatever Ruthie wanted, Charlie was ultimately happy to oblige.
I remember those days fondly. After my mother died, I did everything I could to continue the tradition. Stepping into her shoes, I needed to make keep that the family connection. And, like my mother before, my dad was happy to reluctantly go along.
The aunts, uncles and cousins weren’t as eager to join. My mother, it seems, was the glue that kept us together. Without her, they didn’t see the need to keep the ritual. They had their own families and they were making new traditions of their own.
Since it was important to me, I made the calls, made sure that we were invited to family functions, and basically kept the ball rolling. While I had some resentment, I thought that being with us was too difficult for them. My father was depressed. I looked and acted like my mother. And we were a constant reminder of everyone’s lose. Right of wrong, it was the way things were to be.
What’s your experience?
Henceforth, I’d like Sunday’s to be “Family Supper Day” on my Mom and I Blog. I’m looking for guest posts. I hope that you’ll share your stories with us. You can send your post to MomandIBlog(at)Gmail.com. Every Sunday, I’ll tell your story. You can always add a comment. I appreciate all of the input that I’ve gotten so far. Keep it coming.Take Our Poll
Vultures are scavengers, feeding mostly on the carcasses of the dead.
As the fighting ensued, so did the claimstaking. Under the guise of “help,” my grandmother and aunt Elayne came to visit shortly after the funeral. We were all still in shock over my mother’s death.
Philip withdrew into himself. My father drowned himself in work and I was trying to keep it together for everyone. At 13, I had become the “little adult,” taking over as mistress of the home, confidant, and social chair.
During their visit, my grandmother and aunt decided to go through my mother’s things and help themselves to everything that they wanted. Her beautiful wardrobe, fur coat, diamond jewelry and gold watch, all “gone for safe keeping.”
I was furious. Safe keeping from who, I asked? Once dead, it seemed like my father was no longer entitled to anything. The “things” were taken and the fights over where we would live continued. Miriam wanted us. My grandmother wanted us. And, no one asked what my father wanted or what we wanted. Since I was the only child at home, it was really me that they were discussing and I was quick to point out that my mother had died but my father was still alive. I wanted to live with him and keep things as they were before.
I stayed. But the goods were gone. Clothes and jewelry, somewhere for safe keeping. I fought long and hard for its return. I made my dad, (a normally very quiet, passive, soul), confront the vultures and insist that the belongings be returned.
Some of it was. They returned the diamonds and my father put them in his safe deposit box for me. It wasn’t until my grandmother passed away, that I retrieved the clothes and fur coat which I found in her closet when packing her stuff. The gold watch was still missing.
For no less than 35 years, the first question I asked my aunt Elayne every time I saw her was “where is my gold watch that you stole.” I wasn’t going to let it go. And, every time she answered the same, “I didn’t steal the watch; I don’t have it.”
Then one day, about 10 years ago, the plain brown box arrived. No letter. Just a simple box and in it, the gold watch.
I’ve heard horror stories from friends about their own experiences. Sibling fights. Estranged families. All over wanting ownership of things. I don’t know why my relatives wanted my mother’s possessions. I’ll never understand why they didn’t think that my father was capable of taking care of me. And, I certainly don’t understand why they thought that they deserved to have her jewelry. It hardly matters now.
My mother always said that “when I die, you can have my jewelry.” Now, I know that she didn’t expect it to happen so early, but I do believe that I was meant to have it. I wear her engagement ring and wedding band every day. The center stone is hers. The two side stones are my husband’s grandmother Libby’s. They are a part of me, with or without the ring, but it’s comforting to have something of theirs always near.
Tell me your story. I’m sure you have one!
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