Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Commemorative Bench Donations

Gary, Eliza and I will be traveling to Seattle in a few weeks to celebrate Rosh Hashana with our left coast family and to commemorate Mom's first Yerzeit.  It's unbelievable that it's been a year.  It's unbelievable that Eliza's entire life has happened in the absence of hers. But we want to make Eliza's Spirit Grandma just as real as her other grandparents and so we are telling her concrete stories of Mom, showing her pictures, playing voicemails of her voice and planning to have a park bench refurbished in Mom's honor, where Eliza can sit, play and feel Mom's favorite place.

Seattle in the spring. Cherry blossoms in full bloom. A breeze off Lake Washington. Mom on her bike, enjoying Summer Streets.

This is how I remember her. This is exactly how I spent my last trip to Seattle before she got sick, except it was the end of summer instead of spring and the trees were bare. 

We plan to refurbish a bench overlooking the water, under the cherry trees. Mom would have loved that we're recycling, that we're supporting the Parks Department, that this is the Seward Park memory we will have, not the days of the Kline.  It will bear a plaque with her name and this year, the first full calendar year without her. 

Will you help us make this a reality?  The benches are a donation of $3,200 to the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.  We would love for this to be a community effort, as so much of her care was.  That this bench will belong to everyone, in $5, $15 or $50 increments. We will post a photo and directions. It will be for all of us to enjoy-for all the hundreds of people she touched in her life.  And it will serve as a restful place for hundreds more, who didn't know her, but who will still get to benefit from her life.

If you can make a donation of any amount, please send it to Dad:
Bob Kirshenbaum
4822 140th PL SE
Bellevue WA 98006

OR donate via PayPal:

And if not, we still hope that if you are in Seattle, you will visit this bench, enjoy the view and think of Mom zooming past on her bike, with a smile and with love. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

on anger

Sometimes the anger comes.  It bubbles up out of nowhere, catching me off guard.  Sometimes it's a new comment, something inadvertent but so hurtful and insensitive that it will send me seething. Sometimes it's a memory, something I mishandled, something I said or did wrong.  Sometimes it's hearing other new moms complain about their mothers.  But it's always there, just behind the surface, like a constant flow of gas that's just waiting for a spark to ignite it and explode.  And explode I do. I rage.  Eliza takes a stroller nap almost every morning and each morning as she sleeps, I walk, quiet and alone with my thoughts.  Sometimes I cry ugly, blubbering along the East River, sweat and tears and snot and god knows what else stuck to my face and shirt. More often I cry lightly, smiling through the tears at all the other people I pass along the way, nodding to other mamas pushing strollers, smiling at toddlers, allowing runners to pass me.  Sometimes I don't cry, I just march forward, gripping the stroller so tightly my wrists ache, clenching my jaw so tightly that I feel my teeth in my ears.

I have always struggled with anger.  I turn disappointment and frustration and pain in on myself.  I am fighting this.  I fight with those memories that I'm ashamed of: when I didn't tell the awful visitor to leave Mom's room, when I didn't stop the nurse from leaving Mom alone after a procedure, when I allowed people to be absent from my support team and then turn around and support them. I am trying to let these things go.  I am trying to let myself off the hook.

But do I really deserve to be off the hook?

This is where the struggle is.  Mom was such a nice person.  I still receive stories from people sharing their memories of her and whether they knew her in high school, college or beyond, she stands out in their memories as the sweetest, nicest, prettiest person.  She had a little light around her, always.  Even at the end.  I am not like that.  I have an edge, a snap, the fuck-its, the fire, the rage.  No one remembers me with a glow. Which is fine; in my angst-ridden teen years, I used to make fun of my perfect cheerleader Marcia Brady mom.  And she used to chastise me-think about how other people feel, think about your words before you say them, think about how lucky you are to have a healthy body instead of hating the size of your thighs.  I was raised to be grateful, forgiving and nice.  I was reminded to be grateful, forgiving and nice.  And now I'm not.  Now I have free reign to be ungrateful, spiteful and mean. And sometimes I am.

I was raised better than that.


But I was robbed of my mother in the sixth month of my first pregnancy! My mom, who couldn't wait to be a grandmother long before I was even thinking about having kids, never got to meet her grandchild. I was robbed of a celebratory wedding! Mom, who always picked out my clothes, couldn't see my wedding dress, let alone help me find one. I had to learn a whole new language: the culture of hospitals, cancer and insurance. I had to spend a very good chunk of my savings to fly cross country every month. I gave up my private practice. I slept on the floor to be near her.

Oh, but aren't these all first world problems?  Aren't these the whinings of a spoiled, privileged brat? Isn't the world full of real tragedy and real heart break?  Of course. Yes. Mom was taken too soon, but not tragically.  She had cancer.  Fifteen hundred people a day die of cancer in this country.  Some of them are children. Some of them die alone, frightened and in pain. Some of them go completely broke, leaving their families in debt for the rest of their lives. Mom didn't have any of these problems.  And these are still first world problems.  To gain even more perspective, I think about our developing nations.  Families destroyed by war, children kidnapped and forced into militia, violence as a way of life.  And I'm angry about a wedding dress?  Every time I feel myself slip too deep into self pity, I say "tsunami" out loud.  Tsunami. Remember.  Think about how other people feel. All other people.  Think about your words before you say them.  Before you commit them to paper or, even more permanent, the internet.

When I was in the fifth grade, we entered the Gulf War of 1991.  I didn't much care, as a ten year old.  But I remember vividly going up to my mom's sewing studio, where she was listening to the radio and crying.  "They're bombing Israel," she told me.  Trying to figure out why she was crying, I asked if we knew anyone there.  "No, we don't know anyone personally there."  It took me a long time to understand.

I still am.

I struggle with the anger. And then the guilt of being angry.  And then the lack of chastising from Mom about it.  Because, to paraphrase Tina Fey, she would not have this shit.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

The modern mother's day celebration was inspired by American abolitionist, feminists, and poetJulia Ward Howe (If you ever catch yourself singing: glory, glory hallelujah... you're singing her song). In response to the carnage of the civil war she wrote the mother's day proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

I think it's important to understand the roots of mother's day in American society. This is a holiday started by a women's movement for peace. It is a day to honor the women who raised us, sacrificed for us and who love us.

Although I thought today would be a difficult day, instead I am overwhelmed by a sense of appreciation and comfort. I am filled with the great spirit of my mother today, who provided me with an incredibly rich, love-filled life.

I am also filled with so much joy to be honoring my sister today, her first mother's day as a mother. It is truly wonderful watching Aynsley taking on this role with such confidence, instict and love. Little Eliza is in wonderful hands.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three generations at three months old

At my parent's house, there's a photo of Mom at 3 months.  And one of me at three months right next to it.  We look alike, sort of.  Not exactly, but similar.  Now that Eliza is three months, I wanted to add her to the mix.



I think you'll agree, something skipped a generation.  

I feel so connected to Mom when I am with Eliza, which is all the time.  We even have a "game" I play, where I tell Eliza all of the things I would have told Mom that day.  "If my Mom were alive, I would have told her how delicious this spring is.  How all of the trees are in bloom and how the cherry blossoms in particular make me think of her.  And then I would rub it in that it's 70 degrees here and 50 there." By saying it out loud, maybe I give Mom the opportunity to hear it anyway.

Friday, March 23, 2012

6 months later

It is spring.  We recently celebrated the vernal equinox, the time of year of new beginnings, fresh sprouts and an abundance of green.  Gary and I will be celebrating our first anniversary in a few days and our Pea's three month mark a few days after that.  And today marks half a year that Mom has been gone.

She died on a day of balance, and here we are on the flip side.  We survived some of the roughest firsts: Thanksgiving, the holiday season, her birthday.  Dad's 60th was rough.  Valentine's Day, too.  We still have their anniversary, Ross and my birthdays and her favorite season Seattle to get through. And Mother's Day.  I don't know how I will get through Mother's Day.

The day to day for me isn't hard.  It's the moments in between.  It's when I have a question about parenting, or want to share, or ask advice.  It's shopping for Eliza's clothes.  I haven't been able to bring myself to buy her clothes yet-that's the thing I always imagined us doing together. I have zero fashion sense and Mom would have dressed her so ridiculously perfectly. 

Our Pea is growing and thriving.  She still looks more like Mom's baby picture than anyone else.  But she doesn't remind me of Mom.  When I am in full on parenting mode, when she's awake, I don't think about anything else.  But when we're walking and she's sleeping, I always want to call Mom.  I used to call her all the time when I was walking somewhere. To buy lunch, to the train, to and from hockey.  It's been a difficult habit to break.  Eliza naps when I walk.  I always want to fill the silence but I don't.  I force myself not to call anyone.  I just sit with the silence, looking at Eliza's sleeping body snuggled close to mine, checking every few minutes to make sure she's breathing. 

 I sometimes think that this was all a test, that now that I've realized what's important to me and my family, that I got to know my mother in a different way and I've made peace with some of my own demons, Mom can be alive. She can meet her grandchild and be part of our lives again.  It doesn't seem possible that this really happened.  Even now, six months later, I still can't quite believe it.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Today, my mom would have turned 57 years old. This is her first birthday since her passing, and it is truly a difficult day. Although I have been spending the day so far reflecting on our lives together, channeling her voice and spirit, and trying to feel close to her, it has been a very somber day.

It is still hard to believe that everything last year actually happened. Although I feel that my mom prepared me well for my own life, I could always still use her guidance. She was always there to ask me the big picture questions. I have felt somewhat lost without her. The bigger picture of my life has direction, it is somewhat confusing and ambiguous, but the general direction is there. Now it is the day to day of my life that I struggle through: the motivation to make the bigger picture happen, or simply trying to feel like I am becoming a better person each day.

I know these observations are personal, but I think they demonstrate how much my mom helped people feel complete. Maybe others who were close to her have been feeling similar. I don't know. What I do know is that today is a difficult day for a lot of people. I have already received a great deal of sympathies today from people who love my mom and who are thinking of her. I know days like today will become easier to get through over time. But most of all, I know that my mom's love lives on.

One of the most difficult lessons to learn is how to feel someone's unconditional love in their physical absence. It is true and real and I feel it everyday. But sometimes there is no feeling more painful than pure, honest, endless love. However, I would not trade this feeling for anything, or ever try to ignore it.

I think Kahlil Gibran captures it best in The Prophet:

"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain...

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you and miss you. I am endlessly grateful for you.

Thanks for it all.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Pea is here!!

Eliza Flynne Cohen arrived safely at 7:53am on Tuesday, January 3rd.  She was born at home after an intense 13 hour labor, weighing in at 8 pounds and stretching out at 20 inches.  She is a Capicorn with Capicorn rising and a Taurus moon, born in the year of the Rabbit and just 20 minutes after sunrise.

Gary and I are beyond in love.  This past week has been hands down the best in my life; I can't stop staring at her with intense, fierce wonder and pure gratitude. Gary and I called her The Pea, or just Pea for her entire in utero life; Mom's friends took it a step further and called her Sweet Pea.  And, I have to tell you all, that's the perfect name.  She is beyond sweet, nuzzling our necks and holding onto my fingers while she nurses.  She smiles in her sleep.  She is so mellow most of the time, but even when she's having meltdowns, she still wants to be cuddled and kissed (and I am more than happy to oblige-this is one spoiled kid already). 

Eliza came out a little swollen, like all newborns do.  In her first week, her face has changed a lot, but we still couldn't pinpoint who we thought she looked like in those first few days.   Of course, now we know.  She looks like Mom.

right after birth
 First family photo
 day 3
day 7