On February 29th, my mother passed away following a brief battle with ovarian cancer. This is the eulogy I wrote, which was read during the memorial service by my parents’ rabbi.
There is something surreal in preparing for a journey whose sole purpose revolves around saying goodbye to one’s parent. My father and Josh called, and Dad prefaced our discussion by asking if Yogev was within earshot. I quickly entered the bedroom and closed the door behind me, sinking down on the bed as my mind began to race, processing the words I was hearing – “Mom”, “cancer”, “back”, “aggressive”, “hospice”… No one could say how much time was left. Days? Weeks? A month or more? As a family, we agonized. Tickets were purchased, and as I tried to pack for a month’s stay in Sarasota, it dawned on me that I needed to pack something to wear to a funeral. Not only that, but I also had to remind Danny that when he’d start packing for himself and Yogev, he would have to do the same for them.
And with all of this going on, I was in turmoil and I was heartbroken. My mom was dying. My mom, who had spent the last two years battling a slowly progressing case of ALS, was given the opportunity to avoid being utterly ravaged by one monstrous disease in favor of a different one that would take her more quickly and relatively more mercifully. She grabbed it, and I understood completely. After nearly 76 years of life, she made the brave choice of one tragic death over another.
And what a life it was! A wonderful husband, amazing children – in my opinion, anyway – and incredible, beautiful grandchildren – and that’s a fact.
When I think about my mom’s role in my childhood, it makes me smile. She was the one who spent hours throwing a baseball back and forth with me in the street on Rosehill Blvd, at a time when it was still a dead end and there were very few cars to disturb us. Together, we spent hours and hours at the public library downtown, happily staggering out with armloads of books. She organized the most creative birthday parties and made the best Halloween costumes. One year, at the height of the first Star Wars craze back in the late 70s, my mom even turned me into R2-D2 – a tradition we’ve managed to carry into the present as Yogev prepares to dress up as Kylo Ren for Purim this year, after dressing as Anakin Skywalker last year. Clearly, the force is strong in our family…
I moved to Israel shortly before marrying Danny, and we usually saw my parents twice a year for several weeks at a time. Before Yogev was born, they started coming to Israel less frequently because the trip was a difficult one. Once he came along, though, they began to make annual visits again – which they did until my mother was diagnosed with ALS.
Yogev loved spending time with his grandparents – and they with him. Spending time with Grandma meant art projects, fun activities and outings – everything from sculpting side-by-side in sculpture class, to line dancing across the living room, to Easter egg hunts in Sarasota whenever Passover vacation conveniently coincided with Easter, and so much more. Hands down, though, our absolute favorite activity to do with my mom was puppy hugging at the Southeastern Guide Dogs facility just north of Sarasota. My mom always loved dogs, and passed this love down to me. I, in turn, passed it on to Yogev. We LOVED going puppy hugging. Yogev and I would happily join the circle of people sitting on the floor while Mom and Dad would sit on a nearby bench. Mom and Dad got it right though, for while we would sit there trying to entice each puppy to play as they ran and tumbled around us in a blur, kindly volunteers would inevitably bring a puppy or two over to my parents so they could get some quality puppy time as well – without having to work for it at all!
Nearly every item of clothing I’ve purchased over the years was tried on and acquired with my mother by my side. Every visit to Sarasota (and to Schenectady before that) always involved several outings for shopping, which sometimes resulted in a look of disbelief from my father as we’d walk into the house, arms laden with shopping bags. For him, shopping always meant that when you needed something specific, you’d go to the store, find what you were looking for, buy it and come home. Mom and I would roll our eyes when Dad would ask what we were going to shop for and head out. And while I know that shopping may sound like a rather mundane, unexciting activity, those were also the times that allowed us to have our one-on-one conversations. Those moments comprised such a big part of the quality time we shared, and it’s going to be so strange to visit those same shops on my own. I’ll do it though. Not only because I know she’d want me to keep doing something that we enjoyed doing together; I’m also reasonably certain that the last thing she’d want would be for me to have to walk around without any clothes, so… Right, Mom?
And now, all of a sudden. It’s all come to a screeching halt. There will be no more Easter egg hunts and no more sculpture classes. No more line dancing across the living room filled with your artwork. No more shopping together or visits to the theater. There will be an empty space on the bench when we go puppy hugging – which we will, of course, continue to do. But most of all, there will be no more pain for you, and that’s the most important thing. The only wish I’ve made on every first star in the sky has finally come true – you’re finally free from all the pain and suffering of the past two years. Danny, Yogev and I love you so much, Mom, and we’re really going to miss you.by Liza Rosenberg
When you’re traveling…
And the drive to the airport takes almost two hours instead of one…
And the airline (American Airlines) you’re traveling with for a 40-minute flight as a result of code-sharing charges you $100 for a bag that is supposed to be free…
And the same agent (erroneously) claims she can only check your three bags as far as London on the grounds that your 12-hr and 15-minute layover exceeds the 12-hour limit (which doesn’t actually exist), even though you specifically contacted the airline months ago in order to verify that bags could be checked all the way to Tel Aviv…
And the British Airways agent in Miami reassures you that you will receive reimbursement for the baggage charge…
And tells you that you should have been able to check your bags all the way through to Tel Aviv, and while he can’t get them retagged in Miami, lets you know that the bags can be either rechecked or stored at the airport in London…
And while you can store all three bags (for a fee) in either terminal, there is no mechanism in place for having the bags transferred between terminals, so you make the decision to store them in Terminal 3, instead of wasting even more precious time…
And you regretfully inform your son that while you can definitely still make it to the 14:00 (2pm) Harry Potter studio tour (for which you purchased non-refundable tickets months ago, after verifying with the airline that bags could be checked all the way through to Tel Aviv) by taking an hour-long bus ride from the airport to a station called Watford Junction, there won’t be any time to make the journey via London itself in order to stop at King’s Cross and see “Platform 9 3/4”…
And he gets teary-eyed and cries a little, from the schedule change as much as the stress…
And you get teary-eyed too, for the same reasons…
And the bus (which runs only once per hour) leaves Heathrow a little late, causing you to miss the free shuttle (which runs every 20 minutes or so) you needed in order to reach the studio on time…
And the friendly woman with whom you chatted while waiting for the bus is traveling to the same station, and saves the day by offering you and your excited-but-weary son a ride to the studio, because she lives right across the street…
And because she believes it’s the right thing to do (especially given our circumstances) and that she would hope that someone would do the same for her…
And as she’s telling you about the area through which you’re driving and sharing interesting stories about what it’s like to live across the street from the still-active Warner Brothers Studio, it starts to rain…
And as you’re getting out of the car and thanking her profusely for her kindness and her stories, she asks if you need an umbrella – just in case…
And as you and your excited 11 year-old-son walk up to the studio ticket window to retrieve your tickets (with plenty of time to spare), you answer his questions about strangers and kindness, and agree with him that some people really are very nice…
And then you enter the magical world of Harry Potter, temporarily banishing from your mind the trials, tribulations and stress of the previous 17 hours and the concerns about three big suitcases sitting somewhere in Terminal 3…by Liza Rosenberg
During a work outing several years ago, my colleagues and I were given an opportunity to make ocarinas out of clay. While the others created instruments that looked like delightful sea creatures, dragons and other fictitious members of the animal kingdom, I suspiciously stared down at my lump of clay without coming up with a single idea. In the end, I created a simple, goofy smiley face on one side, and on the other, I wrote “My talents lie elsewhere”, since when it comes to envisioning and creating my own piece of artwork, I’m utterly and unapologetically hopeless.
That’s not to say that I don’t love art however, for I do – it often brings me great joy. I can, quite happily, spend hours wandering aimlessly through art exhibitions and galleries, and the genre of naïve art (discovered after I visited a naïve art gallery in Tel Aviv for an article I was writing) seems to reach into my soul and make my heart race with emotion. It touches me in ways that I simply cannot describe. I love the colors, the detailed intricacies woven into every scene that invite me to stop in my tracks and stare in open-mouthed wonder…
And now I’m going to let you in on a little secret. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
Since this current round of fighting began, I’ve been overwhelmed by the concern shown in emails, messages and chats – friends, relatives and acquaintances checking in to see how we’re doing, voicing their love and support (both for us personally and for Israel as a whole) and reminding us to “stay safe”. And yet, no matter how many times I tell friends and loved ones abroad that we don’t live within missile range, it continues to sound like one of the most surreal statements I’ve ever written. Even after living here for more than twenty years, it’s still jarring to have to talk about one’s life in such terms, especially when our usual state of normal isn’t much different from the way my peers are living abroad.
There’s something very unnerving about day-to-day life under these conditions. On the one hand, a large portion of the southern part of the country is essentially under siege, being hit with barrage after barrage of missiles. Friends in the central part of the country have gotten a small – some would say very small – taste of what that’s like too, as Hamas tries to flex its muscles and show off its capabilities by periodically firing rockets in the direction of the greater Tel Aviv area and even towards Jerusalem. Yet here in the relative north, aside from noting the absence of colleagues and friends who’ve been called up for duty and a difference in the traffic on the roads, life continues as usual. It’s been so “normal”, in fact, that I haven’t felt the need to actually explain to my eight-year-old son what’s going on, instead preferring to follow his lead and address his questions as they arise.by Liza Rosenberg
You would think that after 13 years, my coping skills would be better. And yet, here I am once again, just a few days shy of January 20th, the anniversary of our firstborn’s passing, quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) struggling to maintain the remaining shreds of my sanity through wave after wave of wildly unpredictable emotions.
Some years, it passes by smoothly and practically unnoticed. Other years are harder. Last year was especially rough. As I awaited the upcoming release of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery”, which contained a story I’d written about our loss (coming with its own set of mixed emotions), I was blindsided by the news that a good friend lost her three-year-old daughter in an accident. On its own, the news would certainly have sent me reeling, but combined with what I was feeling over my own impending milestone date, I quickly found myself engulfed in raw, searing, emotional anguish that I hadn’t felt in years. My old wounds had been unexpectedly ripped open, and I wasn’t sure if the agony I was feeling was more for my friend or for myself. As I tried to be there for her, I worked very hard at trying not to let her or most people know just how bad off I was. I don’t know if I succeeded or not.by Liza Rosenberg
Gently pressing lips
Against a little boy’s cheek
As he dreams
The quietest person
In a room full of friends
Because I want to be liked
And not left out
As I used to be
Fearful of losing
People I love
During stupid arguments
As I watch you sleeping in the night
Arms wrapped around your pillow, oh so tight
Little fingers clutch a furry little toy
Dispelling any daytime myths
That you’re not a little boy
And in the darkness, you beckon me to come
A frightened little boy who wants his mum
Eyes barely open, I stumble to your side
Take you in my arms
Your little body close to mine
You’re the jackpot I never thought I’d win
I get lost when you flash your gap-toothed grin
You make up for all that came before
You’re all I ever wanted, and infinitely more
Oh, I know you’re not perfect…
But when it comes down to it – who is?
When you’re the best you that you can be
For me it’s simply bliss
And as I watch you sleeping in the night
In darkness broken by a little light
I say a silent prayer, wishing this could last
Wishing that my little boy
Would not grow up so fast
It’s hard to believe that July 8th marks 13 years since our first son was born. As I try not to think about the Bar Mitzvah we aren’t planning, my mind turns to my handsome seven-year-old. On a hot summer day two years ago (after giving it a great deal of thought), we told him about the brother he’ll never have a chance to meet. The subsequent journey has evoked a wide range of feelings and emotions as he processes the information in his own way and time. Months of silence are interspersed with phases peppered with questions, unexpected situations and the occasional heart-wrenching outburst, sometimes making me wonder if sharing was, indeed, the right thing to do.
I am fascinated by the way he’s managed to incorporate this brother he never knew into his own personal narrative. As far as he’s concerned, he’s not an only child; if you ask him, chances are he’ll tell you – seemingly without putting too much thought into what he’s saying – that he had a brother, but his brother died. He’s told teachers when they’ve asked and told friends as well. He even went through a phase of drawing pictures of our family, pictures that included his brother. One such drawing showed a smiling little boy surrounded by a circle of hearts, while another showed the three of us around his brother, who had an additional circle around him – for protection. I keep the pictures in the top drawer of my nightstand, careful not to crush or crumple them by always keeping them on top – safe and out of sight. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
It was the hardest telephone call I’d ever had to make. “He’s gone,” I said quietly. “It’s over.” I could hear my father’s sharp intake of breath, followed by a choked sob. From my mother I heard nothing. Sitting on the narrow bed in our spartan hospital apartment with my husband by my side, I proceeded to convey the news to my parents that their six-month-old grandson had died.
The days and weeks that followed would pass in a blur, and the only thing I could recall from the funeral was the way my friend Grace grasped my hand so very tightly, and how grateful I was that she did so. I remember the friends who came to our home during the traditional week of mourning, and I remember wondering whether I’d ever be able to smile or laugh again. At the time, it seemed unimaginable. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
“Let’s go for a walk,” I said to the boy
He replied with a scowl; turned back to his toys
“And what if I promise you fun on the way?”
“What if I told you it’s mud puddle day?”
Curiosity piqued, he followed me out
Still mumbling and grumbling, his face in a pout
No patience for walks and wanting to play
We wandered in silence; he had nothing to say
We walked past the houses of neighbors and friends
We traipsed past the spot where the neighborhood ends
We ran through the fields and then past the wood
And that’s when our walk began to get good
For just past the oak tree we suddenly found
Mud puddles galore – our joy knew no bounds
The boy turned to me – a sly look on his face
Then turned away and picked up his pace
I knew what was coming, but I didn’t care
For I was the one who had taken him there
As mud puddle day was simply a ploy
I desperately needed some time with my boy
To celebrate life and all that is good
We splished and we splashed – just ’cause we could
Who knew you could chase bits of sadness away
By jumping through puddles on mud puddle day