Archives for November 2014

There Are Many Ways To Say Goodbye


I wrote this June of last year, reposting to honor my father and November/Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month.

Facing a parent with dementia…

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 8 older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease. The incidence and prevalence of this disease is on the rise. As we age, many of us will face this disease with our parents. This piece was written to raise awareness and in tribute to my father.

Until I received a very strange phone call two summers ago, I didn’t realize how many ways there are to say goodbye.

My father was on the line and he wanted to know if I was sitting down because he had great news.

“I just inherited a million dollars,” he exclaimed.

I don’t come from the type of family that bequeaths a million dollars. When he told me his fortune was from a childhood friend he hadn’t spoken to in 70 years my concern rather than his bank account increased.

I soon learned that it is futile to disagree with someone who is suffering from dementia. At 87 years old, my father survived World War II, widowhood with two small girls to raise and most of his old age sans too many bruises all to become master of a strange universe. It was sudden and difficult to come to terms with.

Dead relatives have resurfaced and have invited themselves to Thanksgiving dinner. All kinds of celebrities have become distant relations and I’ve even found myself with a new brother. More heartbreaking is my father’s insistence that my mother, who passed away 38 years ago, is still alive and spends most of her time at the Waldorf Astoria waiting for us. He often queries if we have seen her and becomes upset if we haven’t. Though in his own way, he ponders why he hasn’t seen her.

He was someone who loved to travel and he now travels between two different worlds –  the world that seems to agree with the order of things and the one inhabited by the past lacking order or control. The characters who surface in this new world range from those who’ve left big gaping holes like crater in our hearts to others who just flitted by.

The old world barely exists and the new world doesn’t. After the initial shock and denial, I decide to participate in both worlds not understanding either. Meanwhile in my own world, I’m missing a piece. I have a wonderful story to relay and I think my father would be a great audience and then I pause and remember that it would be too arduous to explain. From a wonderful conversationalist he has become taciturn.

I wonder about loss. Is this a legitimate loss? If it feels real, it must be. If that’s so, his premise is not that far off. I pine for our laughs and for his wry and sardonic quips. His generosity always outpaced what he had but he loved to offer help.

Alternatively, he is at times more satisfied than he’s ever been. The pre-dementia father could be unhappy.

We all have many sides to our personality. Forever changed irrevocably my father is here and gone. Now we travel together, he revels in the past while I yearn for it.

photo credit: <a href=””>Josep Ma. Rosell</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>


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A Midlife View Of The ‘Mommy’ Problem

get-attachment-10.aspxThanks to Heather Havrilesky’s, New York Times article “Our Mommy Problem,” I’ve been jolted to posit my opinion not as an expert or psychologist but as a mother and writer. I’m also at an age where I’ve “been there done that,” having a daughter in college and a high school junior.

Havrilesky states: “Motherhood is no longer viewed as simply a relationship with your children…Motherhood has been elevated…to the realm of lifestyle, an all-encompassing identity with demands and expectations that eclipse everything else in a woman’s life.”

There is a “Mommy” problem out there perpetuated by the media, stereotypes, politics, fear – and worse by women themselves. We are living in a world, where women are given instructions at every fork in the road. Some of my favorite Mommy anthems

  • Having It All– No one can have it all at one time.
  • Lean In– I liked the book (my review) but we shouldn’t be the only ones leaning in (hear that corporate America, government policies).
  • Perfection Affliction – Just don’t go there!

Then there are the types of mom you need to morph into:

  • Tiger Mom – May work for some, but when I’ve decided to act like one, I was ashamed of my hypocrisy, because my extracurricular activities consisted of the 4:30 movie. I also sensed my relationship with my children erode. Guess what? Some children are ambitious and driven from day one, they are going to stand at the podium delivering the Valedictorian speech. The remainder will find, thought it may not be on your timetable, something they are passionate about.
  • Helicopter Mom – Been guilty of this too. If you want to destroy any chance of your child growing up and moving away and having a modicum of dignity – stop hovering. All of these actions undermine a child’s self-esteem. I’ve moved away from asking too many questions from my college aged daughter. I still believe in keeping my eyes and ears open but I don’t audit the minutia.
  • Motherhood As A Sport – I’m not blaming or shaming, but I’ve seen the role of mother taken too far. These moms are involved in every aspect of their child’s lives and they compete at every level. They know if someone is giving their child a hard time and they will speak to that child. They are known to stamp their feet at sporting events and even root against their child’s teammates. Is this the kind of behavior you want your child to emulate?
  • Outdo Martha Stewart Mom – I made pumpkin shaped sandwiches for my daughter’s nursery school class. It was cute but I stressed myself out. Becoming a stay-at-home mom, I took the gusto I had for my career and turned out snacks and crafts because I thought that is what I was supposed to do.

The best mother you can be is your authentic self; children can spot a phony from a mile away. Show your children who you are, what you love, what inspires you and they will learn to embrace who they are. You also owe it to yourself to not abandon your dreams. The best piece of advice I’ve read, and the one that made the most sense to me, about facing an empty nest is to handle this stage in life with aplomb, even if you have to fake it for a while. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be sad but this is a prime time to show your kids how to handle change. Isn’t the point of parenting to raise children who can handle bumps in the road?

Old Photos Speak To Us

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11893904336_af124ae82a_m4863414036_d2bd59b7c5_m4949106634_25ec7b83f5_mSome of my mothers’ photographs on Flicker have been viewed 5,000 to 8,000 times. The only explanation is that old photos speak to each of us in different ways – whether we admire an era gone by or think of our own loved ones old photographs take us back to wonderful places.

I was thinking about what to write about this week when an old photo of my mother popped up on my Facebook wall. Much to her surprise, my cousin stumbled upon this photo in a Facebook group she follows: Manhattan Before 1990. Rheannone Rocha who blogs at New York City Vintage advised that this photo was one of her most popular posts. She found the photo on Flicker, where my mom, who never saw a computer, has gained a significant fan base thanks to my brother the keeper of photos and memories.

I can’t begin to explain what these photos mean to me, as I search for clues about myself I simultaneously feel she was someone I never knew, since she died so young, and the person who has had the most profound influence on my life. She was strikingly beautiful, resourceful, talented and creative. She made all of the clothes she wore in the photographs. We really aren’t sure who took these photographs, but believe it may have been my grandfather, the master tailor, who taught his girls how to sew. He was an immigrant who came to America with very little and no mastery of the English language. Although a pragmatic man he somehow saw the value in taking photographs.

The documenting of our lives is in a sense an attempt at preserving memories, dreams and our own immortality. Modern day technology allows us to constantly snap away from selfies to everyday events. The need, desire and value of photographing our lives are as pervasive as ever and the ability to share our lives through these images has expanded in ways unimaginable prior to the advent of the internet. Just take a look at Flicker to see the myriad of groups where every day people share their images. My brother is one of them; he’s also a very good photographer starting with a dark room when he was just a teenager. He serves as the family preservationist and catalogs the photos on his Flicker account. At first the photos were posted for family members but surprisingly they have attracted a following and the most viewed photos are of my mother. As a gifted seamstress, her photos often showcase a new outfit. The photos are emblematic of fashion in the 1940s. Prior to 1945, a utilitarian, although chic, look dominated the fashion scene. After the end of WWII, Hollywood’s Golden Age stars influenced fashions. My mother’s fashions are truly a study of the elegance of this time period.

According to my brother, “For a girl who never left the Bronx, her photos have gone everywhere: background for a PBS film, British Craft Magazine, logo for a Dutch Vintage Jewelry Store, YouTube music videos, Mother’s Day ad campaigns, and even the image for an urban renewal project in Covington, Georgia, and countless blogs. Sometimes I get letters from people who tell me they saw her; they recognized the dress. Dressmakers have copied her clothes and ask me for permission/advice. There is something special about these photographs from the 1940’s — an enthusiasm for life that seems to slowly disappear in the late 50’s and 60’s. Her photos are by far my most popular, especially in terms of referrers. I find them on lots of blogs; often in very funny juxtapositions, my mom and Marilyn Monroe, for instance. I often wonder what she would have thought of my publication of her photos. Our lives back then were lived on such a small stage: the kitchen, the living room, the backyard, the parish church and the neighborhood. That was it. Sometimes on weekends the one telephone, upstairs in my grandfather’s house, would ring, but he was rarely in the house to answer it. Always out in the garden. No one else dared touch it. So much for the whole wide world.”

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