#BlogElul 5776 #ElulGram – Elul 22: End

emptysquareThere are all these moments we want they would never end, and holding onto them becomes nearly too painful as if holding tight to a rope that is been pulled by time passing by. It is as if we have never prepared enough, never strengthened our arms muscles enough and we would blame ourselves for having been negligent or not determined enough.

So, our body tells us to let go so that relief can soothe the painful feeling  and then we will deal with memories and each time the memory will surface it will have a different flavor, a new quality, because memories take a life on their own and they seem to change with our moods or maybe it is something else: maybe they really live in a different reality that we have no direct access to until we have understood something about time, about eternity, about what is and what will be.

That there is no real end, but always renewal, that the year may change its name, the place may change its appearance, something new will continue to inhabit the space, fill it with stories that never end if we care to tell them, even if it is over and over.

This year, I have committed to a daily blog in English to participate in @imabima’s project of Elul. I will dedicate my endeavor for the רפואה שלמה complete healing of   מרדכי אלעזר בן חנה מרים (Mordechai ben Chanah).

If you are new to the series and would like to receive the daily blogs in your inbox, you may click on the link below to sign up

Yes, please send me an email when you publish a new blog post!

#BlogElul 5776 #ElulGram – Elul 18: Ask

Hebrew chai symbol
Eighteen in Hebrew – also “‘hai” = living

Eighteen is a favorite number in Jewish tradition. And multiples of eighteen too. Asking a question is also a big favorite in Jewish folklore. Who does not know the joke of this guy enquiring:

  • “Why do you always answer me with a question?” and the response without missing a beat:
  • “Why not?”

So, it feels extremely fitting that today’s blog post would combine both the number 18 as well as the possibility that you would ask me any question you want!

But because I am aware that you might feel a bit shorthanded with such a pirouette (and I checked that the word was in an English dictionary as well, and not only a French word… meaning that I am not entirely trying to cheat you out of a “real” blog post!), I want to redirect you to a past blog post I wrote answering exactly eighteen questions that you might very well have asked me about my being Jewish! So, please, click on this link to read the answers to these eighteen random facts that I revealed about my Jewishness! 

And, of course, if you are still left with burning questions you would like me to answer today, feel free, as always, to leave me a comment and I will do my best to answer the question… with a reply even though it might lead to another set of questions!

 

This year, I have committed to a daily blog in English to participate in @imabima’s project of Elul. I will dedicate my endeavor for the רפואה שלמה complete healing of   מרדכי אלעזר בן חנה מרים (Mordechai ben Chanah).

If you are new to the series and would like to receive the daily blogs in your inbox, you may click on the link below to sign up

Yes, please send me an email when you publish a new blog post!

#BlogElul 5776 #ElulGram – Elul 15: Change

ailing_treeAs much as I want to show how positive I can be when it comes to writing inspirational notes, and doing the work that will ensure I make the necessary moves to be spiritually prepared for a good year, the theme of “change” is a trigger to my fears and sadness.

The season this year has been extremely lenient, we are experiencing a drought that is unusual at this time and it feels like rain is long due. It rumbled but it did not break today. Maybe later when I am finally asleep. The windows are still wide open because the heat has not yet diminished despite the sun setting. I know that until some colder temperatures happen at night, the leaves won’t change into the bright colors of fall that make it so pretty to walk in our wooden area.

I noticed the change in my favorite tree next to our houses by the lake. I hope it is just the drought that gave it that rusty aspect. I had never noticed that it would change colors, to me this tree is an evergreen. My first thought was that it might be ailing, because of some sort of disease. It made me sad all of a sudden and I snapped the picture to see how it will compare in some days and to monitor the changes if any.

There is no room for life if there is no change.

It is inevitable. And permanence is reassuring indeed, but it can’t be sustainable. We need to change. We need to make room to the future. To the next generations. If they learn from us, we learn from them too. We can still change, even when we grow older, and the illusion that everything should stay the same for the sake of order is not healthy. We constantly change, because our cells are alive. Sometimes, fighting too much against change creates such stress and the cells may win the fight and start living an erratic life of their own. And something happens that make our world changed forever.

I am finally accepting a lot of what I used to rebel against: in my fear of change, I stiffened and hurt. When I am more open and flexible, there is more room for the flow of life, that goes with change. All the previous themes I have already reflected upon in this series are finding their place after they danced around in my mind independently: the dots are starting to connect, and because of acceptance of the inevitable changes, I am starting to be much more at peace with so many goodbyes that I have to say to what I knew and that is no more or that will be no more. I am ready to welcome the Fall.

This year, I have committed to a daily blog in English to participate in @imabima’s project of Elul. I will dedicate my endeavor for the רפואה שלמה complete healing of   מרדכי אלעזר בן חנה מרים (Mordechai ben Chanah).

If you are new to the series and would like to receive the daily blogs in your inbox, you may click on the link below to sign up

Yes, please send me an email when you publish a new blog post!

#BlogElul 5776 #ElulGram – Elul 10: Count

crayon
photo: lots of crayons in a box

I know some people can see numbers in colors, and it helps them feel and memorize numbers very quickly and easily. It is as if the colors are making sense for numbers to mean whatever they mean. I am surely not one of these persons and to count is not an easy task for me.

However, anyone can count on me: I keep my word even when it costs me efforts and pain.

Thinking about it, I have betrayed myself more than I have done it to others. I should remember to be able to count on me too. Working on forgiveness and accountability has brought a lot of awareness, and it is not an easy path. Most than often, there is an enormous amount of resistance.

But if I say the words aloud, I can hear them and then they count, I cannot pretend I did not say them. And then I need to stand by them and honor them and remember that I count too.

 

This year, I have committed to a daily blog in English to participate in @imabima’s project of Elul. I will dedicate my endeavor for the רפואה שלמה complete healing of   מרדכי אלעזר בן חנה מרים (Mordechai ben Chanah).

If you are new to the series and would like to receive the daily blogs in your inbox, you may click on the link below to sign up

Yes, please send me an email when you publish a new blog post!

Pre-Chanukah Message

To all my dear friends,

I did not see December arrive. It may be a result of a mild and beautiful fall in Westchester this year, or it may be a result of many other things, like getting older and being the witness of too many years go by, so that perceptions of time flying increase with each added year to my bones. It may also be the result of burying my head in my own sand, made of grief and denial, anger and sadness, all very unhappy emotions that make depression loom on my usually organized disposition.

Now that the last month of the year 2015 is here, I have reached many deadlines that I will not be able to meet with confidence that things were properly done. Some of those deadlines may seem trivial to others if I were to describe them, some others we all share so those would be easier to tell and get your compassion because I am pretty sure you share the feelings.

A feeling of overwhelm

The feeling of being overwhelmed by the world, the news, the pace. The feeling of guilt when friends or family in need have been neglected, as simple as a phone call that was not returned or a personal letter that was not replied to. Their need may have been dire or just plain simple, like knowing that you are doing okay, it still feels huge to me, because I have always prided in giving everyone as much attention as asked for.

This year, I certainly failed many of you. The reason why I had promised myself to write more often became a big source of procrastination as if I wanted to write good news only, happy thoughts and inspirational stories.

After I lost my mother, I understandably went into grieving mode, with the realization that there was very little I could say or do to explain what it entailed for me. I chose to share as little as possible without really wanting it because I started to be afraid I would bore everyone with repeating myself over and over, as I have often noticed it in these circumstances. It is as if the wheel is stuck and spins without any reason, and it hurts but is nearly impossible to explain. It is a time when those who witness the process may feel helpless and pushed into insensitive remarks if they do not stick to the traditional greetings and phrases that can make everyone feel a little out of place or worse, annoyed, because who wants a constant reminder about mortality, death and all that goes with mourning?

Loss after loss

Losing my friend and choir director Kathy Storfer was, therefore, an impossible conversation. Knowing that Kathy was dying made it worse for me to share anything about my feelings and emotions because I knew of Kathy’s desire for privacy and discretion. As much as my updates had helped me cope with the end of life of my mother, I felt tragically isolated in my process that led to the news that Kathy died on Monday, November 9 in the early afternoon. There was no shock nor falling apart because of an incredibly sad and cruel fact, there was the need to acknowledge that the loss was a public one – and oh so public because of Kathy’s wide influence in this side of the world – and that the many “families” Kathy had been part of were going to fall into that intense mourning I knew o so well from my other experiences with it. It needed to be acknowledged, but it became very soon overwhelming when on top of it another public and tragic incident shattered my personal world with the terrorist attacks that plagued Paris and threw an entire people in shock and post-traumatic stress mode, so early after the already disturbing losses of the month of January 2015.

As much as the terrorist attacks had affected me emotionally and intellectually because of my sense of belonging – to a nation – to an ideal of values – to a generation – I knew of the process of recovery, of political stances. It becomes much more difficult when it comes to personal losses, like the death of Cantor Kerry Ben-David, the shutting down of the Jewish Family Congregation which I had personally opposed for reasons that a lot of my current friends in the congregation failed to grasp despite all my efforts to explain and my attempts to get anyone willing to try to believe we could follow different paths than the only one offered matched with total failure.

Like a shipwreck in the middle of the ocean

Then at the same time, all these bereavements – my mother, all that made my life in the synagogue still hold – were matched with yet another challenge that was tragic, when we learned of our current rabbi’s illness, completely out of nowhere, since he is a young, spiritual, kind, healthy living rabbi. He is keeping his struggles to his personal sphere, and we, as congregants, are left with praying for his recovery, and absolutely nothing else to hold onto, which is totally scary, as if we were on a raft in the middle of the ocean, with no paddle, barely enough life jackets, and water, and little energy to envision the journey to an elusive shore we do not see.

For some like me, this has felt like an antic Greek tragedy that would have cursed the place we once loved, the community that was built and that thrived despite several difficult episodes, until several years ago when tragedies after tragedies started to strike and shove many of us in a feeling of a whirlwind, with no happy ending in sight.

Spirituality as my Buoy

I have explained how spirituality is a key component of my balance and how it has helped me go through personal hardship, when I have had to decide of the course of my life after I made some turns that took me to a foreign place, a foreign land, a foreign territory, a foreign language, a strange maze of raising a child with autism, a demanding responsibility of raising boys without a man to partner with me in the task, and no personal currency to compensate for the lack of help in a place where everything you need has a pretty high cost when you think about it and when no regular income makes it look like a regular expense. Living in a rich country is a privilege that I am always thankful for, but it makes poverty a constant weight to drag at your feet, that slows you more than it should, every day and every night.

So yes, I can be spiritual and find solace in prayer anywhere, I need no particular place for that, just discipline and practice. I have a solid network of friends and loving family that is responsive and caring, and I lack no interactions with social networks either. Solitude should not be such a problem. I have healthy young men as my sons, and this is a blessing that can also bring pain with the fear of losing what is loved so much, and can make me, even more, tense at all times, just trying to show the more relax side of me, so that I do not communicate my anxieties and make them a useless burden to their lives.

Anger as my fuel

But I also have unsaid anger, resentment that is not politically correct to voice and I am very upset at many people for having brought some of the things that I regret are happening upon ourselves because of their own attitudes and belief systems, the lack of commitment to reconsidering their positions as part of a system that they should not have wanted to control entirely as they have done.

The reason why I am mentioning such anger, taking the risk to alienate you, dear friends who are reading this and might feel threatened by an unsaid comment not openly directed at you is that I feel the time is here for me to stop playing along with correctness, with fear of antagonizing others when in reality it has already happened all the time, and I have been backstabbed more often than never anyway. I am pissed, and I am ready to say if it can help things shift and go to somewhere else, in a healthier zone than being sorry all the time.

I am not sorry that I did not want the merger of the two synagogues because I am seeing no end to doing more of the same that took us in the first place to a place of depletion instead of a place of abundance. I am not sorry that I can claim I have kept doing as much as I could to show support and more support without asking for anything more in return, well knowing that it was going to be exhausting only, and it has, and I am at a point where restarting the engine will only take a supply of outside fuel because there is no more personal resource that I can rally to accomplish the miracle.

Light, hope, and love

I will have to say no, and to say no again and no more even more. I will have to pick and choose and make priorities, and it will hurt some if they do not understand where I want to go from here.

At the end of the week, I will start celebrating the holiday of Chanukah, the festival of lights, the Jewish minor holiday that some would wrongly compare to a Jewish Christmas time when it has nothing to do with it. My celebration is a daily meditative practice that allows me to see the light come out of darkness, to see hope grow out of utter despair, to see strength finally win over depletion. My hope is to be able to share with all those I love the miracle that occurs at that time and that goes beyond the glitter or the sparkles that I do not want to be part of when my heart is so full and heavy.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday season, and hoping to hear from you,
With love always,
Laurence

Sad Update

Colette
Colette Horvilleur née Ziza – May 9, 1927 – August 21, 2015

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this update that my mother died this morning in Paris at home.

She will be remembered by all who have known her as a bubbly, always happy, easy going, caring and extremely busy person. She took joy in everything she was doing: cooking, catering to others, feeding everyone in the family, experimenting with recipes, tending to her garden, moving trees and plants to make them happier, reading, writing and teaching.

She had the most loving personality and was faithful to the love of her life, whose death marked the beginning of a struggle with loneliness and search for a purpose in her daily activities. She kept her wonderful sense of humor until the end and never wanted to bother anybody.

She will be sorely missed by all generations.

The funeral will be on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 at 11:00 am Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

ברוך דין האמת

Update 5 from South Salem, NY

My two boys back together Dear Friends,

It has been nearly a week since my last letter to you. I have now returned home and I keep contact with my mother mostly through my older brother, via email and hangouts, and with speaking to either of the two dedicated aids who live at home to help caring for mom, on the phone around lunch time, which is morning breakfast time here. During the weekend, my brothers have installed the laptop on the dinner table to allow a skype conference and mom was happy to spot her grandson say “hi” but she quickly closes her eyes, because she is immediately tired now.

Never one day at a time has meant more what it means than during this odd summer for me. I was so relieved to be back home after experiencing the heat wave in Paris, as well as dealing with the emotional roller coaster of caring for my mother along with my two brothers on a daily basis for a little more than a couple of weeks, during which several stages of deterioration of her functions occurred.

I was comforted in my decisions by how things unfolded, and I have no regrets because it felt right to do what we all did, and also because it was a wonderful time with my cousins, my mother’s cousins, and many friends who had a chance to speak with me directly, when this opportunity had not arisen in a long time because I live here.

It felt good because I had complete confidence in my son with autism being as happy as can be, as always, and I received so much support from the most wonderful staff, at his school, as well as at the respite house where he lived, and from the transportation department who went above and beyond to make sure that I always knew he was well taken care of. A mother cannot be more happy about that, and a citizen cannot be prouder of the town she lives in for the services and care that are offered to a student with special needs.

Then, I received such a warm and wonderful welcome as soon as I arrived home. I felt so much love and care, I could not stop talking to my friends and neighbors with a smile, as if nothing sad was happening on the other side of my life and my heart is soaring from the love that is surrounding me. Even though a life is ending slowly, and even though there is pain in witnessing such a process, it feels as if my mom is still gifting me with the gift she has always had of making the world nice and welcoming, festive and warm, friendly and full of stories to tell!

Today, we went to pick up my youngest at camp after a very successful summer as a counsellor there. Our home is back to being full and for a minute I could pretend that life is back to normal. Alas, I know that any time, I can get some news that we do not want to hear about. As we prepare for different stages in our lives, like sending off to college, or starting a new school year in a new town, or starting a New Year for those of us who are Jewish, preparing for the ultimate stage of one’s life seems very strange and uncomfortable but I think it can still be beautiful.

I hope this letter finds you all having some beautiful moments from the summer to share.

With love always,

Update 4 from Paris

A new leaf

Dearest Friends,

As I am still planning to return home this coming Thursday, in order to have the necessary time to move my youngest to college after he finishes working at URJ Eisner camp for the summer, I am feeling in a heartbreaking situation leaving my mom and brothers behind.

This past week has been filled with family reunions during the week end, with loved family visitors who stayed for meals, and we were able to set a big table with food, laughter, animated conversations like they have always been the family habit in the past, with mom sitting with us at the table, and obviously happy to do so, despite her intense fatigue.

I had been able to attend shabbat services, both Friday night and Saturday morning, with the honor and pleasure of an alyah (going up to say the blessing before reading from the scroll) for parshat Ekev (the weekly portion in the Torah), and such a loving blessing from rabbi Delphine Horvilleur (yes, we both like claiming that we are related and reminding all that we are cousins). This warmed my heart and was a needed slice of time in an already different and odd frame of time in the week.

Mom is now completely unable to walk by herself. Even from one room to another, we have arranged to wheel her. She does not feel like talking anymore, although she can, and hears well (actually better than she used to). She has been sleeping more and more, and eating less and less.

The heat is still high in Paris. Giving her enough water is our constant worry, and some of the medication meant to lessen the swelling has a side effect and she is getting dehydrated.

Hospice at home is very well organized and all the nurses love her and she likes them. We have had some new running jokes, and she does not forget them and enjoys cracking them. Still, she is now the shadow of herself, but the smile and lack of complaining have not left her. She just does not want to talk over the phone and does not rejoice at visits in advance anymore. However, she winced at knowing we had to return home.

My younger brother was able to postpone his departure and will stay until the end of the week. I feel terrible to be leaving, but I feel my sons are expecting me. I made a promise to my autistic boy I cannot forfeit now. This has been the longest time ever I had left him and he seems to have done fabulous. I need to see this by myself now to appease my fears and wonders, even though I know he has been flexible and well taken care of.

Thank you all of you, for having followed my updates and for your lovely comments and news. It has been a difficult summer for me and I sometimes feel a bit ashamed to bring shadows and clouds into what is the time to relax and think of only replenishing strengths for the coming year of busy lives. But your loving responses have brought me solace and help to keep going on. My travels are not over and I am so grateful for your presence always.

With love,

 

Update 3 from Paris

2015-08-02 21.30.09Dear Friends,

A good chunk of time since my last update. I am not the best organized traveler away from home and I tend to depend on my various hosts schedules instead of following my well established routines when I have my life and work at home: I feel cut from the news of my world while I am staying on slow motion, sitting next to my mom, answering the phone and giving the same news over and over: so many friends who were used to hearing from her directly, but she is not keen any more to speak with anyone, and simply wants to close her eyes, sometimes sigh in a not very charitable way if the person who called was not her favorite of the moment!

I still get as much as lashon hara (the evil speech or gossip) or back stories about neighbors and friends that I have not known, with less significant details that would explain why some of these nice callers would be not too welcome to chat at this more difficult time, but I can easily guess: it could be that they do not share political views, or that they are not always interested in the same important topics as gardening or cooking or literature or the grandchildren, their studies and their intelligence, well, you know, we are all the same after all!

But it is now time to cut to the chase. Mom wants to know what I told them, and then invariably tells me that I said it right: “It is perfect!”. She is staying positive as she has stayed her entire life. Everyone is nice and lovely. But those she does not want to entertain, she dismisses them with a gesture of the left hand, like you are chasing an annoying fly, and she utters a “pfuuui’ that means a world.

Meals are now very long and slow. As my younger brother is going to arrive this evening, my mother mentioned that he was going to be ruthless with her. She admits I have been more patient and lenient with her taking her time, and not always finishing the plates. I have had a teacher in patience with my autistic son for sure. He also taught me to notice very tiny and significant changes in behaviors. Every day, mom has been declining in a tiny way that one would not necessarily notice at once, but the leg is dragging, the moves are slower and sometimes the planning is forgotten: she is surprised to pick up a fork and wonders what to do with it or she dozes after she has started to swallow.

Last Sunday was a good day: no visits and plenty of time to listen to the silence. Memories came back as she was pointing to the paintings she wants us to keep. I recorded the stories that were told several times and stories that had never been told.

In the evening, five of us cousins spent time for a pleasant dinner on a terrace and spoke about our parents, mom being the last living parent of the three common siblings branch, memories are warm and never sad. Time is slow and like it is holding a tenuous breath.

Thinking of you all, with love,

Update 2 from Paris

View of the roofs and the Eiffel Tower

Dear Friends,

Today, Thursday morning in Paris, under a beautiful sun, with a balmy 67 F, I am thinking of you all, knowing that the previous heat wave has now reached the East Coast. I am in the full swing of the Parisian rhythm, meaning starting the day a bit later, and seeing the sun out until much much later, with early dinner after 9 pm. The phone ringing and the friends and family asking for latest news and if they can come by, arranging everybody’s schedule so that mom’s home is not like Grand Central at rush hours. Going to refill supplies, medical and otherwise and giving news to the neighbors and the pharmacists.

I have forgotten I am a stranger in my hometown. I smile when someone I have spoken to figures it out that I must be a foreigner to be that nice and helpful, because a true Parisian would never speak with someone they have not known, and even less think of helping with a random information! So I have already heard twice that I have no accent in French and speak it perfectly which is pretty hilarious. It pleases me to be an advocate for the kind ways of the US and be a good ambassador for how helpful we always are, even if I know pretty well that both ways these are just stereotypes.

My mother has had a couple of “bad” days: she barely was alert, until on Tuesday for dinner, when with one of my cousins we had a feast with a “foie gras”, a glass of good red wine and lots and lots of laughter and reminiscence. After such a dinner, mom slept a full night and was more alert yesterday, with a busy day filled with visits, friends, flowers, the doctor who is a young Jewish woman also from North Africa, so we enjoyed sharing out judeo-arabic jargon to explain how mom was feeling (like yiddish, judeo-arabic barely translates all the multiple nuances that could be contained in a single word expression, and it felt good being understood at the same time as reverted to “mother tongue”!)

Talking with my cousins and relatives, either on the phone or during their visits, can be a bit emotionally draining, because I repeat a lot of the same, and some have difficulties grasping with the idea that our always alert, busy, bustling and joyous mom is now barely moving and getting less and less alert every day, with lapses in her memory, while still being so present, smiling and laughing with glee at everyone’s presence.

I am having good conversations with her and she misses her beloved so much that she feels good that we can talk about my father together. I have asked her oldest cousins to take the opportunity to recall their childhood memories, since I have no personal references except from what she wrote about and told us, but she enjoys filling plenty of gaps that are now coming back. This morning, she was not so sure she was living in her Paris apartment anymore and thought that she was in a childhood place because of some visiting plans made with her niece and her grand-baby. Getting her to overcome confusion in a non threatening way has become every hour’s goal. Her pain management has been efficient so far, and everyone makes sure she does not forget to mention when she is uncomfortable.

She still enjoys eating the very delicious food that her aid, Jeanette is preparing. Jeanette is delightful and talkative, loves cooking and is ecstatic about mom’s kitchen which contains everything she needs to prepare food: she can tell mom was a fabulous cook and both of them can bond very well around their meals. Our table is still always open and it is a joy to have guests happy to share our stories and memories.

Thinking of you all and not forgetting you. I will keep you all posted.
With love,