I am drafting this while baking challah for the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), while I am waiting for the dough to rise. If you're interested in my process of baking gluten-free challah, please see my blog post How to Bake Fluffy, Delicious, Gluten-Free Challah with Blends by Orly Challah Mix. You'll see that it's not difficult but takes about four hours per challah, hence I have the time to write this!
It's been a trying summer for me, which is why you haven't heard from me since my last missive end of June. In the night of July 3, my 86-year-old mom fell in her room at the group home for seniors with dementia, which is close to my sister in Germany, and into which my
siblings and I had moved her in March. She suffered a laceration on her head and, as it turned out, a brain hemorrhage.
Unfortunately, the doctors ignored Mom's living will and operated when, at 3 a.m., they could not get ahold of my
sister, Mom's guardian. Nine harrowing days in the neurosurgical ICU in the hospital in Deggendorf, Germany, followed. I got on a plane and arrived July 6 to weather this situation with my siblings.
Outside the hospital in Deggendorf was this comfy swing that my sister, brother and I adopted as a spot to decompress after our ICU visits. Mom did recover in the sense that she woke up after three days if one can call it that. She was able to
breathe on her own, and she did open her eyes once in a while. Sometimes I got the feeling she was actually looking at me, but I also felt her look was saying, "What the f...? Get me out of this situation!"
Seeing her being kept alive by tubes was a living nightmare. One day, my sister and I were able to sit her up for a few minutes. Mom managed to utter "lalala," and my sister "sang" with her. Music was always central to Mom's life, and in the end, this was her last real interaction with us.
Thankfully, after nine days we were able to move her to the palliative care unit in the same hospital. After the ICU, this was an amazing experience of great caretaking. The palliative care chief, a truly stunning doctor, finally told us that Mom had suffered irreparable brain damage, something the ICU team had known since two days after the surgery but failed to
communicate to us. More importantly, however, the palliative care chief did a protein analysis to see where Mom's metabolism was at and explained to us a day later that Mom's body was barely at survival level, no matter what else was going on. If it hadn't been this fall that precipitated her demise, it would have been something else.
Mom died peacefully on July 15 with her three children and my niece at her bedside. This was my first time witnessing
someone pass from this world to the next, and it was a phenomenal experience. Dare I say, it was beautiful. I feel truly blessed to have been there.
My mom in 1990 on the shores of Lake Michigan. We used this
picture from her better days for her funeral card.
My sister mentioned the Five Invitations to me before I even got on the plane,
before we had any idea what we might be facing after Mom's fall. She just said that these "five invitations for life," as she put it, have helped her immensely throughout the years, particularly when her older son had an accident two years ago that destroyed all fingers on his left hand. This is one of those situations when we have to "cultivate don't know mind," she said, citing the fifth invitation.
I ended up reading her copy of the book late at night in my guest bed at her house, after those long days at the hospital. The author is one of the founders of the Zen Hospice project in San Francisco. As a believing Jew I couldn't relate to many of the Zen concepts he shares. Nevertheless, I found this book immensely
helpful as we were facing our mother's imminent death. There was one passage in particular, in which he describes the dying process of a person very similar to the situation our mother was in: How the breath slows, and how all you can really do is be there and hold the dying person's hand. It gave me, late at night, a bit of a playbook, an idea of what might be going on as the next day I was stepping back into the unknown territory of accompanying my mother's dying.
On a happier but unfortunately not less stressful note, my older son got married in a small, DIY wedding on September 3. He and his new wife just left earlier this week to make their home in Israel for the time being. I don't have any wedding photos yet, and for once I
did not wield my Smartphone.
Now I could use a playbook on how to be a good mother-in-law. If you have any advice, let me know!
Needless to say, not much has been happening on my writing front or in terms of creating the online courses that have been bubbling on my back burner. I am hoping for a peaceful and creative fall, which might give me the peace of mind for my own work.
I do have an open spot in my Advanced Memoir Workshop as one of my longtime students had to bow out at the last minute. This course is entirely on Zoom and meets once a month, September through December. We begin next week but it's not too late to join. Check out the link and let me know if you're interested.
I am happy to share that I'll be teaching two sessions at ThurberCon, a writer's conference at the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. My sessions are in the afternoon of Sunday, October 15, 2023; one is on DIY Book Publicity, and the other is on Book Marketing. The latter is offered as hybrid, so if you're not in Columbus, you can
still join. Check out the schedule here and see what else you might be interested in.
I have not taught at Thurber House before, but since my daughter lives in Columbus now, I cast about for teaching opportunities there. This transpired, and so far they have been great to work with, which bodes well.
So, big life events happened at my end. I am, truth be told, glad that the Jewish New Year is around the corner. Hopefully, this fall will bring some peace of mind, with time to sort through all these experiences, and brain space to dive back into creating.
Meanwhile, I wish you a good start into the fall, and if you do celebrate Rosh Hashana, I wish you a shana tova!