Category Archives: Acceptance

My Story

Hello, my name is Miriam Ribiat and I just would like to thank Chazak for giving me this opportunity to speak on their hotline.

I guess I would say that my story really is a lot about loss, a lot about loss and grieving and I’m not going to go into details about everything that I went through. I went through two big losses that left me with a lot of pain and a lot of sadness and the other two losses that I went through, I will talk more about. Those were my parents, my mother and my father, who both died young. I was married already. I did have some children, but they were both young and they both died for different reasons, but pretty close together when it happened.

There have been opportunities, although I don’t just go sharing my story with random people whenever I feel like it, there were different opportunities that came up that I felt the need to share what happened and when I’d share everything that I went through with details and everything, the response I get is like “Wow! That’s huge and so heavy. How do you go on? How do you do it? How do you be happy? Whoa! How do you do it?”

I guess whenever someone is in a situation, it’s always hard to see how big the situation really is. Sometimes I forget that my story is so big and that people are going to have this response, but what I would really like to do is not to look at it this is so hard and I have such a sad life with so many challenges, but rather to recognize that I’ve definitely been given an opportunity through my challenges to grow and to make changes. These changes have definitely left me feeling better about myself and they have definitely brought me to a place of more contentment and calmness inside of me and of course a very big change that I made was my connection to Hashem. I think like most people, I always wanted a better connection, a stronger connection and I wanted to feel more connected, but I never knew how to really get that connection. When I went through these really challenging times, I was forced to really look at things in a different way and I was forced to really learn how to make a connection with Hashem that I so badly wanted. So although my story might be a big story and it might be a story with a lot of pain and a lot suffering and a lot of challenges, I’d rather really look at it like I have gone through challenges, everyone goes through challenges, no one today is spared any challenges, but I’m grateful for being given the opportunity to make the changes that I made, even though I would never ask for a replay of anything. I definitely could recognize the good that came out of it for me.

There were a number of times when people made comments to me and they said, “You should for sure speak on Chazak.” I always kind of felt like why would I speak on Chazak? So I’ll go on Chazak and I’ll share this story and I’ll be sad and I’ll make people be sad. And then what? How is that going to be mechazek people? It’s really not for me. Let other people that have more what to offer speak. I’ll do the listening. I’m not a speaker type.

Then a couple of months ago through my work I put together a book. It’s called Comfort, Courage and Clarity. It’s like a support group handbook that I guess I’ll talk more about later on, but it took quite some time to put together and after it came out, there was a number of people who looked through it and they gave us really positive feedback. One day I was thinking about it and I said there’s no way in the world that I could have put together this book if not for the things that I went through, the challenges that I went through and the work that I had to do because of it definitely made me be able to sit down and put this whole thing together. That’s when I realized that maybe I do have what to offer and if I could be mechazek in any way, then I guess it’s something that I’m willing to do and I really hope that you could walk away with some chizuk from this and to be an aliyas neshamah for my parents.

I’ll start off with my mother. My mother had this thing that she hated doctors. She was petrified of doctors and she would do anything at all costs to stay away from the doctor, herself or any of her children. So normally our relationship was very much we kind of all knew what’s going on in everyone’s life and we’re not a secret kind of family, but when my mother one day felt a lump, she kept it a huge secret. I guess she told my father but she definitely didn’t tell any of her children. She did call up to make an appointment to see the doctor, but when they said to her, “Oh is this is an emergency?” She said, “No it’s fine. I could wait.” They gave her an appointment for three months later.

So for three months she was holding onto this secret that she might have cancer but she never shared a word with anyone. So when she called me up one day out of the blue to tell me that she just came back from the doctor and that she had cancer, it was very, very shocking for us. It was shocking. It was scary and of course it was very, very, very devastating. She started the treatments and there were definitely ups and downs. So I guess I would say it was a few years of feeling the tension and the fear and kind of waiting for the next scan and once she had the scan, waiting to get the results and either being relieved or worried when we did get the results and that was kind of the way life was.

Then one day my parents came into Lakewood. They lived out of town. I’m from Detroit and my parents came in to a chasunah in Lakewood, a cousin’s wedding. It was shortly after the chassan and kallah came in for the first dance and the music is playing and everyone is dancing and suddenly someone comes to the microphone and says, “Is there a doctor in the house?” It seemed like there was a man or a boy or someone from the men’s side that had blocked out and they needed someone. It didn’t sound like anything major. Like okay, someone blocked out. It happens and he’ll be okay but they need a doctor or Hatzalah or whatever it is.

But after a short while, even though the music continued and everyone was dancing, it seemed like maybe this isn’t just a typical case of someone blacking out and he’ll be okay tomorrow morning. It was more like the men started saying Tehillim. It was getting a little scary. And then the ladies starting saying Tehillim. At that point I went to the mechitzah and I was standing by the mechitzah looking to get a glimpse of my father. I just needed to get a glimpse of him. I just needed to know that whatever happened, whoever it happened to, they should be okay, they should have a refuah sheleimah, but it’s not my father. And I’m looking and I’m looking and I can’t see him. Then I see Hatzalah is taking a person out in a stretcher and I’m like okay my father didn’t have a beard, let me see if this man has a beard and then I’ll know that it’s not my father. And the person didn’t have a beard. And then suddenly I think we realized it was my father. It was just that sixth sense just kind of came right in and my mother ran to the men’s section to my uncle who was the chassan’s father and asked if this was my father that this happened to and he said yes.

We ran out to Hatzalah and Hatzalah was working on him and they were working on him for a while and my mother kept on saying it’s not good. They can’t even get him stable enough to go to the hospital. This isn’t good. Then we got to the hospital finally and after a few minutes, I don’t know however long it was, they come out, the Hatzalah guys or whoever came out and said they’re doing everything that they possibly could and again my mother said this isn’t good. They say this to prepare you for the worst. And sure enough shortly afterwards they came and they said they did everything that they could but they couldn’t save him. And my father was niftar.

My father was young. My father was healthy. He had just had an appointment by a cardiologist maybe two to three weeks before. He had a clean bill of health so of course it was completely shocking to us and completely devastating to us. Sitting shivah was so difficult because it didn’t make sense. I guess any shivah is difficult, but this didn’t make sense. Walking around the house, my father was so alive. This happened shortly after Pesach. Look the Pesach counters were downstairs but they weren’t put away yet in the actual Pesach box because they were waiting for my father. My father is going to put it away. Look at my father’s desk. Do you see there’s his wallet with his license and his social security card. This is a person that’s fine. This is a person that’s alive and here. It doesn’t make sense that he’s not alive anymore. The same thing with the Shabbos clocks. The lights are turning on and off on the timers that my father had set so what do you mean that my father is not alive? It was so hard to really grasp it and to really understand it.

Also it was hard because my mother was very private when it came to her sickness. She didn’t want anyone to know so very few people knew that she was sick so although I had wonderful friends and cousins and all types of people that came to be menachem aveil me and I could talk about my father and I could talk about his many special qualities and what a special relationship we had and how much I’m going to miss him, but I had another very heavy cloud of fear hanging over me and that was my mother. I couldn’t say anything about my mother. That definitely made it a little bit more difficult.

She was a tremendous pusher and she went to work until the very end and she did what she had to do and she hosted everyone for Yom Tov and never gave in or gave up, I should say, but it was hard to see that she was getting sicker and sicker. Then miraculously she got better, well not better better but she got better enough that she was able to resume her schedule and continue chemo and continue work.

One thing that we said after my father was niftar was that maybe what he couldn’t do down here for my mother, he could do up there, maybe he could really be a meilitz yosher for my mother. He could go to the kisei hakavod and just beg Hashem that my mother should have a refuah sheleimah. But unfortunately it wasn’t too much after my father was niftar that my mother was also niftar.

Now, looking back I could realize that my mother, she was extremely private. She did not want anyone to know that she was sick. She was so afraid of pity. Pity was like the worst possible thing to her that she couldn’t let anyone know. So it was kept very, very quiet and I would even joke sometimes if she would find out that someone found out that she was sick, she would be so upset it was almost like more upset than on a day that she got back a bad result. It was just the worst thing in the world for her.

So we kept it very quiet. I was used to just kind of like don’t pay attention to my feelings. I’m feeling afraid. I’m feeling anxious because I’m waiting for the results. I’m sad because of the latest results. I’m nervous. I don’t know what’s going to be. Well yeah I could talk to my own family about it, I could talk to my sisters about it even my mother a little bit, but no one else. Basically, just shove it aside and keep on going.

So when everyone died, I really didn’t know how to grieve because I’m used to we don’t feel our feelings. We just have to go on. We can’t let people pity us. Imagine that I call up a friend and I tell her how sad I am and maybe I even start crying, she might give me pity. There’s no way. There’s no way I’m doing that. So I didn’t really know at all about properly grieving. After my father died, I was able to concentrate on my mother. I had what to focus on, but after my mother, there’s no one sick to focus on.

Now in the beginning it didn’t matter so much because I was very, very busy. I had little children b’li ayin hara, I was working a lot of hours, my husband was not around much so I was really basically on my own mostly so I was so busy it was really easy to keep on going. Some people made comments “I don’t know how you go on”. “I don’t know how you still laugh”. And I was like I don’t know. This is what we do. I mean we’re mothers, we’re busy and we just have to do it. Are my laughs always so real? No. There’s pain under there but this is just what we do. This is just how we go.

One night I had a chasunah, my cousin’s wedding. It must have been about a little bit after a year after my mother was niftar. It must have been shortly after my mother’s first yahrtzeit. I had a wedding. It was my cousin’s wedding. I was feeling very sad because it was a very close cousin and my parents definitely would have been at this wedding. I was feeling sad. I went to this wedding and I was feeling a lot of pain.

When I got to the wedding, I was feeling that pain. I’m looking around and I’m seeing all my aunts and uncles and everyone that’s there and very much noticing how my parents aren’t there. Then I noticed something else. My cousins and their whole families are there. Unless someone lived out of town or whatever it was, but all the siblings were there so it hurt me so much. I have two sisters bli ayin hara left so they were at the wedding and I was able to express my pain to them a little bit and I was grateful that they were there but those that weren’t. It was so clear to me who wasn’t there and it hurt.

And then I was talking to a distant cousin, a distant relative and she said to me, “Oh so where do you live? You live in Lakewood. Where in Lakewood?” And I told where I live and the development that I live in and that my other sister also lives in this development and it’s so nice that we’re both next to each other. “And your other sister?” And I said my other sister lives in Far Rockaway and then I was quiet. The end of the conversation. There’s no one else to talk about in my family.

Again this left me with a lot of pain but I’m at a wedding so smile and be happy, dance, do whatever you do at weddings, but don’t sit and mope. Don’t sit and be sad. So I did whatever I had to do.

That night in the middle of the night I woke up and I guess what I was having was a mild panic attack. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t call Hatzalah or anything, but I was just like ahh this is very, very uncomfortable. It lasted for quite a while and eventually I don’t know if it stopped and I fell asleep or I fell asleep and it stopped, but eventually I did fall back asleep and the next day or two days later, whatever it was, I was talking to a friend of mine and I was telling her what happened.

Now this friend is not a therapist but I always tell her that she should be. She happens to be very, very good with this type of stuff.

So we were talking about what happened and she said to me, “One second Miriam. You went to this chasunah. Did you tell anyone that you’re going and that it’s hard for you?” I said, “No I don’t think so. Why would I tell anyone?” “And what about at the chasunah, you were faced with all these painful situations, Did you speak to anyone at the chasunah? Did you call anyone afterwards? Anything? Did you share your feelings and what’s going on for you?” I said, “No. Why would I?” She said to me, “You’re denying all your emotions and the body is not okay with that. It’s going to make you feel and if you insist on ignoring it and not paying attention to what’s going on inside of you, then your brain is going to make sure that you have to face it. So if you don’t face it, either you could start getting sick a lot, something will start hurting you or in your case, you’ll start having a hard time breathing.”

At first I wanted to say, “Oh come on. That’s so ridiculous. I’m not into this whole mind body connection thing and it makes no sense,” but what I started seeing was that it was really true. I saw how it was so clearly direct. It was so directly related. I remember talking to a friend, “Since yesterday afternoon I can’t breathe again. It’s so uncomfortable.” And she said to me, “Well, what’s going on your life?” I said nothing really and then I started telling her about a neighbor that had a very traumatic situation with a child that brought up all my trauma from my family. I think I was nervous about something with my child. I think there were a few things that really weren’t nothing. And she pointed out to me all these things are big things. Not one of them is just a nothing. I realized I’m doing it again. Either I pretend that everything is fine and I won’t listen to my feelings or I’ll deny it, I’m good at minimizing all the feelings also like I shouldn’t be sad. It doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t be such a big deal. I don’t know what my problem is. But I saw how I would be so affected from not facing what’s going on inside of me. I had to really start facing it.

So what I had to do, is besides acknowledged that this is how I’m feeling, I had to really speak it out with people also. One of the reasons that I had to speak it out with people is because sometimes I think that I’m really feeling one way and really what’s bothering me is something that’s completely different. An example would be like I could call up a friend and say, “Uch. I’m so annoyed. I asked my husband to come home early to help me out. I’m not feeling good. I’m so busy. I have so much going on. I just needed his help and of course he didn’t come home. Why couldn’t he come home?”

But in talking it out, I might realize that of course my husband is not coming home. I knew he wouldn’t come home. He can’t come home. He doesn’t have that choice to just come home because I want his help today, but what I’m really feeling is the loneliness. I’m not feeling good and my mother, although she lived out of town, she wouldn’t be able to really physically help me, she would call me up. She would want to know how I’m feeling and she would tell me to take Tylenol or ask me if I had time to lay down, whatever it would be. And I missed that motherly connection and that motherly love and concern and I wanted it. And I’m not feeling angry at my husband but really I’m just feeling lonely and sad and missing my mother. So it’s important for me to really talk it out to understand what I’m feeling.

Now of course there are different types of people. There are people that I will not talk it out with because they’re not people that would make me feel comfortable. I have to find those people that are the right people for me. I have someone in my life that although she’s very sweet, she would give me pity like from here to the sky. “Oy Miriam, I feel so bad for you. It must be hard. Nebach.” Okay I’m not talking to her. That’s not what I need to hear.

I know someone else that whatever I tell her, whatever topic, whatever time of day or whenever it’ll be, it’s going to always turn into all about her. So when I’m in a lot of pain because I went through a lot and this person really didn’t go through what I went through and she starts telling me all about her and what’s going on in her life, nope not for me. It’s not someone I’m going to open up to. If there’s someone that makes everything into a joke or someone that really just can’t get it and will just say “come on, it’s time to snap out of it already. It’s been long enough.” Then these are people that I’m also not going to speak to. But I had to find myself a few, whether it’s friends or cousins or aunts or sisters, a few people whom I could really feel comfortable talking to and explaining to them what’s going on for me so that I could feel better and not get these breathing attacks.

After a while, I said to myself, “Okay so here I am working so hard on being in touch with myself, but how is this avodas Hashem”? I understand you go through a lot, and people could say I started working on better davening and better connecting to Hashem, I started working on shmiras Shabbos and lashon hara, whatever it is, there are plenty of things to work on, but guess what? I went through a lot and I started working on feeling my emotions. It didn’t seem like it’s really avodas Hashem. So I had to again talk it out and figure out is what I’m doing ratzon Hashem and why.

I realized a few things. Number one is that Hashem gave us emotions and if Hashem gave it to us, it’s something that we need. It’s a necessary part of us. And just like I want my eyes and I’m grateful that my eyes see and that my ears hear, and my nose smells and my feet walk, baruch Hashem, I need my emotions also. I’m not going to say to Hashem, “Oh, Hashem my eyes. It’s great. Thank you for giving me my eyes, but the emotions? No thanks. I don’t need that.” I can’t really say that. I can’t tell Hashem, “You made a mistake. The eyes and the ears are good. The joints are all good and I’m glad that you gave that to us but the emotions? That’s not needed.” Obviously, that’s not the right way to go about this. If Hashem gave it to me, then that means that He gave it to me for a reason and I have to be aware of them and not just send them away.

I realized also that when I’m not in touch with myself and I don’t know what’s going on inside of me, I’m much more short tempered. I’m putting so much energy in making sure that I don’t feel the pain that I become very short-tempered. I could walk into my son’s room and I asked him to clean up his room or told him rather and it’s still a huge mess and I’ll say, “This is what you call clean? I mean there are socks and there’re shoes all over the floor. What about books and pajamas. Why is that called clean? Can’t you see? Don’t you see the floor is covered in all types of things? Why do you think this is clean?” But if I’m in touch with myself and I’m not all on edge and short tempered and jittery, then I could walk in and I could say, “Oy, the floor had lots of things on it. It’s really not cleaned up yet. Please clean it up”, which is of course a much nicer way of talking. It makes the atmosphere in the house much nicer and it’s the type of mother that I’d much rather be.

With people outside the home, I’ll become very judgmental. It’s so much easier to look at other people than look at myself. So instead I could say, “Oy. How did she say such a thing? That’s an awful thing to say.” “She’s wearing that? Doesn’t she realize that it’s so not tznius? What’s she thinking.” “Oy, so and so. She made a decision. It’s really going to affect her family very negatively. I don’t know why she’s doing that.” But if I’m in touch with myself, I know what’s going on for me, what other people do and say is not my concern. I don’t have to focus on that. If someone asks me my opinion, my advice, I could help them do something but I’m not going to judge them for it because it’s not my business and I don’t need to judge them for it. So right there I recognized how this is avodas Hashem. It makes my ahavas Yisrael all around much better when I’m in touch with myself.

In addition, when I face my feelings, then it makes my connection to Hashem so much better because I’ll come to Hashem with it. “Hashem, I’m feeling so sad today. I’m in so much pain. Please could You help me with this pain? Could You take away the sadness and replace it with joy? Could You help me out with the loneliness?” I don’t even have to ask Him to take it away. I could just tell it to Him and that could make me feel better. “Hashem, I’m really feeling this pain today. I’m really having a hard day with getting through my day. I’m having such a hard time with focusing on my kids or making a potato kugel because I’m just having so much pain today.” I could just bring it to Hashem and it makes my connection to Hashem that much stronger.

Once I take that step and I bring it and I talk to Hashem about it, then I could figure out what’s the next step that I have to take. And I realized that I have from my siblings and my parents a beautiful, beautiful legacy to pass down to my children. Why can’t I share it with them? That will definitely be very connecting. If I tell them, boys, (I have mostly boys), “Boys, I’m feeling so sad today and so lonely because I’m missing my father, but do you know what kind of person my father was? My father was such a family man. His family values were so strong. Not everyone has such strong values. It was so important and it was so special.” What about my mother? I could tell my children about Bubby and how she did so many Hashem but she didn’t even realize that she was doing it. Somebody needs help. It only takes an extra few minutes. What’s the big deal? She was constantly doing things for people. Some of the things were bigger, some of the things were smaller, but she was just always out there for people.

Now of course talking about these things to my children, it’s not going to take out the pain. The pain will still be there, but I’m talking about these people. I’m passing down their lessons to my children and I’m connecting with my children. And of course this is going to be something that’s going to make me feel much better.

Someone said to me, she summed it up in one sentence and I thought it was a very smart sentence. She said to me that really our emotions are vessels for us to connect to ourselves, to others and to Hashem, and I see that when I do connect to myself, to others and to Hashem, how much of a better person I am. I could really be a better eved Hashem. There’s more joy in my life. There’s more happiness. There’s more calmness. There’s no looking at other people. I realized that yes this is definitely part of my avodas Hashem.

Now I might sound like wow! I mastered this skill. I could talk to people about what’s going on for me, no problem. I face my emotions. I deal with it. It’s far from the truth and I think that’s one of the reasons I chose this particular topic to talk on, because the more I talk about it, the more I work on it, and hopefully the better I’ll become.

Just recently I had a yahrtzeit for my father and I lit that yahrtzeit licht and pretended that it just wasn’t his yahrtzeit. I didn’t tell a soul. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it and even my own children. My boys are teenagers now and they’ll see the candle. “Oh, it’s Zeidy’s yahrtzeit. We should learn mishnayos.” And I’ll say yes but I’m doing my parents and my siblings such a disservice by not coming forth to my kids. “Today is so and so’s yahrtzeit. Do you know his or her name? Please let’s make sure to learn mishnayos. Let’s make sure to make this a good day for the neshamah. Let’s really give it an aliyah.” I want to show them the importance of this, but it’s just so painful for me. I can’t even talk about it. So it’s definitely something I still have a lot of work to do.

I told you why I spoke about this particular topic. Really there are so many other areas in life that I had to work on. I had to work on better connecting to Hashem. I realized that I thought I was much more in control of situations that I was in and I had to realize that I have no control, but I’m really powerless over most situations. But Hashemis in control so let me turn to Him. I had to understand more about Olam Haba, like what happens to the neshamah? What is a yahrtzeit all about? What’s yizkor all about?

Yizkor was something that I had a very hard time with because I always remember my parents. I have to go to shul a couple of times a year to remember them? That’s funny. That’s what I’m always talking about or thinking about them and remembering them. What does it mean to be a meilitz yosher? People say it but what’s it really mean? I had to really work on my understanding of all these concepts a lot better.

I guess also another thing that’s connected to sharing my feelings with people was also learning how to accept people’s empathy. Not pity but empathy. People want to care and it’s okay for me to let people care. That’s something that I had to work on very, very much. These are really many different things that I worked on and that I could talk about, but I guess not now.

Maybe it was two years, two and a half years, I’m not even sure. It was two or three years probably after my mother was niftar and I started working for Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah is an organization that started off for people that either didn’t have the time or the ability to learn mishnayos or gemara, but they had a yahrtzeit or a shloshim for someone in the family. They would come to Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah has yungeleit that are sitting and learning and they would learn the mishnayos or the gemara, whatever it would be that the family member wanted. Then we also branched out to Better Than a Segulah, which is a similar thing where we have people sitting and learning as a zechus for people that need a yeshuah for something.

But one thing that we realized was that people, when they’re going through a death or when they went through a death of a close family member, they don’t know what to do with themselves. There’s not enough guidance out there and it’s a very confusing time. It’s a painful time and so many questions come up. If I’m in so much pain, does that mean that I don’t believe in Hashem? But why is it still hurting and it’s already two years later? I cried so much. Does that mean I’m depressed? I have to go get a medicine? There are so many questions that come up and so many different things that people grapple with.

So when I joined, one of the things that I started doing was writing for Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah and I would write about my own experiences. I wrote about Yom Tov, having Yom Tov without my parents, making a bar mitzvah. My first bar mitzvah after my mother died was very, very painful. But when I made my second bar mitzvah, I thought it won’t be so painful because this is how I’m used to doing it and yet the pain came up so strong, maybe even stronger, like again I’m making a bar mitzvah and my parents aren’t here. This just seems wrong. I wrote about having a niece or a nephew named after a person that was niftar, named after my parents or my siblings and all the pain that that brought up. So there’s so many things that go on in my daily life that bring up pain.

I would write every couple of weeks or so. I would post something and eventually we took it and we made it into this book called Comfort, Courage and Clarity. It’s made for adults that lost parents and it’s written in the format of a support group. The beginning of the book says how to run a support group and the actual format of a support group when a support group gets together, how do you begin, what do you say and what do you do and who says what and whatever it is so this way we figured if there’s someone that went through this loss and they need support and there isn’t enough support in their town or community then they could start their own support group if they feel like they have the ability because it’s all here. Then it’s divided into twelve different sections and under each section, it has a few different writings. A lot of it is mine. I worked together with someone else, Mrs. Ruchy Rosenfeld and then we gathered a lot of articles from past publications over the past many years. The topics are exactly like that, like celebrating Yom Tov without our parents and making a simchah and finding the hope and finding the joy. These are some of the topics that are in the book.

After each reading, there’s question that are very self-introspective. When a person sits down and really is able to honestly answer the questions, it makes them learn about themselves. It makes them realize some things that maybe they didn’t realize before and it came out and baruch Hashem we have gotten very positive feedback from it.

After it was out for a while and we got the feedback, I said okay, one second. I was only able to write the articles that I wrote and I was only able to write those self-introspective questions because this is work that I did. Almost all these questions, I think there was one time that I said, “Hmm I don’t know if I could answer that question.” But really all the questions I’m able to answer and that’s because I did a lot of work on myself. When someone said, “Hmm I think you should speak on Chazak” pretty recently someone said that to me. I said okay. Maybe I really do have what to offer. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking that I really never worked on myself and I don’t know what to say. That is what made me come and speak on this hotline today.

I hope though that it was helpful to at least some people. I hope that it’s able to be mechazek some people and if anyone is able to gain any chizuk from this and able to make any changes because of this, then it should be an aliyas neshamah for my parents and my siblings and we should have no more suffering in Klal Yisrael and only simchos. Thank you so much.

My Father

לעילוי נשמת אליהו בן שמואל יעקב
כ”ט ניסן תשס”ט

Remembering My Father
My father was a real family man. He loved when yom tov came around and his married children overran his home. The madness of everyone squished together gave him only pleasure. He especially loved giving each and every one of his children and grandchildren a berachah on Friday night. Each son-in-law became a son, and each child was a precious gem.
My father was a working man. He had a store and put many hours into his work. He was also a man who always had a joke to share. Wherever he went, whomever he spoke to, he always had something funny to say. He wasn’t a great rav or a rebbi. He wasn’t a rosh yeshivah or a rosh kollel. He wasn’t a big askan or a big leader. Yet, he could never be called simple. He wasn’t just a balabus. He was a simple person on the outside, and a person full of tochen on the inside. He was someone who constantly worked on himself and grew closer and closer to Hashem as a result. When a nisayon came his way, he took it and grew from it. He changed himself because of it. We could never praise him when we saw something great in him. He was too humble. He didn’t think there was anything to talk about and loathed the praise. He didn’t need people to see his growth. Everything about him was very low-key.
At one point when he was unemployed he spent his mornings learning. He loved finally having the time to do this and was hoping to finish all of Shas. Although he could have chosen to do this in a shul or bais medrash, he chose to learn at home. No one had to know that he spent all

of his time learning.
How typical of him to be niftar in Nissan when we couldn’t say hespedim. There was so much to say, but it all had to be toned down. But my father had a zechus that most niftarim don’t have. A few minutes after he was niftar, Radio Kol Berama in Lakewood played a speech by Rabbi Peysach Krohn; in his talk, he shared some divrei Torah from my father, as countless people tuned in. Could it be he was zoche to such a thing because of the high madreigah he was on? As R’ Dovid Goldberg, the Rosh Yeshiva from Telshe Cleveland said, “He didn’t just say the ani ma’amins; he was the ani ma’amins. He learned them and lived them.”
As a little girl, I loved waking up on Shabbos mornings to the sound of my father’s voice learning. As an adult I am really able to appreciate all the time he spent learning, especially the mishnayos he learned to make a siyum in time for my brother Chesky’s yahrtzeit.
As a little girl, I marveled at his kibbud av v’eim. When Zaydie called for him, he ran to pick up the phone, no matter how busy he was. As an adult I realize I never knew the true extent of his kibbud av v’eim. I only found out after his petirah how he drove Zaydie each morning to shul, how he decided whether the weather was good enough for him to go out or if he should encourage him to daven at home, and how he always showed up at his house on Friday afternoon to make sure everything was ready for Shabbos.
As a young child I didn’t appreciate how he always wanted us home for Shabbos seudos and would be upset if we ate at a friend’s house. As an adult I realize how lucky we are to have had such a strong, loving relationship.
As a young girl I didn’t appreciate the stability in our home. B”H, I had two parents and siblings. This meant we were a normal family. As an adult I can appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in a healthy home permeated with love.
As a young girl I didn’t know to be happy that my parents didn’t fight with each other. As an adult I know how fortunate I am to have had parents who had shalom bayis and always displayed concern for one another.
As a young kallah, I thought it only natural for my father to accept my chassan as his son. As a married woman I understand how lucky we are that each son-in-law became a son and that they in turn looked at my father like another father. He never judged and always accepted each person despite his/her shortcomings. Maybe that is the reason he stayed so close to his children. Maybe that is why to so many people he was a favorite uncle, and why so many people gravitated to our house.
As a teenager I knew there was no way to understand my father’s pain at losing his only son. As a mother, I realize I could never begin to understand the searing pain that he experienced.
However, I think I was able to appreciate how he took such a painful experience and grew from it. He asked, he learned and he changed. Many people mentioned at the shivah that they remembered my father’s hesped for Chesky. They remembered how he took something so painful, and through his tears he was mechazeik and continued to be mechazeik his family for the next eleven years. Our family knew of the many different nisyanos that came his way. Our family also saw his pain and fear. But our family saw how he grew closer and closer to Hashem. It was like climbing a ladder. He started off on one of the lower rungs and climbed and climbed one step at a time, until he was on the highest step – so, so close to Hashem.
He didn’t bury his pain. He faced it, he grabbed it and he became better from it. Each Succos we saw his hurt as he relived Chesky’s last Succos, two weeks before he was niftar. But despite his pain he made coming home so enjoyable and fun. We laughed at his predictability. We rolled our eyes at his corny jokes, and we groaned at his idiosyncrasies, such as comments about the garbage can that filled up too quickly.
The children coined the name “Funny Zaydie” as soon as they learned how to talk. They called him this because that is what he was to them. He joked with them, he played with them and he laughed with them. Funny Zaydie had a place in their hearts that no other Zaidy can have.
On the other hand, we knew whom to call when we were down and in need of chizuk. We reached out to our father who had a depth to him that not many could match. With wisdom that only life’s experience can bring, my father was able to encourage us and countless others.
Before the levayah my husband asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted him to say in his speech. I responded, “Everyone knows my father as someone who is funny and always had a joke. But he was such an anav. Tell the world who he really was. Tell everyone about his unwavering trust through so many hardships because they don’t know.”
But I see how wrong I was!
The deep void of losing this special person is felt by so many people. Nephews we never knew he had a relationship with. Brothers and sisters-in-law who were so different from him. And friends who couldn’t walk into the house without crying. All these testify to the fact that many people did realize his tochen. Yes, wherever he went he brought laughter.
Yet, people realized he wasn’t just a man who loved a good piece of cake and a good joke. He was a man who always aspired to be more. People realized that his davening took longer than most because he really had the connection that we all crave. People realized that they could ask him for money from the Zichron Tzedakah Fund that was set up l’iluy nishmas my brother because he would help out quietly and discreetly. People realized that they could do business with him without any contracts because honesty would always come first. Yes, friends and relatives all over knew him and realized who he was. And the pain of losing him is so strong and so deep.
When my son Yecheskil was born, it brought some nechamah to my father for the loss of his son. Right from the beginning, my father introduced him to Chesky’s tefillin and Chesky’s bike. He talked to him about the day that he would be old enough to inherit Chesky’s prized possessions. But my father wasn’t here anymore to give my son his only son’s tefillin. He wouldn’t be there for any grandson’s bar mitzvah.
We always enjoyed a close relationship with my grandparents, and of course I thought our children were going to enjoy that type of relationship with my parents – forever. But during shivah, Yecheskil, then a third grader, started learning mishnayos, and he couldn’t share the news with his Zaydie. Moishy and Dovy had just started getting to really know their Zaydie over the Pesach that had just passed, and now that relationship is over – forever.
People trying to be menachem us said, “At least you have good memories to hold onto.” But I wanted to shake them. Didn’t they realize my father is too young to be a memory?! We – his children – were too young to be without a father and Mommy was too young to be a widow. Our children were babies. He couldn’t just be a memory. We needed him to be here as a proud father and grandfather.
No, we determined that he will not just be a memory to us. He kept Chesky alive for us in our hearts and our minds, and we will always keep my father alive in our hearts and minds. We talk about him, share his jokes and his divrei Torah. We comment on what he liked and disliked. We bring him into our homes and families’ lives by saying what Zaydie would have said and done.
As we talk more and more about my father, my children will get to know who Zaydie was. He was an easygoing person who was so, so close to Hashem. He was a tzaddik and someone to emulate for all posterity.
And as painful as this is for us, we must do what my father would have done. We have to take the pain and grow from it. We have to grab this hurt and become closer to Hashem from it. It seems almost impossible. But we have my father’s actions to lead us, and we will try to follow.

Do You Know Who You Are?

Do you remember that girl in your class who was really pretty, whose hair was always perfect? Did you compare yourself to her and feel ugly? How about the girl who always had a witty response? Did being around her make you feel as if you were just so dull?  Do you still find yourself thinking like that? Does your super-clean sister-in-law make you feel like an incompetent housekeeper or your stay-at-home neighbor make you feel like an incompetent mother? Do you ever feel that you are boring, that you always mess things up, that you’re not so smart or talented or just a complete failure?
Guess what? You are normal. Probably many of the people you think are better than you look at others and also feel inferior in some way. It’s almost as if this is a mandatory qualification for being a woman.
I know a tenth grader who is on top of her class academically. She has a wonderful personality and lots of friends, and her middos are extolled by many of her teachers. Yet when I asked her why a teen who has everything going for her would have low self-esteem, she looked at me as if I was crazy and answered, “Isn’t it obvious why?”
Low self-esteem doesn’t stay behind in a classroom. If it isn’t worked on, it follows us straight into the workforce, marriage and motherhood.  But no matter our stage in life, it’s never too late to work on improving the way we feel about ourselves.
In פרקי אבות, פרק ב: משנה ו, it says, “.ולא הבישן לומד” What does this mean? One can’t learn because of embarrassment? Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski writes that if a person has a question in learning but won’t ask because he feels that he should know it, or he must not be smart because no one else has this question, then he loses out on very important learning opportunities. How can a person learn if he always feels embarrassed? This is not a good embarrassment, nor is it humbleness. It comes from feeling bad about one’s self and the repercussions are not positive.
With these kinds of feelings it is hard to achieve anything. How can you accomplish if you always feel that if your ideas had merit someone else would have come up with them or that you’re just not capable of carrying them out? Nowhere in the Torah does it say that you should feel incompetent or unqualified. And as the Mishnah says, your shame will stop you from understanding, learning and accomplishing.
There is one kind of embarrassment that is praiseworthy. This comes from anivus, true humbleness, like Moshe Rabbeinu displayed. We all know that Moshe Rabbeinu was an ענו מכל אדם. Yet, Moshe was the leader of Klal Yisrael. He knew his strengths and used them for עבודת השם.
We are all mirrors reflecting tiny pieces of Hashem’s various middos. Therefore, we must be careful to acknowledge when a talent exists within us. It is not egotistical to know that you are a great organizer, a wonderful listener, a talented party planner or a very patient, loving mother. Rather, realize that you are a reflection of Hashem’s attributes. When we can acknowledge that the strengths we have are from Hashem and we are ready to use them for our own growth or for the sake of those around us, then we are acting in a G-dly way. This is a positive kind of “embarrassment.”
So let’s say you are the typical mother and wife fighting those nasty voices in your head telling you that you aren’t good, that you are inferior to others. You don’t know how to handle this child’s issue. You aren’t sure that you are showing enough support to your husband. And maybe in general you are doing something wrong because your children almost never show responsibility. What are practical applications to help you like yourself?
You can know that like every living person, you are perfectly imperfect. Your flaws were given to you by Hashem, Who wrapped them all up together in a box for your life’s journey. (You can imagine what color your box is, the size of the box and whether it has a bow or not.)
Accept your limitations – they are from Hashem. But don’t become complacent about them. Work on them with Hashem. Ask Him to help you make changes to turn your negatives into positives. And don’t forget to recognize your strengths. Find them. Remind yourself every day about the qualities that are specific to you.
Talk back to your negative voices. You can tell them, “Listen here, Voice, I know you are trying to making me feel bad about my flaws. But guess what?  Everyone has flaws. I also have strengths. That’s what I am trying to focus on. So you can keep telling me that I am not good enough, but I will keep telling you about all my strong points.”
Consider the following quote: “It’s not what you are that is holding you back, but rather, what you think you are not.”
Learn what you are so that you can use your kochos fully.
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here in revised form, with permission.

Regular Me

 

One day I stopped and said, “I was always plain ordinary me. I am just so regular. What happened? My life is not regular anymore.”

Regular is a very broad word. What is regular for me may not be regular for someone else. But I think that most people will agree that their vison of regular does not include sitting at the bedside of three family members, watching them die. My vision of regular did not include losing parents at such a young age. My vision of regular did not include going to a cemetery on a fairly regular basis.

My vision of regular was having my parents around for many years. My vison of regular was having my parents around as I raised my own children. My vison of regular was for all my siblings to get married and raise their own families. My vision of regular was to grow together even as we build our own families.

But regular seemed to forget about my family. At the young age of fourteen, my brother died from leukemia. At the time I thought this was our family’s big tragedy. From here on, it would be smooth sailing. I got married shortly afterward, and things were good. But one fine day my sister received a diagnosis of cancer. Three days later, my mother also did.

Over the next few years, I lived with constant fear. We were always waiting. Waiting for my mother’s scans and waiting for my sister’s test results. If one of their tests came back looking good, it didn’t mean that the other’s would. There were ups, there were downs. There was hope, and there was despair. There was anticipation, and there was dejection. There was courage, and there was faith.

But with all the faith we had, we couldn’t have ever possibly imagined that one night, in the middle of a relative’s chasunah, my father would have a massive heart attack and die. We were confused. We were davening so much for our mother and sister. So my father died? There wasn’t time to dwell on it. My sister was sick and withering away. We had to put all of our kochos into her refuah. Eight months later, she was nifteres, and eighteen months after that, we sat shivah for my mother.

After that shivah I realized I had no emergency to focus on anymore. There was no one sick and no distractions. It was time to look at myself – definitely something I didn’t want to do. It is so much easier to keep on running. I didn’t like who I had become. I was distracted and unfocused. I was sad and impatient.

And so began my own healing process. I had to learn that emotions are real. When I feel sad it is okay to feel it. I feel better when I accept my pain and don’t push it away.

I had to realize that guilt was harming me. I know I did what I could for both my mother and my sister. Guilt was telling me that I had lost out on opportunities. I had to make sure this guilt would not disrupt my wellbeing.

I had to learn how to open up more to my friends. They wanted to support me; I just needed to let them. I was very emotionally closed. To open up and let someone deep in to the most painful places was so scary. But to remain alone in my pain was even worse.

I had to work very hard on accepting that everything that happened was exactly the way Hashem wanted it to happen. I wasn’t in charge. I couldn’t have done things differently for a different outcome.

At times I still feel sad and lonely. I still wonder what it would be like if my whole family would be alive. I still feel the need to turn to my parents for so many different reasons. I miss my sister so, so much. I wonder what my brother’s wife would have been like and how many children they might have had.

My challenges have made it necessary to work on myself consistently and constantly.

It isn’t easy because I just want to be regular – normal. By now I have learned that I am normal, but my normal is different than the way I thought it would be. I am learning acceptance over and over again. The more I accept, the calmer I feel.

The pain of losing a parent at any age is very difficult. Because of my experiences I am able to help out others going through similar experiences. This is part of my regular. I always thought that I would have a different regular. But my life is just as it is supposed to be. Regular custom-made for me

My Bad Mood

My Bad Mood

It was simple. I was in a bad mood. I felt overwhelmed with too many things that had to be done. I was upset at some new challenges that had been placed before me. I felt incapable and incompetent. It all felt like too much for me. I wasn’t interested in new situations I’d have to deal with right now.

I wanted mundane. I wanted boring. Because I know that my mundane and boring isn’t mundane or boring. Exhaustion can definitely put me in that negative frame of mind, so I went to sleep, hoping I would wake up feeling better. But I didn’t. I woke up sunk in self-pity. I woke up in a rebellious mood. So do you know what I did? I rebelled. I thought, “Today I am angry. Today I am wondering why Hashem is giving me these challenges. Today I feel like I am not in the mood of today. You know what? I will be in a bad mood. I will feel angry. And I don’t even want to daven.

The next day, still in a slump, I called a friend. She actually was able to put a positive spin on all my distress. But I didn’t want to hear it. I was not ready to feel less pity for myself. So I called the next friend. We spoke it out. I told her all my anxieties and concerns. The more I talked, the better I felt. My friend totally got me. She related to my rebelliousness. She related to my anger. And she told me how she helps herself when she feels that way.

As the conversation was winding down I recapped how I can help myself. And then she said to me, “Don’t think you can do it by yourself. You need to ask Hashem to help you get out of this mood.” And I started laughing. Of course. What had I been I thinking? I got so caught up in the anger and negativity that I was feeling toward Hashem that I was pushing away the very One I needed to get me where I needed to go.   I forgot that Hashem is an all-encompassing, inescapable part of every area of my life. This includes my moods.

He has given me challenges, but He has given me the tools to deal with them. He has given me challenges, but He wants to help me. He hasn’t forsaken me. He gave me these challenges not to feel sorry for myself, but to reach out to him.

My circumstances didn’t change. There are situations in my life that are causing me a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear. But self-pity is futile.

Life is happening. There are stressors and pressures. There are anxieties and tensions. But sinking into self-pity is a choice I don’t want to make. I would rather choose to tell Hashem how I feel and to ask him to take away any feelings that are more harmful than good.

I think I needed that day or two to feel sorry for myself. I needed time to mope before tackling all this negativity inside of me. But now, with Hashem’s help, I am ready to get out of my slump and to keep on moving forward in a peaceful frame of mind.