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Archive for March, 2014

Everyone needs someone to guide them as they walk through their life.  As a child, I was no different.  While I needed to dodge what was happening at home, I also needed the direction to grow in spite of what was happening to me and around me.   While the elders cared for me and supported me, none of them let me wallow in my pity parties; each gave me tools to survive and ultimately thrive.  The ‘elders’ in my life kept me alive by simply opening the door and allowing me to walk through it.

Where does the journey begin?
Where will we go?
Hours pass, the answers might change
As we keep moving along.

words by Debbie Friedman z’l and Tamara Ruth Cohen

As a young girl, I found drugs more intriguing than most anything else in life.  By the time I was 11 years old, I was enjoying a few of the ‘lighter’ drugs on a regular basis.  At 14 years old, I had tried or was using nearly every street drug available to me with the exception of heroine.  Funny, I distinctly remember that I prided myself on never shooting-up.

And then sometime around the spring following my 16th birthday, I stopped and I let go of all of the drugs that had been part of my young life.  One day, I woke up to the realization that I didn’t want to be like my mother.  During much of my childhood, my mother was a very sick soul and an abusive monster.  I didn’t know what it meant to choose a different path, but I believed that I wanted to be better and very different from the person who birthed me.

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that while I was really alone throughout my childhood, there were some angels that touched my life along the way.  The most important person for me was a man named Mike Gimbel.  Mike was real, a recovering addict, a therapist, and someone who believed in me.  And he was the person that helped lead me towards a different life.  Mike probably saved my life by somehow helping me believe that I could change the course of my life in every way.  While he was a social worker, he also reached me by going out of his way to be present when I needed him most.  I remember two or three times, he picked me up in his car and listened as I dealt with the crumbling of my heart and soul.

Mike Gimbel

Mike Gimbel is he man that had the most profound impact on my life, he gave me the tools to save myself.

Growing up was hard, really hard.  The journey lead me to be self-reliant.  There was no one who could really keep me safe or healthy except for me.  Mike was probably the most influential angel, but there were others who took time to make the difference.  One man was a mentor/leader in my Alateen (a group for children of alcoholics) community, his name was Tom Beam.  Tom opened his heart and gave all the love he could to his children.  I don’t believe he had any of his own, but he had hundreds of teens that looked up to him. Even after I drifted away, Tom always remembered my birthday by sending me a birthday card and calling me too.  Without fail for a decade or more after I fell off the Alateen journey, Tom remembered me.  There were years when no one else celebrated my life with me.  To be fair, the good news is that my brother always remembered my birthday regardless of where he was and what he was doing.  So at least I was remembered.  As long as I needed Tom, he would pick me up in his big Volkswagen Van; sometimes he would make sure I was eating, sometimes he would take me back to his house, and sometimes he would just sit with me while supporting me as I navigated my dark moods.

And then there was Goldie Gorn.  Mrs. Gorn was the principal of the religious school where I grew up.  She took time to listen to me and to allow me to cry.  She also gave me a huge gift a few years before her death; she helped make it possible for me to leave my home at 16 years old and go to Israel for 11th grade.  At Kfar HaYarok, my school, I was given wings to fly and the belief that my childhood would not destroy me.  Without Mrs. Gorn’s nudge and my brother’s perseverance, I would not have taken the final leap towards becoming a healthy human being.  Well maybe not that healthy. . . .very few teenagers are healthy, but I was moving in the right direction.

As a teenager, I must have been a profoundly sad being.  Melancholy was part of my every step.  How could it not be?  But these three ‘elders’ believed in me and helped me become the person I am today.  Each elder had several things in common, they:

  • were authentic in the way they walked in the world.
  • listened with an open heart.
  • believe every word that I shared and that allowed me to share a little more of myself.
  • gave me tools to help myself.
  • nurtured me sometimes with love, sometimes with a warm meal.
  • cared not only for me, but for many others.
  • and so much more. . . .

I feel so blessed that Mike Gimbel, Tom Beam, and Goldie Gorn took time to guide me through a part of my life.  I would not be who I am today without having them helping me navigate the journey called life.

My hope and my prayer is that I am walking the walk that these ‘elders’ modeled for me.  As I write this blog, I realize I have work to do.  How about you?

PS – If I lived in Baltimore, I would sit at Goldie Gorn’s grave; I would try to find Tom Beam’s grave and visit his church too; and I would welcome the opportunity to give Mike Gimbel a huge hug and thank him in a very personal way.  I would not have been half the person I am if it wasn’t for these loving souls.

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RIP Zach Lederer. RIP Superman Sam.  RIP Liv Wise.   RIP So Many More. . . . 

In the last few months, amazing young people with so much life in front of them lost their struggle for life.  Brain cancer took their last breath away.  (Correction: Sammy died of refractory acute myeloid leukemia another form of cancer.)

Remembering. . . .

While I did not know any of these beautiful souls; my heart crumbles with each and every loss.  My entire being feels the loss and then remembers how much our family once suffered as we fought for Aryeh’s life.  Yes he not only thrived, but survived in spite of losing most of his teenage years to illness, a very large (6.5 cm all around) arachnoid cyst on the right temporal lobe of his brain.  Many sleepless nights, everlasting tears, intense pain, and two brain surgeries later, I still never go a day without remembering what happened.

Aryeh at the Kotel Summer 2012 - Seeing this photo touched me deeply.  At one time, the possibility of Aryeh thriving would have been a dream. . .. .

Aryeh at the Kotel Summer 2012 – Seeing this photo touched me deeply. At one time, the possibility of Aryeh thriving would have been a dream. . .. .

As a mother, I recall the sleepless nights, the fear of loss, the stress on our family, the financial realities, and the agony my son faced every moment of his life for over 3.5 years.  I never questioned why him, but I did always pray for his pain to cease in any way it could.  I hated seeing Aryeh in pain; it nearly destroyed me.  There was nothing I could do; sometimes it felt like no one could help. Eventually one special doctor made all the difference.Any time a loved one has to watch a child suffer is profoundly horrible.

There are no words to express the darkness that looms with each breath.  Even as you hope all will be ok, fear of hoping can be paralyzing too.  Each of us that have faced serious illnesses knows that sometimes there are no tomorrows.  Since March 2007, I see the world through different eyes.  I fear loss, but almost never forget to live fully.  While there is no such thing as a given, nearly every moment in life is precious.

Each of the losses above have flooded me with memories of Aryeh’s journey.  The journey to health from serious illness sucks and yet we still get to choose (mostly) how we navigate our journeys. All I can say is wow as the tears run down my face. My hope is that brain cancer and all serious illnesses find a cure. No one should have to endure this pain and/or this loss.

Remembering. . .

My heart goes out to Lederer, Sommer, and Wise families and to every family that has ever had to navigate a health journey.   Losing  is the worst.  May the souls of their loved ones be at peace; may their memories be a blessing for good.

For more information on the amazing young people mentioned above:

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Life is a journey full of ups and downs, mountains and valleys, ebbs and flows.  Life is simply full of curve balls.

lifes-curve-balls

The good news is that I tend to find the light in each of life’s journeys.  While I acknowledge that the challenges can be overwhelming, I ultimate embrace each and every turn.  And sometimes I struggle because while I am an optimist, I am also a human being.

With each step I take on life’s journeys, I pray for the strength and fortitude to live with integrity.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I do not.  That’s life.

Lately, I have found myself needing to gravitate to a more silent place giving myself some space between written words and chit chat.  While I am a genuinely happy and forthright person, I am aware that sharing too much of what is in my heart will lead me to a dark place.  Have you ever noticed that the more you talk about something the bigger the issues loom?  With that in mind I am practicing the art of silence; I am facing my feelings in a more insular fashion.

Life’s curve balls are very real, but they also have the ability to strengthen me as I climb each mountain or even if I fall down with my two left feet.

The key to moving forward is to open up my heart and soul by allowing for myself to just go with the the flow as the curve balls  propel me to the place I will ultimately go.

I am doing what I have to do.  Living with what is; navigating the curve balls.

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