Monday, January 26, 2015

In Loving Memory of Meyer Millman

Today marks the 17th anniversary of my father's death. Serendipitous that my brother Bruce was over yesterday to look through the boxes of army memorabilia that Dad had saved. Sifting through the boxes of photos and postcards from every city he served in, letters (in triplicate) of every order he received or authorized, army-issued books and maps, and even telegrams to our mother, gave us a glimpse of the man he was and the father he was to become.

Coincidently, two days ago I also came across the eulogy I had given at his funeral. I am proud to remember him here, again with those words:

Though a communicator by profession, how hard it is for me to stand up here and convey to you my love for my father and what made him a very special person.

The consummate educator, he taught me many things that have guided and shaped my life and how, hopefully, shape the lives of his grandchildren.

He taught me to be passionate about work, for he truly put his heart and soul into his job. He was dedicated to his students, to his teachers, and to his building.

An honorable man, he taught me right from wrong. His ethics were grounded in his Jewish background and his love of Judaism—which he passed along to me.

He taught me that family comes first. There was always time for us, even after a long day's fight with the district office.

He also taught me that:

  • Money doesn't grown on trees;
  • We don't own the utility company;
  • I wasn't born in a barn;
  • If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right;
  • I could be anything I wanted...though he advised me against being a teacher...but I have to work hard to get what I wanted.
I would like to read from Psalm 15, which describes the character of a man worthy to come into the presence of God. I think my father was such.

Adonai, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?
Who shall dwell upon thy holy mountain?

He that walks uprightly, and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart.
That has no slander upon his tongue,
Nor does evil to his fellow,
Nor makes a false charge against his neighbor.
In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
But he honors them that fear Adonai.
He keeps his promise at all costs, and changes not.
He that lends not his money on interest,
Nor takes a bribe to injure the innocent.
He that does these things shall never be moved.

He was a supportive and good husband; a loving father and grandfather. I still miss his calm demeanor, his warm embrace, and his wry (and sometimes dirty) sense of humor. 

Pops, I love you.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Looking Forward to The New Year

Doug and I were fortunate to usher in 2015 singing and dancing with friends at Maggianos—a different experience, to be sure, which hopefully augurs a different and promising new year.

The last few years we have been focused on taking care of parents, on illness, on death and mourning. We've experienced a lot of losses, including both our mothers, one of our dearest friends, and a childhood home. As we've closed out our parents' estates, we've had to get rid of objects that bring back many memories of better times; the good news is that we've also learned that a lot of those "things" are merely that—just stuff. I don't think either of us ever truly appreciated the value of our temple's bazaar, Goodwill, and Craig's list prior to this last year. And how wonderful that our children are now of an age to have apartments of their own; it's quite liberating to get rid of our "crap" and pass it along to them!

Sadly during the last few years, we've had to neglect some of our friends, our home and yard, and even ourselves. There are friends who have taken us off of speed dial, if not deleted us completely from their devices. Perhaps our deletion felt as liberating to them as our getting rid of stuff was to us! I can only hope so. We do, however, regret that we are no longer part of their lives. It's easy to let go of things, not so much people.

Hobbies over the last few years have gone by the wayside. While Doug has continued to play tennis, and I have continued with my book club (thank you my dear ladies for keeping me sane!), I think we both have misplaced some of our passions about other interests.

So as we start 2015, I think we are both ready to shred our shrouds and don brighter colors and, more importantly, refocus on those areas of our lives we have neglected. As a friend (depressingly) reminded me on New Year's Eve, we only 20-40 years left. So, we'd better make each day count.

I'm not big on new year's resolutions (mostly because I seem to break them and/or forget about them by day 2), but I am big about thinking about what my future might look like and what changes need to be made to get closer to that dream.

As a first step, we are changing our environment. Those who know me well know that I have been talking about renovating our kitchen for at least 10 years. We learned (from the same wise friend who reminded me on New Year's Eve about living in the moment) that when you renovate you should work from the top down. If you've been to our house, you also know that our lovely pink bathroom (original to our 1960s home), which is right over our kitchen, is in desperate need of a redo. And, as long as we have a contractor coming in, we might as well fix the den...right?...which has cracked floor tiles held together with clear packing tape, sliding doors with gel leaves on them so no one walks through the glass, and early American-style built-in bookcases (UGLY).

The most exciting part of the renovation will be the installation of a pocket door that will contain a stained glass door from my mother's house. That door holds a lot of memories, and I am happy that our entire family (and friends) will be able to continue enjoying it.

More changes to come—outward and inward. I am, indeed, looking forward to 2015!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jacob Set a Pillar Upon Rachel's Grave: Genesis 35:20


Yesterday was my mother's unveiling. While it should have been done before her first yarzheit, I delayed. I jokingly (well, not totally) told my sister-in-law Lorrie that I was still holding out hope that mom would suddenly reappear. But alas, she did not. At least not in her physical form.

She appears daily, however, in my memories. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of her, though my thoughts are less focused on the last year of her life and the difficulties she had and are more focused on better times. I remember her lessons and advice, some as unwanted as I'm sure my own is to my children. Others more welcome as I struggled with something that I knew she would have the solution to.

I remember her singing, especially I Just Called To Say I Love You by Stevie Wonder, which she would sing every time she called and spoke to Russell. I had wanted to play it at the unveiling, but Bruce thought it was hokey. So, couldn't resist here.

And I remember one of her last pieces of advice...which came in the form of a poem she brought home a few years ago from a friend's funeral. Apparently the poem has been shared at many a funeral, since a Google search turns up more than 2 million results for it. She told me she liked the message: that the living should go on living.

I'm Free
Don't grieve for me, from pain I'm free
I'm following the path
God has laid you see.
I took his hand when I heard his call,
I turned around and left it all.
I could not stay for another day,
To laugh, to love, to work, or play.
Task left undone must stay that way
I found peace on a sunny day.
If my parting has left a void
Then veil it now with remembered joys.
A family shared, a laugh, a kiss
Oh yes, these things I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow.
I wish for you sunshine of tomorrow.
My life's been full; I savored much
Good family, good times
A loved one's touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief
Don't lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and peace to thee
God wanted me now
From pain I'm free.

So yesterday, we dedicated a footstone in honor of my mother, Garie Solomon Millman.

May we think of her tenderly and revere her memory. May we devote ourselves wholeheartedly to our chosen tasks for her sake. Thus will our beloved mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, be recalled...and live every day.

And even though she has left our midst, we know she will never leave our hearts, where her memory will endure as a blessing forever.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Words of Love...Though Not the Last


My beloved mother passed away three months today. I go back over events of the last year...the last months... and ask myself if I could have done anything better? Could I have prevented/delayed what happened? Could I have made her last months and days any easier? Did I tell her enough that I love her? In my head, I know I did all these things. In my heart, I still ask the questions. And while I still cry, every day it's a little less.

I was quite moved by the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and clients. Their notes and phone calls were comforting and reassuring. I was baffled by friends and family, even clergy, I never heard from. My mother would not have been surprised and would have excused them and moved on; she would forgive, but she would not forget. I try to mirror her behavior. I was even more touched, however, by the outreach from strangers. Their kind words have touched me, and in a short period of time have changed my own behavior towards others.

Several of us spoke at my mother's funeral. It was interesting that while Russell, Noemi, and Avi (three of her four grandchildren) remembered different things about their grandmother, the underlying theme was the same...she was a proud and independent spirit, who wanted them to be the same. Here's what I said at her funeral.

*****

My mother would be so pleased with all the people here in her honor today. Just as she touched your lives, you all touched hers. If the funeral home had let us, we would have passed around some whiskey sours and toasted her in Garie style. Instead, we will toast her 93 years with words only.

It’s difficult to sum up my mother because she lived life to the fullest. In many ways, she was a Renaissance woman. She was a science teacher who could dissect a frog, but would scream for my father if a spider or bug were in the house. She was an artist who didn’t like the colors orange and brown. She played the violin, she danced, and she sang…all the time. She was an athlete who excelled at volleyball and swimming and was the shortest member of her high school basketball team. She was a financier, who helped the economy of our country with her endless shopping. And despite the rumors, it’s only a coincidence that the economy tanked four years ago when she got ill.

A teacher, my mother has taught me my whole life. Even in these last few years of her decline, she taught me much about living. I had started a blog to capture those lessons. Here are excerpts from one entry, which stands out more than the others.

I remember many trips to shopping malls, antique stores, and flea markets as a youngster. My mother once told me that she liked to acquire “stuff,” because as a child she didn't have much. She talked about a doll that she and her two sisters had to share, making its bed in a shoebox with clothes fashioned out of scraps of material that my grandfather, a tailor, brought home.

But in all her acquisitions, I only remember a few things that she actually searched out—a white wicker rocker, a glass and silver match striker, and an antique cranberry glass pitcher.

For many years, she used that pitcher at holiday dinners, putting milk in for the coffee drinkers. When I was about 15, she delegated the task of filling the pitcher to me. The memory is still vivid. As I poured the milk into the pitcher, I heard a noise, and then noticed a huge crack near its bottom. I was devastated. She had searched many years for that antique; it was one of her joys; and in one instant, I had destroyed it.

Though upset herself, she tried very hard to console me, claiming blame for the crack. “I am a science teacher,” she said. “I should know that if you pour cold milk into a warm pitcher, the glass will expand...and crack.”

Then the teaching moment: “Besides,” she added, “things aren't that important; people are important.”

And THAT is her legacy—that people are more important than things. She made friends everywhere she went, as witnessed by all of you in this room. She loved talking to people and being with people. She was a devoted daughter to my grandmother, a loving wife to my father. Her sisters Miriam and Helen were her friends, and her machatunim Marilyn and Matilda were her sisters. My brother and I were not her only children. As soon as Bruce married Lorrie, and I married Doug, she would say “I have two sons and two daughters.”

When rummaging through her drawers the other day, Bruce and I came across a sealed envelope, which she had put together in 1967 before a trip to Mexico. It would be her second time on an airplane, and apparently she was worried that it might go down. She left several sealed envelopes—one each for her two sisters, one for her dear friends Edythe and Sig, and one for Bruce and me.

Here is her final lesson:

Dear Children:
Remember to have a good sense of humor and to be honest and courageous. Remember to love each other and to always keep close, even though you will raise beautiful families of your own. Remember ALL the family and try to patch up any misunderstandings. Remember that we tried to do our best and that we both love you very much.

She certainly did her best.


Friday, April 26, 2013

I Ran Away From Home and Joined the Navy


 While in Florida for spring break with Perri, we visited my Aunt Helen for lunch. Three years younger than my mother and now a spry 90-year-old, she still complains about being the middle child and the "abuse" she suffered as a youngster at the hands of my mother (the eldest) and her youngest sister, Miriam.

Aunt Helen, 1943
Pensacola, Florida
"I had a terrible temper when I was younger," she told me and Perri. She relayed the story about being teased by the other two while they were all cleaning the house. "I got so angry at them that I threw a chair and broke the leg. Of course, Garie told on me and I got in trouble."

As the eldest, my mother (Garie) was the only one who got the opportunity to go to college. Aunt Helen decided she had enough of being picked on. "I decided to run away from home and join the Navy. When I told my parents, they said I couldn't do that, but I told them I was 21 and I could. Nana said they would never take me because I had crooked teeth." But after a physical exam, she was, indeed, accepted and was stationed in Pensacola, Florida.

"I was trained to work with the pilots who photographed strategic positions during the war. I also did secretarial work and wrote training manuals. One time, my boss brought another officer into the room to show him how fast I could type. The other officer said that when I finished my tour with the Navy that I should contact him, that he had a job for me. It turned out he was a professor at Princeton. But when I got out, I never contacted him. I wonder what would have happened. Maybe my life would have been different." 

Aunt Helen in her dress blues, 1943
"Do you still have your uniform?" Perri and I asked. "No, when we got out I was so glad to get rid of it and not have to wear it again." She told us of wearing her dress blues for special occasions, while most of the other girls wore dress whites. "I couldn't afford the whites," she said. "My parents saw a picture of me in the blues, while almost everyone else was in whites, and asked why I wasn't in white. I told them that I couldn't afford the whites."

A few weeks later, she said, a package arrived from up North. In it was a white uniform that her father (a tailor) sewed. "He did all that for me without even having me there to measure anything out," she reminisced. "I was very close to my father."

Aunt Helen always wanted to go to college, but thought she never could because she didn't have the high school language and science requirements. "Because I was a veteran, however, they accepted me," she said. Unfortunately, she didn't enjoy her first round of classes so stopped. "I wonder what would have happened had I tried a different class, if I hadn't given in so quickly," she said. "Maybe my life would have been different."

Throughout the afternoon as Aunt Helen reminisced, she ended each story with "maybe my life would have been different if..." She's probably right; her life would have been different...if she had followed her passion, if she had not played it safe, it she had not chosen the path of least resistance, if....

So, the lesson here is to have no regrets. We can't go back and have do-overs. We can, however, choose to be daring, choose to try the road less travelled, choose to dream and go for it, choose to be happy with our paths in life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Creating An Age-Friendly America


I just received this press release and thought it worth sharing. We're all going in that direction. Hopefully when we get there, enough resources will be in place to help the growing aging population.

With America’s population aging fast, most communities still have work to do to become age-friendly – that is, great places to grow up and grow old. To accelerate efforts underway in five communities and to encourage others across the country, Community AGEnda, an initiative of Grantmakers In Aging (GIA) supported by the Pfizer Foundation, today released a set of important tools and resources to inform and inspire planners, philanthropies, and others seeking to build a more age-friendly future. These materials are available free online at www.GIAging.org/programs-events/community-agenda/community-agenda-resources.


The tools include Age-friendly Americaa searchable online database with contact information and background on more than 200 age-friendly projects; Age-Friendly Communities: The movement to create great places to grow up and grow old in America: An introduction for private and public fundersan overview of the goals and accomplishments in the field to date; and Aging Power Tools: A curated selection of resources to promote stronger, age-friendly communities, a robust collection of tools from top practitioners. 
Age-friendly communities: the value proposition
“We think that every community in America could benefit from this forward-looking approach,” said John Feather, PhD, CEO of Grantmakers In Aging. “For foundations and other funders looking for maximum long-term impact, it’s hard to beat age-friendly community development, which is highly collaborative, adaptable to diverse communities, and offers benefits for residents of all ages.”

“The aging of America represents a profound societal change that we’re living through right now,” said Caroline Roan, president of the Pfizer Foundation. “We believe it can present a great opportunity if we work together, take steps to become more age-friendly, and re-imagine how our communities can help us grow old with dignity, in the places we care about.”

What makes a community age-friendly?
Age-friendly initiatives take various forms but all share the goal of creating better options for people to age in place and continue contributing to their communities. This may involve improvements to the built environment, from planning and building safe outdoor spaces to creating affordable, accessible housing; or improving infrastructure, such as more walkable town centers or more accessible public transportation. Other age-friendly initiatives tackle social needs, creating engaging cultural and outdoor activities, services, and volunteering options.

With Americans living longer and 10,000 Boomers turning 65 every day, those over age 65 will make up 20 percent of the American population by the year 2030, making age-friendly innovation more needed than ever.

Community AGEnda sites and activities
In its first year, Community AGEnda supported five programs with grants of $150,000, requiring each grantee to raise matching funds of one-third or more of the value of the grant. Their age-friendly activities include:
  • In Miami-Dade County, Florida: collaborating with the county parks to serve older adults better, conducting a walkability study in East Little Havana, preparing the area’s employers to hire and retain more older adults, and working with Miami-Dade County to review and modify  planning policies related to transportation, housing, land use, and community design;
  • In four communities and two counties in the Atlanta metropolitan area: supporting community gardens, establishing a health and wellness promotion plan, conducting a walkability assessment, and hosting workshops about the need to create age-friendly communities;
  • In Maricopa County, Arizona: planning and implementing pilot programs using the Village model of membership-driven services and volunteerism to promote aging in community, producing a video on aging in place, and creating a new website to help “younger” older adults (ages 55-70) find the resources to age in place comfortably, safely, and affordably.
  • In Bloomington, Indiana: discussing development incentives to create an age- and ability-friendly Lifetime Community District; in Indianapolis, creating a conceptual illustration for the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood to highlight potential development opportunities; and in Huntington, Indiana, engaging stakeholders to focus on housing, transportation, and accessibility issues; and
  • In the greater Kansas City area: working to improve transportation and mobility options for older people in urban and surrounding suburban areas, raising awareness of caregiving issues and the need to tap into the expertise of older adults as community resources, and working with the First Suburbs Coalition to produce a toolkit to assist elected officials and planners in developing the capacity to assess and plan for an increased older adult population.  



For more information on the new Community AGEnda tools and resources, individual grantees, their projects, and their local funders, please visit GIAging.org/CommunityAGEnda.

About Grantmakers In Aging
Grantmakers In Aging (GIA) is an inclusive and responsive membership organization that is a national catalyst for philanthropy, with a common dedication to improving the experience of aging. GIA members have a shared recognition that a society that is better for older adults is a society that is better for people of all ages. For more information, please visit www.GIAging.org.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Learn To Fly


The journey begins...my second mother/daughter vacation with Perri, but oddly to my mother's condo in Florida. I wonder what wisdom will seep from the apartment walls from my mom to me to Perri. I hope that when Perri (and Russell) gets to be my age she will remember whatever lessons I am trying to impart, just as I now try to remember the multitude of dos and don'ts that my parents gave to me over the years.

Perri was on an earlier flight to Florida, flying solo from Boston, where we will meet up in West Palm Beach. Yet we insisted she keep in touch during critical steps of her journey. And so she did, texting to let us know the cabhad arrived (first text, 5:15 a.m.), that she arrived at the airport and was waiting to check her luggage (5:35 a.m.), that she made it through security and she bought a Starbucks ice caramel macchiato (6:19 a.m.), that she doesn't have (or forgot to pack) ankle socks for her sneakers (6:21 a.m.), that she's enjoying the sunrise view at the gate (6:33 a.m.), that she boarded her plane (7:20 a.m.), that she was turning her phone off (7:29 a.m.). Whew!

So how did my parents handle my flying solo to Israel in 1973 following the Yom Kippur War to volunteer on a kibbutz during my junior year of college? No cell phones, pay phones too expensive except for one collect call when I arrived in Lod Airport. I'm sure they were just as concerned about my safety, if not more so; it was right after a war, after all. Yet they freely let me go. The lesson: Let her fly! Literally and figuratively. And so I did.

I arrived at the bus station in Jerusalem just as the public transportation system was shutting down for Shabbat. I had no idea how to get to a high school friend's apartment (he, along with a few others I knew were there for junior year abroad). I had befriended a father and daughter on the bus (or rather, they befriended me), and they offered me a ride to the apartment, with a warning about stairway lights that go on only if you push the button at the bottom of the stairs (of course, they never told me about how to find the button in the dark!).

Somehow I managed. I managed (with the help from another friend, also there for her junior year abroad) to get from the volunteer office in Tel Aviv to the kibbutz in the Negev where I had been assigned for the month. I managed to survive the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift in the Styrofoam factory, inspecting and packing coffee cups. I managed to take trips to Beersheba, to drink Turkish coffee while playing chess, to try smoking--ugh (part of our pay was a pack of cigarettes and 2 chocolate bars each week; smart me, I traded the cigarettes for extra chocolates, and my hips are paying till this day). I managed to get back to Jerusalem for a few days sightseeing staying in a hotel near the Arab quarter because I asked the taxi driver to take me to a cheap hotel...and he did. I managed all this without checking in with my parents every step of the way.

My parents taught me a valuable lesson, one which I now pass along to Perri and to Russell—learn to fly solo and enjoy the adventure. Try new things; make smart choices; and when you need to, call (or text) home.