A Mind is A Terrible Thing To Lose

Our Uncle Henry is 92. Up until about a year ago he was doing pretty well, a pain here, a pain there, but overall things were pretty good. Recently things have become more challenging with his moods, and for our Aunt, who is 90 but you’d never know it, life has become difficult. Their sons felt an evaluation should be made to determine the cause of his anxiety and erratic moods, and it would have to be done within a hospital setting. A psychiatric hospital. I think in some ways Uncle Henry was relieved to know they would “get to the bottom of it” he just didn’t expect it to mean he would be there for a week already, and possibly many more.

My husband and I went to visit him today. The hospital grounds were beautiful and the hallways eerily quiet and empty. We were buzzed into the unit and opposite the front desk sat about 12 people lined up in chairs, including Uncle Henry. I found it rather disconcerting, no one was doing anything, there was no TV in that area, there were no conversations going on. Everyone was just sitting. Uncle Henry saw us and called out hello, and the nurse wheeled us over to an area with tables and chairs looking out onto the grounds. He told us some of his aches and pains had improved, but then began to launch into how the place was like a prison and other complaints, some we determined to be real, some imagined. Upsetting to know that his reality was not reality- that what he was was saying was irrational and not real, but to him was very much so. We spent two hours with him during which we made an attempt to validate his feelings, and to try to steer him to a better place of understanding. He asked our Aunt when she arrived if he was allowed to tell the Doctors he wanted to leave – and would they let him, or would he be held against his will.  The truth is he could leave at anytime, but until the medication they are working to adjust to help him, begins to work, it is not a good idea. His frustration and unhappiness understandable at hearing that, but his inability to really grasp it upsetting.

My Aunt and Uncle have been married over 70 years, and it is heartbreaking for her to see him like this, to have him ask to leave but know she must go home alone. Hardest is seeing him lucid and understanding and then crossing into his own reality and not understanding. The quote attributed to Bette Davis  “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” came to mind today. It takes strength and will and sometimes giving in and going along with what is beyond our control to “fix,”  as we grow older.

One Heart

I am sharing the following post written by my cousin, you can find the original here. An uplifting song written and sung by her daughter (and her band Iridesense) She writes; One Heart is all about diversity, and acceptance. It explores the reality of our differences. We all look differently on the outside. Different hair color, skin color, eye color. We even like different things. That’s not what’s most important. If you look at who we truly are, at our core, we are all the same. We need to spread this message to children, and to the world. Especially now when everyone is taking sides. Politically, religiously, etc. We are a multicultural world. Our differences on the outside make us unique, but our hearts need to be unified. One heart. It is also being made into an illustrated book for children.

I have used some of my photos as a backdrop for the song, depicting our outward differences, which often we are judged by, but should not be. Others show the love between people despite their differences. One heart.

 

 

 

It’s Still Your Birthday, Even if You’re Gone

Today is my brother’s birthday. Or it would have been his birthday were he still alive, though I feel that just because he is gone does not make August 6th no longer his birthday. His age will forever remain at 54, but the date will forever be his birth date. He died by his own hand in February of 2015. I wrote about him on the first anniversary of his death here.He wasn’t married, had no children, and struggled so the last years of his life. Today I choose to remember him before all that, to think of him long ago before the demons set in. To remember him with rose colored glasses on, filtering out the sadness and anger. Remembering him with a smile.82802100-SLD-001-0015

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WP Discover Challenge: Identity

When my mother in law died, the job of cleaning out her home fell to me and my husband. Cleaning out 40 years worth of accumulation. Clothes, dishes, books, boxes of photos and papers galore. We found every birthday card and letter my husband had sent her from the time he was 14 and had gone away to school.

 Among the papers was a guest list from my husband’s Bar Mitzvah. It contained names of family members, some  we recognized, others we had heard of but had no idea how they were related or what happened to them. So my journey into genealogy began. I asked our Aunt & Uncle, who the people behind many of the names were, some they remembered while others they found familiar but had no idea how we were related. I got on the internet and started hunting around, sending away for death certificates, the social security application my husband’s grandfather had filed, which contained his mother’s maiden name. The family tree began to grow. I was dreaming about the small shtetl (village) where my husband’s great grandparents were from. A town called Niebylec, in what was then Galicia Poland.niebylecPostCard

My husband’s great grandparentsszdobba

I found many first cousins had married, (including my husband’s grandparents) I also learned how entire branches of the family were decimated by the Nazis. My head was swirling with dates and names and who was related to who. I found someone who turned out to be my husband’s 3rd cousin who lived in England, who told me of a relative who might have information. He was 96, but he might have answers. So I called him. We figured out he was a 1st cousin to my husband’s grandfather. And he remembered EVERYTHING. Names, dates, places, who was related and how they were related. It was amazing. Our tree took on new life, the branches grew, pages of connecting family. We spoke everyday, and I came to call this man Uncle Yakob. His father & my husband’s great grandmother (the lady in the picture above) were brother & sister. He actually remembered her. More amazement. I wrote about him here.

I received an email from someone who found me through a genealogy website. She was in Israel, she said her mother’s maiden name was the same as a name in our family. It was not unusual to get emails like this, trying to make connections within families that share the same names. I had never had luck finding any real connections, just a lot of maybes. I emailed her back asking for more details. When I received the details a chill ran down my spine. This woman’s mother (Yaffa) was a first cousin to my mother in law. Yaffa had become estranged from her family before the war when she left for Israel, and after the war had no luck finding anyone and thought they had all perished. Yaffa’s children were raised always being told they had no one but each other. This fact weighed heavily on Yaffa throughout her life her daughter told me, a part of her identity unknown, the generations to come lost to the Nazis. The truth was that many relatives had survived also coming to Israel after the war, and some to America. Yaffa had cousins living not far from her in Israel. And Uncle Yakob was her Uncle. Really her uncle. When I called to tell him, he kept saying,”You are telling me my niece is alive?” And so Yaffa, who had never left the Kibbutz she had lived on for 60 years, came to America to meet her very much alive cousins, and her Uncle Yakob.

So the papers in the box led to giving the last few years of Yaffa’s life a renewed vigor and zest- as she visited and got to know the cousins that lived near her. Her daughter told me it changed her attitude, she was “lighter” and happier. It is important to know we have these connections. I am glad I had looked through those old papers in the box, they turned out to be life changing, connecting not just names to names, but people to people.

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Yaffa (center) & her first cousin, my Aunt, meeting for the first time in our home
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Making Amends-Testing the Waters: Part 2

Seven months ago, (September) I wrote about my husband’s son having finally made contact with his father for the first time in almost 20 years.  This is what I wrote:

Sometimes a person feels remorse but is not quite ready to fully delve into making amends, or revisiting a situation. Maybe they want to test the waters, but not actually jump in.

This seemed to be the case last week when my husband received an email from his son whom has had no contact with my husband for close to 20 years. The relationship a casualty of divorce. A child being used as a pawn by a mother who thought nothing of filling his head with lies and guilt until the child succumbed. The door has always remained opened from my husband’s side, efforts made over the years to reach out, all spurned.

The Jewish New Year was last week, and on the eve of the holiday my husband received an email that read:

Hi

Just wanted to wish you a good year. May you be written and inscribed for good.

Signed with his name

At first my husband thought maybe it was a mistake, a group email sent out to many and somehow my husband’s email had been inadvertently included. He did away with that theory, and came to think that maybe something had moved his son before the new year, he is now 42 and maybe sees life differently having adult age children himself. My husband immediately emailed back and also called the number that was included in the email, saying how happy he was to hear from him, thanking him for reaching out, and would love to see him if he wanted.

No response. Not after the holiday, not all week.

My husband wonders what prompted him, but will have to wait to find out, hopefully not another 20 years.

Update:

It is now April, and as September turned to October with no further word from his son, my husband put it out of his mind (sort of, as it is never really out of his mind) and life went on.

This coming week will be my husband’s son’s 42nd birthday. My husband has sent a birthday card to him every year for the last 20 years. At first the cards would come back with RETURN TO SENDER written across the front, and eventually they never came back at all, the check enclosed inside never cashed. That is until this past Friday.

As every year, my husband sent a card, reiterating once again how much he would like to reconnect even though he realizes it may be difficult for his son to do so. An email appeared in my husband’s inbox Friday saying:

Thank you for the birthday card, when I am ready I will let you know. All the best.

The door has opened another crack. My husband hopes the “when” will be sooner than later, thinking that contact made twice in seven months is major compared to nothing in 20 years. Here’s hoping.

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The Year Passes

Today is the first “anniversary” of my brother’s death. I wrote about his death, by his own hand, here last year. I have been thinking about him today. Saddened at the thought of his being gone from this world, sad for the troubled life he led, and sad at the thought that so few remember him. I am thinking about the mark each of us leaves, or maybe doesn’t leave. My sisters and I remember him, his 1 niece and 1 nephew whom he lived near and saw fairly frequently until his mental issues prevented that. Our cousins remember him as a young boy, teenager, young adult, the person they spent summer vacations with and shared holiday meals with growing up. It’s a small list of people as he didn’t have friends, was divorced for almost as long as he had been married. I hope somewhere at some time he had touched someone’s life in a meaningful way, shared a laugh with them that they remember, showed a kindness before his mental illness erased the good that had once existed within him. Replacing it with anger and irrational thoughts and all the injustices he thought had ever rained down upon him.

Today I choose to try to think back to those times before the darkness descended, to when he joked around and found humor in silly situations, to the laughter we shared together, to his love of the sea, of nature, how he loved to read the Encyclopedia. His curiosity about things and wanting to learn more and find out more. His love of yoga and meditation that centered him for a time, bringing solace to him and his world. Remembering that once long ago there had been light in his life.