Category Archives: Finding resilience

I Deserve It

 

Hello. My name is entitlement. And I am here to protect you. You see, you have been through a lot, and therefore it is important to know that yes, you deserve whatever it is that you may desire. You deserve it by virtue of what you have been through, and I am here to ensure that you know that. I know that there aren’t too many girls in your school or neighborhood who sat shivah for a parent. So if you feel the need for leniency from you teachers, then, yes, you should get it. You need an extra outfit, or a new pair of earrings – then go for it. Of course you should. After all, how many girls in your camp had to pack without their mother’s help? So make sure that you get whatever you want. If someone says something insensitive to you, it is okay to feel angry at that person and maybe even mumble nasty comments under your breath. After all, there aren’t that many girls who watched their parent wither away from sickness. No one has any right to say anything hurtful to you, even it was unintentional.
You want to know why I am qualified to talk this way. Simple. Because according to Webster’s, the definition of me is: the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).
And you deserve it. So I am making sure that you know that. I am your friend who only wants you to be happy.

Have you ever had this voice of entitlement reverberating inside your head? Maybe it’s even there subconsciously, without you realizing it. It might be something that you don’t even want to admit, and you push it away.
But I think that I can introduce you to this “voice” because somewhere along the journey of my life, this friend that calls itself entitlement wormed its way into my head and heart. You see, I can tell you why I feel entitled.
If I would repeat the words that my sister’s friend said to me, you would agree that she is mentally unstable. How could anyone say such a thing? And yet she is very normal and said the most hurtful and untrue words. I know I am entitled to be angry at her forever.
If all my neighbors upgraded their kitchens, then shouldn’t I be able to do it as well? After all, I am the one who spends the most time there cooking, serving and cleaning up. And with all my hardships, I would think that at least I am entitled to what has become the norm in my neighborhood.
And if Hashem is still sending me hard situations after everything I have been through, can’t I say, “Hashem, it is enough. I don’t deserve this. I am entitled to only good things from now on.”
But one fine day, I turned to entitlement and I said, “Are you really helping me to be happier, or are you making me feel angry that my life isn’t perfect? And besides, why do you think that I am entitled to that perfect life? Yes, I know that I have been through challenges that most others haven’t been through. But it is what Hashem chose for me. Looking toward Hashem and asking Him for help in accepting the pain and to guide me in how to deal with it will bring me to a much happier place. Having entitled feelings will only keep me in my unsettled frame of mind.
You see, really, I believe in Hashem. And everything that happens is straight from Hashem. Even a person who is hurtful to me is only the shaliach of Hashem. So if Hashem gave me many painful nisyonos and then continues to put me in painful situations, it is because He knows what is best for me. It doesn’t make me entitled to anything. And staying angry or constantly running to keep up with everyone isn’t what will bring me to happiness.
In Pirkei Avos, perek gimmel,mishnah ches, it says “Ten lo mi’shelo she’ata v’shelcha shelo.” Rabbi Twerski explains that we should never feel resentment toward someone to whom we are giving tzedakah because we aren’t entitled to that money. When Hashem blesses someone with money, he is also being told to distribute it to those who need it. It isn’t all his to keep.
Each brachah that we have in our life is something Hashem in His kindness gave to us. He didn’t give it to us because we are entitled to it. He gave us lots of gifts because He loves us. We aren’t entitled to physical or mental health. We aren’t entitled to loving parents, looks or popularity. By recognizing that all these are gifts from Hashem, we can appreciate all the wonderful berachos He has given to us. And did He put me and you in some excruciating, painful situations? Yes. Does that make us entitled to now live on easy street? NO. Can we still feel happy? Yes. It’s a decision we can make. To decide to want to feel the happiness and accept what Hashem chose for us and to be grateful for the good that He gives us along the way.
And so I say to entitlement, “I am sorry. I do not want to be your friend. You are not here to make me happy. You are here to feed your own ego. I will not listen to you. I am ready to have a more serene existence. I will recognize that good. And I will recognize the challenges as something that Hashem has given to me to grow from. But entitled? Sorry, no room for that in my life. Bye-bye.”

This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here with permission.

Do I Live in La-La Land

 

248-968-8072.This was my phone number. For years. It was the number that I learned when I was old enough to learn about phone numbers. It was the number I gave out to my friends to call me. It was the number I called when I was in camp and seminary, and I needed to hear my parents’ voices. It was the number I called after I got married just to say hello, to ask for a recipe or to shmuess. It was the number I continued to call after my mother became a widow, and it was the number I called to see how she was doing when she was sick.
After my mother died there was no reason to call that number anymore. There would be no family members of mine answering the phone. So you might think me a little nuts, but I called it anyway. Sometimes it was because I needed to talk to my mother so badly that I simply had to call, even though logically I knew it made no sense; even though it went straight to the operator, who informed me, “This number is not in service,” I talked anyway. “Hi, Ma. So I really needed to talk to you and tell you what happened today….” And that annoying operator talked straight through my conversations.
Sometimes I had to call to see if that number had been appropriated to someone else. Because that number belongs to my family. And woe to anyone who might claim that number as their own. I will call that person and harass them. I will tell them that this is really my number. I will explain to them that this number belongs to me and my family, and I will beg them to ask the phone company for a new number. Okay, honestly, I wouldn’t do any of that stuff. What would I really do? I would probably call my sisters, and we would be sad together.
As time goes on, I do call less and less. So it was rather surprising when the other day I had that urge to call my mother. I went to the phone and started dialing. 248-96 and my finger almost pressed the 7 not the 8! That would be the number to my aunt, to whom I speak frequently. I couldn’t believe it. Is her number becoming more familiar to me then my own old number? I always dialed it by rote. I didn’t really think about it. Has “my rote” changed? The thought was sharply painful for me.
Then my brain kicked in. I thought, “What is rote?” Rote is doing something over and over again without even thinking about it. It is okay if the number I dialed by rote had changed. It isn’t a significant action that must be done with thought. I had to re-orient myself for a minute to put things in the proper perspective.
On the other hand, there are many things that must be done with thought that can so easily become rote. Davening, saying berachos, the way I talk, following clothing trends…. But dialing a phone number can become habit or not. It’s not important.
While driving the other day, the song והערב נא began playing. Every time I hear it touches something in me. As a mother of boys, I have my hopes.
I want my children to grow up to be those perfect adults. Adept at handling all of life’s challenges. Proficient in halachah. Capable in whichever area they work. The kindest husbands and the perfect fathers. Of course, I hope that regardless of the path they take, they become talmidei chachamim, ehrliche Yidden, true ovdei Hashem and big yerei Shamayim. In a word, I want them to be perfect.
With yeshivah and school now starting, my dreams have been reawakened. What will this year bring? Will this year’s rebbi be a good match for my child? Will it go smoothly or will there be many challenges? Each child is so different. But will this be the year that each one will reach that level of absolute perfection?
Do I live in La-La Land?
I know that there is no such thing as a perfect person. Even in my own children, perfection doesn’t exist. But how I hope that amongst the imperfections there will be ehrlichkeit, yiras Shamayim and ahavas Yisrael. Is there something that I can do to help make it happen? And can the answer please be an easy one?
The truth is, I don’t live in La-La Land. I know that there is no easy answer. The answer is about me, and it is truly a hard one. It is to teach by example. Live the way I want my children to be. Am I a good example? Is my life like dialing a deeply ingrained phone number? Do my days follow one another without much thought? Do I do everything out of habit, without any hislahavus?
We pass so much of who we are on to our children.
So I got thinking: “What have I learned from my parents and grandparents, and am I passing it down to my children?”
Some of the lessons that I learned from my father, and his father, are about staying on the straight and narrow path in all areas of halachah. I learned about honesty and integrity at all costs. I saw the importance of having a set time for learning and keeping to it, no matter what. I learned about having a close connection a rav or a rebbe.
And from my mother and her mother, I learned about tznius, vatranus and concern for others. I learned about the middah of giving and loving your family. And my mother showed us what chesed is. Quietly helping out others. I saw her working on her faith when facing crisis and remaining upbeat during challenging times.
There is a tapestry woven full of messages and morals for me. I have so many ways to make sure that I go through my day while being aware of what I am doing and making the day count.
Incorporating these lessons into my life on a daily basis will trickle down to my children. I know that this is what will help my children grow up to be, if not perfect people, true yirei Shamayim.

Finding My Wings

I hate bugs. I don’t know what it is about bugs, but they can send me into a frenzy. Maybe an ant I can handle; anything bigger or anything that flies? Forget it! As soon as I see them you’ll catch me scurrying away.
But there is a well-known number in my house: 800-LIVE-BUG. Have you ever heard of it? You can order all types of live creatures and watch them in their natural habitats. As a mother of insect-loving boys, I have put aside my fears and my feelings of disgust and let these creepy crawlers into my home. We have watched ants make anthills and ladybugs go through the cycles of growth. But I have found that the most fascinating bug cycle to watch is that of caterpillars becoming butterflies.
The really ugly-looking caterpillar arrives in a clear container and spends a week eating this brown goo. It then crawls to the top of the container and spins a chrysalis. And we watch. We watch as it doesn’t move for days. It actually seems dead – until one day everything starts to change. We can actually see wings through the chrysalis. And after another day or two, the creature starts pushing its way through. It isn’t easy work. We watch as it really struggles, sometimes literally bleeding from the effort. When it finally emerges, its wings are shriveled and fatigue overtakes it. The brand-new butterfly must rest from all its hard work. But after a short amount of time, the wings open up and are transformed with beautiful colors, and the butterfly starts flying around. It is hard to believe that that really ugly-looking creepy caterpillar was the same bug as this pretty insect (that’s not to say I won’t panic if it becomes loose and flies around my house!).
As the process was taking place not long ago on my kitchen counter, I wondered, Am I a butterfly? Actually, aren’t we all butterflies? Recently I spoke on the Chazak Hotline. I started off saying that a number of times I was told, “Oh you should speak on the Chazak Line.” And I thought to myself I know I have a big story. But I don’t know that I have anything to share. Have I really made changes? Have I really worked on myself? Am I a better person because of my many challenges? I don’t know. Let others speak. I don’t think I have what to offer.
Recently, I put together a book called Comfort, Courage, and Clarity, which is geared for adults who have lost a parent. There are twelve topics ranging from “Acceptance” to “Celebrating Simchos” to “Finding Hope.” It is a compilation of writings – some are mine and many are taken from other authors and publications. At the end of each article, I put in a bunch of introspective questions that aim to foster growth in a person.
One day after it was published I was hit with a realization. I couldn’t have done this if I hadn’t made changes myself. I think I can answer every one of those questions. And that is only because I was forced to look into myself and to make changes. So when it was suggested again that I speak I accepted.
As I watched the butterflies emerge I realized that we are all butterflies because no one goes through life without struggles. And most people become better because of their struggles. I don’t know what each person is struggling with or what they are doing to better themselves. But I do believe that as we struggle, we are learning how to spread our wings, become better people and reach the heights that Hashem wants from us.
So, am I a butterfly or a butterfly wannabe?
I think both. I hope like that struggling butterfly, my struggles have forced me to change for the better. But I still have more changes to make. Unlike a butterfly that has reached its peak of prettiness once its struggle is complete, I have to continue struggling to make changes that will beautify me even more.
So maybe I am a butterfly but also a butterfly wannabe.

Finding Hope

Recently I was talking to a few friends, and the conversation turned to the word hope and its definition. I realized that for me the definition of hope is recognizing that regardless of what comes my way, I can be okay. I might have to work through the emotions of sadness, anger fear… but at the end I can be okay.

A few weeks before my mother died, she called me up. She had just gotten off the phone from the doctor. He had said to her, “I will do my best, but the cancer is all over. I don’t think that there is much I can do.”

She was scared, and she was devastated. She really didn’t want to die. I was on the way out to the grocery store when she called me up with this bitter news.

Once again I was left holding the phone, wondering how I was supposed to know what to say to my mother who was young, who wanted to live, but had just been given a death sentence. I answered something that was probably not so appropriate, but I had nothing better so say. “Ma,” I said, “you have three up there and three down here. Why are you so afraid to die?”

She answered and said, “I am not so afraid to die. I just feel so bad for the three of you down here.”

In her fear and in her pain she was focusing on how the three of us down here, still in this world, and her concern for us. She knew that we would be immensely affected by her passing. She knew that we would suffer terrible pangs of loss. She knew that continuing onward would be a painful journey for us.

Today I wish I could continue that conversation with her. I would tell her that yes, her absence and my father’s absence have left a terrible void in me. I feel bereft and lonely. I feel as if I am left without guidance. I miss them on a daily basis and even more so when there is a simchah or a yom tov.

But I yearn so deeply to continue the conversation with her.  I long to tell her how much she and my father have given me. Although I constantly mourn their absence, they haven’t left us with nothing. It is from them that I learned that we can go on, even with pain. We can go onward and feel joyful despite the pain that can arise at any given moment.  They left us with the gift of continuing onward. They have left us with the gift of hope.

What Does Hashem Want from Me Now? Learning to Let Go

I had called Esti on her office line on that Tuesday afternoon. Oftentimes when she was at work she didn’t answer the phone. It meant that she was probably in a meeting. During the workday she never answered her cell phone. So it didn’t make much sense that I even tried calling her on that phone. But what made even less sense was that she answered.

“Esti,” I said, “why are you answering this phone? How come you’re not at work? Is everything okay?” And Esti, with her typical dry humor responded, “No, how did you hear already? I’m at the hospital. I just found out that my cancer came back.”

Looking back, I can tell you that I was very, very scared. But I think I became numb, and this helped me to continue functioning. She had made the decision not to tell my parents anything until she met with the doctor and had more details of her treatment plan. It was a very hard week for me. I was nervous and scared, and it was hard to pretend with my mother that everything was fine and normal.

By the time Friday rolled around, I was exhausted. I wanted to bench licht, plop on the couch and fall asleep. All I wanted was to run away from this nightmare. So when my mother called me close to Shabbos, I decided not to answer her call. I simply wasn’t in the mood of talking. But her message went something like this, “Miriam, I know you are busy. But this is an emergency. I must speak to you right away. Call me when you get this message.”

So I lunged for the phone and said, “Ma, is everything okay. What is going on?” And she responded, “Miriam, I don’t know how to say this. But I just came back from the doctor. I found out that I have cancer.”

The doctors were afraid that it had spread to her lungs. She was overpowered with fear as she awaited the results. Each time I spoke to her, I heard the fear in her voice. I felt so bad for her. And yet I knew something that she didn’t know yet. I knew something that would be even harder for her to deal with. I knew that my sister Esti had a really bad diagnosis, and it was going to devastate her.

Shushan Purim that year was the day of Esti’s appointment. Together we sat in a sterile, white, eerily silent room in Sloan Kettering. After what seemed like an endless wait, the doctor walked in. “Is this terminal?” she asked. “Am I going to die?” And without missing a beat he responded, “I never saw anyone live more than five years with this.”

I came home sad, scared and devastated. I wasn’t home too long when my mother called. And she sounded good. Really good. She was so relieved. She had just gotten back her results. No, it hadn’t spread to her lungs, and it looked like she would be okay! Although I was so happy for her, I couldn’t help but think, Ma, you have no idea what kind of phone call you are getting tonight.

It wasn’t too much later that she called me up hysterical. In a panicky voice her words burst forth, “Miriam, is Esti going to die? Am I going to lose another child?” I remember holding the phone and thinking, I am only 28 years old. How in the world am I supposed to know how to answer such a question?

But at that moment I made a decision. I decided that I would do whatever I possibly could to ease as much pain as possible. I will do anything I can to bring a little more comfort to my sick family members. I didn’t realize it, but essentially I was saying, “Hashem, I will let you have control of my life up until a certain point. I don’t much like what you have given me until now. So you can still control my life a little bit. But I will take over the rest. Because I need to make sure that my mother and sister have as little suffering as possible, and I trust myself more than I trust You.

There are many examples of where this attitude came in to play.

Whenever Esti had an emergency, she had an amazing support system of friends and relatives that would be by her side in seconds. But I was stuck feeling helpless in Lakewood. I needed to feel as if I was in control. So in a frenzied state I would call this friend and that relative. I had to feel like I was doing something, when in reality there was nothing I could do. The most beneficial thing would have been for me to daven. But I was so worked up, I couldn’t even sit still to daven. I had to take action to feel as if I could make a difference.

Shortly after she got married, she confided to me her desire for just one baby. “I know I can’t have a big family,” she said. And then her voce turned pleading, “But I wish I could have just one child of my own.” Immediately I went into high-speed doing mode. I called A Time and Bonei Olam for her. I wanted to get the process going – to see what I could do to help Esti have that baby.

Most sisters would make that initial phone call to help out a sick sister. There was nothing wrong with the fact that I wanted to help her out. The problem was that I “forgot” that Hashem is in charge. My mindset was what I could do. This is up to me. Once again my anxiety to provide her with a solution prevented me from davening.

My mother was in the hands of a really capable and caring doctor. One day he came to my mother with the news that he had accepted a job out of state. My mother asked him which doctor from the practice he would recommend for her to use going forward. He mentioned one doctor’s name, and that doctor became my mother’s new doctor.

But he was not a good doctor. He didn’t care. He didn’t invest enough of himself into his patients. And my mother started deteriorating under his care. It took a while until we realized that this doctor wasn’t doing enough for my mother. His cavalier attitude really seemed to be hindering my mother’s recovery. One day it hit me with a jolt that this doctor was not working. I said, “Ma, why are you still using this doctor?  Let’s switch.” We did research, and my mother switched to a different doctor who practiced out of a different hospital.

After my mother’s petirah, I was left with such anger at myself. I thought that if I would have taken action earlier and my mother would have switched doctors sooner, then maybe she would have lived a few more months. I berated and scolded myself over and over again. I forgot that death is not in my hands, but in the hands of Hashem.

My mother was really not well. Someone had to go be with her. My sisters had both gone recently, and now it was my turn. I flew in and went straight from the airport to the hospital. I stayed there with her that night. The next day I was with her most of the day, only leaving to care for my baby.  The following night I stayed with her again. I fell asleep sitting up in a chair right next to her bed.

Beach Lessons

A few summers ago a friend called me up with what I thought was a preposterous idea. She wanted me to take a morning off and go with her to the beach. My morning schedule rose before my eyes. After the kids are off I need to clean up the bedrooms, clear up from breakfast, wash laundry, take care of some bills and phone calls, run a few errands, start preparing supper, etc.

For me it simply made no sense. There was no way I could just take a morning off. And then I stopped myself and thought it over. I work hard. Each day is a full day, centered on my family and their needs. Isn’t it okay to take some time for myself?

Suddenly I had visions of a beautiful sunny sky. Sparkling blue water and waves crashing at the shore. And I would be there by myself. At a private beach. With just myself and my friend.  No children going too far out, no toddler moaning because of an overturned sand castle and no baby crying for his bottle. This would be a vacation for me. A onetime, three-hour vacation. I decided to go for it.

And so the next morning I waved a cheery goodbye to my older children, dropped off the younger ones, and then I was ready for my well-deserved break. I quickly threw together my bathing cap, towel and water bottle, and we were off.

I felt like a young child as we parked the car and ran into the sand. It felt delicious to have the warm sand between our toes. We laughed and giggled as we came closer to the water. And like carefree children we shrieked in delight as we jumped into the crashing waves.

At first I felt a little intimidated by those large waves and hung back closer to the shore. I watched and admired my friend’s fearlessness as she gracefully jumped into each wave. Determined to make the most of my well-deserved break, I caught up to her and commented on her bravery for jumping into these large roaring waves. She laughingly replied that there is no need to fear; you just have to decide if you will let the wave ride you or if you will ride the wave. And then she jumped right into the oncoming wave.

For me the light moment suddenly took a more serious turn. How right she was. But not just about the waves in the ocean – also about the waves in our lives. We all have those bad days, those difficult moments and painful revelations.  It is so easy to sink into self-pity; it’s so easy to moan and groan about life’s unfairness. But it’s at such moments that we have to take an honest look at ourselves and ask, “What does Hashem want from me now?” It is at moments like these that we must draw strength from our realization that everything is from Hashem. If we trust in Him and do what we know He wants us to do, then we are not letting life’s waves ride us, but rather, we are riding the waves.

In between bobbing in and out of the waves I shared this thought with my friend. Before she could respond she went back down and under that strong, strong surf, only to resurface a moment later.

When she came up again, she laughingly said, “You see? At times you think you are going under, but you always come right back up.”

How true! Don’t we all feel like we are drowning sometimes? Aren’t we all familiar with that feeling of suffocation when painful waves of challenge overcome us? But as believing Jews, we are resilient. As long as we look inward, we are riding the waves, and we will come back up.

We continued frolicking in the ocean a little longer. We then came out and lay under the sun’s warm rays. We were peacefully relaxing as the seagulls flew around us, and once again I thought of Hashem’s strength. Only nine months before, Hurricane Sandy had rolled in, and these waves had turned ferocious, destroying almost everything in their path. Today the beach was a safe place to be. Today the sun was shining and beautiful. But Hashem could have just as easily made the weather cloudy and rainy, keeping us indoors. It really is true. We need to draw strength from Him because He can make anything happen. He can change difficult situations instantly.

We got home, and I went straight back to the mundane. But I felt light and invigorated. This vacation had done me good – in more ways than one.