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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

People Are More Important Than Things


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. Though if you talk to my two aunts, they will tell you a different story—that my mother (the eldest) somehow didn't share as much as they did.

But in all her acquisitions, I only remember a few things that she actually searched outa white wicker rocker, a glass and silver match striker, and a cranberry glass pitcher. Cranberry glass is a decorative (not mass produced) glass whose shimmer is achieved by adding gold chloride to the molten glass.

For many years, she used that pitcher at holiday dinners at dessert time, putting in milk for the coffee drinkers. When I was about 15, she delegated that taskfilling the pitcherto me. The memory is vivid so many years later. As I poured the cold milk into the pitcher, I heard a noise, and then noticed a crack near its bottom. I shriveled up; I was devastated. She had searched many years for that pitcher; 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.

And then the learning moment. Besides, she added, things aren't that important; people are important.

Her words echoed in my head recently when Doug was in a car accident. Airbags deployed, our new car (only two months old) severely damaged, he emerged without a physical scratch. He was and is still shaken by that experience. Nearly $14,000 later (the final repairs on the loose transmission bolts completed today), he and I are very grateful for our insurance policy with Allstate!

More importantly, I am grateful that he is alive. It's something Ive reminded him about in the six weeks since the accident: It's a car; its money; its upsetting, but its not that important. You are important.

Sometimes in the hubbub of our daily lives, in the rush of work and the race to acquire more things, we forget the basics: Things aren't that important; people are important.

As I age, my note to myself is to always keep that in mind. I want to always be appreciative of the people in my life—my clients, my girlfriends, my brother and his wife, my family, my children, and my Doug. I love you all now and know that I always will.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

January 1, 2013

In years past, a few minutes after the ball dropped in New York City's Time Square I called my mom to wish her a happy new year. Last night was the first time in 55+ years that I have been unable to do so. All those wishes we shared for each other at 12:05 (after kissing our husbands and whatever friends we were partying with at the time) are now just memories. I have so much I still want to say to her but am unable to express.

In years past, I wished her another year of good health. While she has a strong will, each week that I visit I notice she is fading a little more, that muscles that once helped her sit up straight can no longer support her shoulders, that muscles that helped her smile are causing her mouth to droop. Thank goodness she can still express herself through her big, bright blue eyes. They light up when her grandchildren enter her room. They go large when there's something she agrees with, unable to voice the words. They cringe when she's in discomfort or doesn't like what she's being fed. I'm realistic enough to know that wishing her good health is fruitless; her health will not improve. But I wish her comfort and painlessness. I do not wish to see her suffer as she makes this final journey.

If my mother could speak, she would be wishing me good health as well. She would caution me about those extra pounds, about what I eat, about my much too sedentary lifestyle. So in her honor, I will try to be more mindful about my health, though red wine (supposedly good for the heart) will remain on my list!

In years past, I wished her another year of happiness. It was easy to make my mother happy—shopping, a visit with friends, an art show or trip to the museum, eating out or take-in Chinese, Scrabble games with anyone who would play with her (but especially with Marilyn), calls from her grandchildren, a good movie on tv, visits from her children, talking on the telephone with her friends, going to Florida in the winter, a whiskey sour. Unfortunately, her options are very limited these days. Partially deaf, bed bound and unable to speak, move, or eat anything but pureed food, she can't take pleasure in much. I know that she still enjoys hearing about the accomplishments of her children and grandchildren; she was always happy when we were happy. And I can bring her a whiskey sour the next time I visit!

If my mother could speak, she would be wishing me a year of happiness as well. She would tell me to look at the bright side and treasure the moment—the here-and-now. She would tell me to make more time for family and friends and to enjoy all the earthly things I can because our time here is so limited. She would tell me to travel, to read a good book, to go to a museum or ballet. So in her honor, I will live in the moment, cherish the rain as much as the sun, and even share that whiskey sour with her.

In years past, I wished her another year of dreams. My mother always said that being alive meant dreaming. It meant having a wish, a goal, something to strive for. It's what kept her going. A few years ago she shared some of her dreams—she wanted to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from the viewing stands and she wanted to go to a fancy cocktail party on a yacht. More recently, it was to drive again. My brother understood that and insisted on keeping her car in her driveway after her brain surgery three years ago because he knew that it gave her a goal, something to strive for. He knew that it gave her hope.

If my mother could speak, she would be wishing me a year of dreams. She would tell me to aim big, to do something different that I hadn't done before. She would also tell me to enjoy the small stuff, because it is those moments that daydreams emerge. So in her honor, I will dream large and in multi-color...including orange.

In her honor, I wish you a year of health, happiness and dreams!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Find a Creative Outlet


Throughout her adult life, my mother dabbled in a variety of art forms—drawing, painting, sketching, jewelry-making. As a young child, I remember her trying her hand at oils. She proudly framed her picture of Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime. It still hangs on her living room wall.

She began her silver jewelry-making phase when I left for college. She had always designed her jewelry—bringing her sketches to Tudor Jewelers on Linden Boulevard in Elmont. There are countless Garie originals, from necklaces and earrings, to pins and rings. On one of my trips to Israel, I asked what she would like from the Promised Land. “Eilat stones,” was her reply. I made my way to a souk and they found their way into pins and bracelets.

She continued her art at Hofstra University, where she audited oil and acrylic classes for many years enjoying the “senior” rate. She proudly brought home her work, eagerly showing them to us, much as a young child asking for our praise. Instead of hanging the latest on the refrigerator with a magnet, she would notice the ones we particularly liked and during the next visit, it was presented to us framed…with a flourish. I have several of her pieces on my kitchen and living room walls. When Russell favored animals, a framed pastel of a penguin appeared. When she and Perri entered their orange gift exchange, Perri became the proud owner of …what else? A still life of oranges. It sits in our entryway. For Doug, it was a bird, framed and now hanging over the piano in the living room. And me…what was I thinking when I said I liked her attempts to imitate Georgia O’Keefe. Her gifted picture hangs outside the bathroom, though perhaps it should be inside. Well, take a look for yourself. It’s supposed to be a close-up of a flower and its petals. But every time I look at it, I see…a vulva. Oy, Mom!

Really, what do you see? An eagle? or a Flower?


When she and my dad became snowbirds, travelling to Florida every winter for 30+ years, she insisted he needed to get out of the apartment and find an outlet. You guessed it. Pottery classes. The entire family has been the recipient of free-form plates, bowls, pencil holders and even toilet scrub brush holders, as well as molded and poured lidded birds, soap dishes, and pitchers—blues and reds for Bruce and Lorrie; purples, pinks, and greens for Doug and me. We even have a painted rabbi (thanks, Dad), which we bring out on selected Jewish holidays. Where I once thought of these attempts at “art” as an amusement, I now view all these creative gifts as acts of love. They both wanted to share their expressive selves with only those who were nearest and dearest to them.

Over the years, I, too, have had that need to express myself creatively and have also dabbled—pottery, stamping, beading, crocheting, photography, collages, and my latest—art journaling. It allows me to combine it all with my love of writing. I’m embarrassed to admit I have a closet full of paper, paints, stamps, torn sheets of magazines and newspaper, ribbons and beads, broken jewelry, glue, watercolors, and colored pencils, not to mention boxes of broken knickknacks. On vacations, I have been known to travel with one small black rolling suitcase filled with such stuff. You never know when that creative urge will strike!

And like my parents, I have bestowed my creative gifts on the ones I love. I hope that those recipients also will be wowed by my immense talent (not!) and view them as expressions of love that I want to share, and not as “Oh, oh. Mom’s at it again!”

As recently as two years after her surgery, Mom was still trying her hand at sketching. Pictures of her aides, self-portraits, and her grandchildren are in a pad I found in her kitchen. Her desire to express still there. Now, bedbound and barely able to speak or move, I’m sure she’d love to be able to have one last chance to let us know what she's thinking and feeling.

So, note to my older self: Don’t stop expressing yourself. Whether that creative outlet is through art or dance or music or even a beautifully set table, let your voice be heard…because you never know when you will lose it.