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Hard Stuff

Capturing Grief: Part 2

October 6, 2017

To more accurately capture grief and the experience of miscarriage, we need to talk about what is often said or unsaid to those who have gone through it. It seems as though most people want to comfort those who have experienced a loss, but what they say is often unintentionally dismissive, hurtful, incorrect, or just plain ignorant. Good intentions, as they say, pave the road to hell.

As I opened up about my own miscarriage, I was met with many friends and family members who wanted to ease the hurt, but naturally, I received many comments that stung or illuminated their fundamental misunderstanding of the experience. On the other hand, I was also met with incredible empathy and support, mostly from friends who have also been educated in helping people through difficult experiences like this, but from internet strangers who have been down this road, too. I found quite a bit of support from a particular group of people trying to conceive after loss, and they helped me in ways that empathy from friends and family, attending therapy, and writing about the experience simply could not.

I heard comments running the gamut between incredible and horrifying, and I thought I would share some of what made things worse, what made things better, and what you may or may not want to say to a person you know who has suffered a pregnancy loss.

Don’t say:

“It was probably just a chromosomal abnormality and wasn’t ever a viable pregnancy anyway”

While it’s great that you’ve taken middle school biology, so has basically everyone else. Knowing the likely cause of a miscarriage doesn’t actually make the experience any easier. Like many people, I was well aware of why I miscarried, but why it happened doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it happened, period.

“It wasn’t really a baby yet.”
Again, it’s great that you remember something from your biology classes, but again, so do many people, and this really misses the mark. I know that a “baby” isn’t biologically more than just a mass of cells until a certain point. However, a baby to most people means far more than its gestational age. I don’t need a science lesson, I need the acknowledgment of how awful it is to lose a wanted, planned pregnancy. I need the acknowledgement of how much it sucks to lose a dream, to lose hope, to lose symptoms that reminded me daily that I was pregnant, to losing the possibility of holding an actual baby that I birthed in my arms. Whoever that person was, however unlike a “real baby” they were — they were still my child — logic and science be damned.

“At least you can get pregnant.”
I suppose that’s 1/4 of the battle, so yay, but…that doesn’t really say much. I mean, I couldn’t carry a pregnancy to term, apparently, but hey, AT LEAST I had the ability to become pregnant. Look: the issue is obviously not my ability to conceive, it’s the fact that I HAD A MISCARRIAGE.

“Everything happens for a reason.”
I know that this is well-meaning, that you want to bring sense to random suffering or believe there is some grand, cosmic plan for life when you say it, but this is not helpful at all. In fact, it can make people question their belief in god and their life choices. There is no sense, no plan for someone’s life that somehow includes a loss. Sometimes bad shit just happens, and there is no sugarcoating it, and no bright side.

“You can have another baby”
Probably, but what does that solve? What good is having another baby? Another baby won’t be THAT baby, the one I wanted. One cannot simply replace the other.

“At least it happened pretty early, it could have been worse.”
While you might think that losing a pregnancy early enough that it didn’t involve going to the hospital to birth a child is better than the other option, the prerequisite for grieving a loss is not being pregnant for a certain length of time. There are NO prerequisites to meet for a person to have full permission to grieve. Although another individual may have gone through something you deem to be “worse,” it’s not as though I can’t be upset about my own miscarriage because my experience looked a bit different.

“At least it only happened once. I know someone who has miscarried four times.”
A miscarriage is a miscarriage is a miscarriage whether it’s your first or fourth time. For me, it only happened once, but it only needed to happen once for it to change my life, upset me, or otherwise disturb my universe. One miscarriage, for any individual, is plenty enough. Don’t compare someone’s loss to another person’s loss in an attempt to make them feel better — all it does is invalidate their feelings and invalidate their loss. Like I said earlier, there is no prerequisite to meet before one is allowed to grieve.

“Maybe it was [something you did]”
No. Just, no. Your friend/family member/acquaintence/sister’s husband’s best friend’s wife did not cause their miscarriage by eating lunchmeat, drinking soda, having a glass of wine, laying on their stomach, exercising, walking up and down stairs, doing housework, holding their wiggling toddler, or whatever else you can think of. Don’t victim blame if for no other reason than the fact that it makes you a complete asshole.

“It happens to a lot of people.”
Yup, 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in loss — I get that. But what matters is that it happened to me, and I’m hurting, and it sucks. Knowing that it’s a rather common occurrence doesn’t erase the pain.

Nothing
Don’t ignore it, don’t say nothing. This contributes to the feelings of isolation many people have after a pregnancy loss, and may come off as insensitive, even though you may just not know what to say or if you should say anything at all. A simple “I’m sorry” or “I’m here for you” will absolutely suffice, and lets the person know that you’re there and you hear them.


Instead, say:

“I’m so sorry for your loss”
Condolences, and acknowledging why you are offering them is immensely validating. It doesn’t “fix” the problem, but it lets someone know that they are in your heart, that you recognize the shitty thing that happened, and that you care.

“This is very hard/painful/difficult/etc., I am here if you need to talk.”
Reflect what they feel.  When you do this, you essentially clarify and restate what the other person is saying. It lets the person know that not only are you listening, but that you are trying to understand, and that you are there to help. Doing so can also help you to understand the other person, or even help the person clarify their thoughts and feelings. I found this to be extremely refreshing, especially coming from someone with no background in therapy (and who probably doesn’t think to implement reflective listening in their daily lives). I felt very understood and supported when hearing these words.

“Your feelings are valid, whatever they are”
Pregnancy loss can bring up all kinds of emotions, and this lets the person know that you recognize this and support them in those feeling, whatever they may be. When I was going through my miscarriage, this really helped me to remind myself that I had permission to be sad, angry, stunned, and confused, and I appreciated that someone took the time to tell me so.

“It’s not your fault.”
Logically, a lot of women who lose a pregnancy understand this. However, many can’t help but to question this, feel like their body was to blame, or feel like failures because they couldn’t prevent it. Reminding them that it is not their fault may seem simple and obvious, but it’s helpful to hear. While I knew that there was nothing I could do to prevent my miscarriage, emotion tended to trump logic. I felt like my body was just broken — that I was broken, and hearing these words really meant a lot.

“When/after I had my miscarriage…”
If you’ve had a miscarriage, you have deeper understanding of and a shared experience with another person who has had one. Talking about what helped you or how you felt (briefly, and with the intention of empathizing verbally with the other person) can be so helpful. I really appreciated when people shared their experiences with me, and it made me feel far less alone.

“I’ve heard of/am a part of/was a part of x website/community/group that offers support. I can tell you the names if you’re interested, now or when and if you’re ready”
If you have a resource, share it. They may or may not want to know immediately or ever, but it gives them the opportunity to decide for themselves. I am so thankful for the people who told me about all the different ways to get support and interact with other people who have also miscarried. I have made friends through these interactions, and it feels nice to know that there is a group of people who just “get” you, who you don’t have to explain things to, who hold space — all the time — for you.

“I wish I knew what to say, but I just don’t. This is awful, and I’m always here for you.”
If you don’t know what to say, say so. Your friendship, compassion, understanding and empathy are always welcome, and really, those things matter more than anything you can say. 

If you’re so inclined, you can send a card. The website I linked to has very nice ones that aren’t cheesy, dismissive, or otherwise weird. I deeply appreciated the sentiments on these cards, and it was so nice when someone made an effort to seek these out just to make me feel better.


Before I conclude this post, I also want to remind you that unless you are explicitly given permission, DO NOT share a person’s news with anyone else. It is not your place — ever, no matter the circumstance — to tell her other friends or even family members. There is kind of an unspoken rule in society that you can tell your own spouse, but please don’t share with anyone else outside of this. She may not be ready to tell anyone else, or may not even intend to tell anyone else. Assume, always, that what you have been told, you have been told in confidence.

And there you have it, things you may or may not want to say to a person who loses a pregnancy. It may seem like the trillionth post on the internet about this, but it’s for a reason. The more we spread this information, the more real, genuine support others if they ever find themselves suffering through a pregnancy loss.

Hard Stuff

Capturing Grief: Part 1

October 3, 2017

I found out that I was losing my pregnancy in November of 2015, on Alex’s birthday. I got home, collapsed onto the floor and cried hysterically for 30 minutes before I called Alex, still hysterical, and told him to come home. I was so distraught, so overwhelmed that I couldn’t catch my breath, and couldn’t stifle the scream I heard emerge from myself as I asked “why?” to the nothingness. I don’t think I have ever experienced a worse day. Alex and I still get upset thinking or talking about it, and I have learned over the past two years that grief truly is a journey. When you lose a pregnancy, you lose more than “just a pregnancy.” I think of my loss regularly, and it is especially hard during this time of year.

October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage, but given how frequently it occurs, it is still one of the least spoken of and understood grief experiences.

At the age of 13, I made a promise to myself to always speak my truth, to talk about hard things, to never be silent when it is imperative to speak. It is my mission as an adult, therapist, mother, and person who deeply believes in the value of processing our emotions and the power of honesty to keep talking. Stigma and shame are broken down bit by bit when we talk openly about our experiences. Loneliness is replaced by many individuals holding space for one another when we normalize the experience of just being a human.

This month, I want to talk about pregnancy loss and the grief that comes with it. Along with a friend of mine and many other folks who have experienced pregnancy and/or infant loss, I am participating in the Capture Your Grief Project which consists of 31 acts/themes and photographs that depict certain aspects of our experiences with our loss and grief. For me, the acts for 2017 seem like something I’d rather keep to myself, but a photographic challenge a few years ago consists of themes and acts that I feel really get to the heart of what it means to lose a pregnancy or child, and is something I’d really like to share publicly.

Today, I choose to share with you self portraits of myself before and after my loss.

Before Loss (1st pregnancy):

Here I am at 6 weeks pregnant, two weeks after I found out. I was overjoyed, despite vomiting too many times to count that morning, and going to work sick AF. I remember walking in the rain, listening to some high school R&B jams, thinking about the possibility of miscarriage. I talked myself out of it, reassured myself that everything would be fine. Life seemed so wonderful. I was ecstatic, filled with peace and so overwhelming positive that it created a bubble of blinding light around me. I miss this person.

After my loss, I stopped taking photos of anything — especially myself — for quite a long time. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I got pregnant again very quickly after my loss (against doctor’s wishes, but that is a story for another day and a testament to my desperation) and I did not, under any circumstances, want to see myself pregnant or have a document of my pregnancy. The first photo I took of myself was when I was halfway through my pregnancy, in response to my dad who wanted a photo update.

After loss (2nd pregnancy):

This is me after the loss of my first pregnancy, 6 months pregnant with Kaia. I wanted to make it seem like I was okay, feeling good, and enjoying myself. But in reality I had already spent countless hours in the hospital thanks to hyperemesis and the ensuing dehydration from not being able to keep down liquids (I do regret not talking about this on the blog, but I was scared, and weirdly, ashamed). I cried nearly every single hour when I wasn’t in public, talked to a therapist twice a week, spoke to women on the warm line every few days, and was having daily panic attacks. I was crying (and puking, naturally) right before I took this photo. My grief and experience with loss made the challenges in my second pregnancy even harder to face. I doubted my body’s ability to do basic things like stay alive, and I was extremely skeptical that it could make it through an entire pregnancy, that I would actually have a child when it was all said and done. I was pregnant twice, and I miscarried half the time. I believed I would miscarry Kaia or lose her in some way during the 40 weeks I expected to be pregnant, and to not think so, in my mind, was foolish.

Loss changed the way I view pregnancy. I just don’t see it as joyous. I don’t picture myself ever celebrating because a celebration feels like speaking too soon, like it’s all too good to be true, like something only privileged, lucky, blind women do. Pregnancy loss led to me to living in a state of fear. I believe I would have taken better care of myself, lied less to my family, friends, and medical professionals, and felt more mentally sound during my pregnancy with Kaia (despite my struggles) had I not gone through that experience. I don’t want to say it ruined my life, because I am still here standing, but it did ruin an aspect of my life. It ruined pregnancy, for good. And in ways that all of the other experiences I had during my pregnancy with Kaia ever did.

All of this to say: I was happy before my loss, and I was a completely different person afterward.

To sum it all up, fuck loss. I hate that it has impacted me, my husband, a dear friend, and countless other folks. I hate that I am part of communities dedicated to pregnancy after loss, pregnancy loss grief, and trying to conceive after loss. I hate that I am missing a part of me that I will never get back. I hate that I live with an emotional burden caused by something that I just never thought would truly happen to me. I hate that I suffered and still do suffer. I hate that I am one in four.

 

Everyday Life, Hard Stuff, Pregnancy

An ache that ages but never fades

May 13, 2016

*This blog post is a jumbled, and possibly unintelligible spilling of raw thoughts and emotions. In other words: this is “real talk.” It feels a little awkward to write about this — again — publicly, but it’s equally awkward to pass this milestone without giving it any acknowledgement. As with almost everything, I’ve decided to say “to hell with it,” and just proceed, even if I do so in such a way that would make my high school English teacher cringe. We’ll see how it goes…*

It has been six months since I last heard myself wail with grief, six months since I collapsed on my living room floor, crawled to the front door like it was somehow an exit from my reality, and sobbed until I couldn’t produce another tear. It has been 6 months since I got the news: I was miscarrying my first pregnancy.

It still feels like this was weeks ago, not half a year. Even now, I still can’t believe it really happened. But nothing can undo these truths: I’m not having a full-term baby in July, I’m 26 weeks pregnant with a completely different human that is due in August, and there are pieces of paper I have to read at every doctor appointment reminding me of the fact that I have now been pregnant twice. My life has been changed enormously, so many dreams and hopes for the future have been lost, and I am not the person I was in November.

One week I am excited about this pregnancy and the new future I have ahead. The next, I am crying angry tears because someone who I imagined would be with me now, someone I wanted to meet, is not a tangible part of my life anymore. I still don’t know how my heart is feeling. I’m fine on the outside, but on the inside, I’m a kaleidoscope of emotion — not all of which are particularly pleasant, and color me anything but “fine.” I miss the baby we lost in November. I often wonder if they were male or female, what they would have been like. I think about them all the time. But I feel a deep sense of love for the baby girl I am carrying, and this pregnancy — despite its hard times — is very meaningful to me. I didn’t realize until the loss just how delicate this process is, and just how much it means to be able to carry a child until the second trimester, or until viability, or until delivery — given the astonishing odds that we may not be able to do so (~1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage).  I am part of both the lucky and unlucky groups of people, living in a purgatory I never truly imagined I would experience, even when I knew it was a distinct possibility.

Over the past 6 months I have climbed to the highest summits, and drowned in the deepest seas. I do it just about every day, actually. Every time I feel a tightening in my stomach or a non-specific cramp in my belly, I have to dislodge my heart from my throat and tuck it back into my chest. I can’t feel a single thing out of the ordinary and not immediately jump to horrible conclusions. Every time I feel the baby kick me so hard that the hand resting on my stomach jumps upward — the relief I feel is monumental — like taking that first breath after spending two minutes under water. It is that constant tension between the highs and the lows, and the panic and the joy, that makes my heart grow weary. It is knowing that my body has both betrayed and cooperated with me that has robbed me of trust. Even when things were going horribly wrong (I was miscarrying), things still felt like they were going right (I had morning sickness and was not bleeding). There is nothing steady to hold on to in the tsunami of a pregnancy after loss, and treading its churning water is exhausting.

Guilt blankets everything I feel. When I am happy, it eats at me. Am I allowed to be happy when the future is always uncertain? Does happiness mean I am “moving on” when I’m just not ready to do that? Does moving on mean saying goodbye, or even worse, forgetting? The loss colors the happiness of this new pregnancy a shade darker. I don’t want to forget it or pretend that it didn’t happen. That doesn’t feel right. But it also doesn’t feel right to let all of yesterday’s clouds to cover today’s clear skies. I don’t want this pregnancy and this baby to be somehow, always, about what we lost. That doesn’t feel like honoring or doing justice to any of these children or any of these experiences.

Grief is mysterious and complicated. Sadness doesn’t mean the absence of joy. Acknowledging the bad doesn’t mean dismissing the good. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

In hindsight, I didn’t let myself grieve for anywhere near long enough (for my own health) before embarking on a new journey. I saw two new pink lines on a pregnancy test just four weeks after our loss. I tried desperately to substitute one pregnancy with another, to bury the loss in the depths of my heart, to hide it and speak of it only in certain company. But no amount of substituting, burying, or hiding, would stop the memory of the miscarriage from screaming at me, or ringing in my ears like a heartbeat under the floorboards until it drives me mad. I have lost something I cannot replace. My heart is still broken.

Even then, I have gained something so unfathomably wonderful that my heart soars. I could have never predicted the cheer of anticipating a daughter, or of seeing her tiny features in black and white. I don’t sit for hours everyday with my head in my hands. I don’t walk the streets with tears pouring down my face. I appreciate the baby and the pregnancy I have — I really do — but no matter how much I appreciate this pregnancy, and no matter how happy I am, I cannot help but to be reminded of the one that ended. I don’t do it consciously. I’m not trying to be miserable. It’s a confusing space. Why my brain does this is just another mystery. It’s something that cannot be fully articulated or summed up in a blog post — it’s one of those things that needs to be felt to be truly understood.

I wish this had never happened. It is one of the hardest experiences I have ever had to endure.

But I like to think that this will allow me to be a better therapist. The more I know of depression, or grief, or a whole host of experiences, the more I can empathize. There has to be something good to come of this. But maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe not all bad things have to teach us something good. Maybe saying that is a way to ignore or even invalidate one’s painful experiences. Maybe this didn’t happen for any particular reason. Maybe the why is unimportant. Maybe not every story has a happy ending. Maybe the positive meaning, if any can be drawn from this, will always remain a mystery.

Though I might not be able to see the positivity of experiencing such a tremendous loss, I have regained the ability to see the positivity in what I have gained only because I have gone through that loss. I have recently started to feel truly connected to this pregnancy, because I have finally developed the capacity to see this having a positive outcome. It began when I had a dream about my grandpa, my first since he passed. In this dream, my grandpa and I had a very short conversation. I said that I missed him, that I was so glad to see him, and that I was so happy he was here. He smiled at me, and told me that he was happy to see me too, then added, still smiling, “but you know I’m not really here” (which I interpreted to mean physically). He winked at me, and I let just a moment pass before I reached out and hugged him. That hug felt so real. I woke up afterward feeling oddly comforted, and with a clarity and a hope I haven’t had in so long. Some people interpret a dream with these themes to mean that great changes are ahead, and someone is coming along in the future to help you process the loss. It was after this dream and learning about this particular interpretation that things started to fall into place for me. My mindset about the future began to change. August will undoubtedly bring great change, and I am going to meet someone new: our daughter. I know her presence will serve as the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. All it took was that dream and I could suddenly imagine a successful outcome of pregnancy and childbirth, I could imagine holding my child for the first time, I could imagine going home and starting our lives as a family. While the past and that what-could-have-beens were taken, never to come to fruition, none of it can diminish the bright future that lies ahead. That future might not be certain, but it exists in some capacity. The path that leads to it might be fraught with grief, but the destination could well be worth the hard travel to get there.

I wanted to tell you that I — we — are okay, but that we haven’t forgotten. I wanted to tell you that this is a complicated journey filled with excitement and sorrow. I wanted to say that we love our daughter, and know we are so lucky. I wanted to say that I miss and love our little “blue zebra” (they probably take after their dad…), our daughter’s brother or sister, so very much that my heart physically aches. But even then, I have hope. I have hope that one day, all that I feel will make more sense. I have hope that this pain isn’t the end of our story. I have hope that the grey skies and rain will clear to reveal the rainbow we long for. I have hope, period.

***

“Mysteries, Yes”

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity,
while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

-Mary Oliver

Featured Post, Hard Stuff

Lessons From a Legend

August 27, 2015

Last Tuesday, on August 18th, the world lost a true legend: my hero, my grandfather, Irwin Lazar. He left this earth to join his wife of 63 years, Shirley Lazar, who departed just 13 days earlier. His passing marks the end of an era, the beginning of a new family structure, and undoubtedly means that I have lost a source of strength and encouragement in my life. My grandpa was the best man I ever knew, a man who helped me to realize my own potential, and understand that I was more than my perceived weaknesses. He taught me that I didn’t have to do anything in particular to earn basic kindness, to be beautiful, or to be a person worth talking to, and nor did anyone else. My grandpa treated everyone as important. He was kind, always stood up for what he believed in (especially his family), had a great sense of dignity, commanded respect, and respected the lives and opinions of others. My grandpa knew that everyone had something to offer this world, that everyone had something to teach, that everyone had great potential. He taught me to know as much, to recognize my own worth, to work hard, to be kind, to be courageous, to listen to my own head and my own heart, and a host of other important lessons I will never forget.

I’d like to share with you six of those lessons he taught me, lessons that have seen me through some of my hardest days, lessons which I know will carry me through the long and dark journey that lies ahead. Maybe all you’ll learn is a little bit about a man who had a great impact on my life, or maybe you’ll learn something that you, too, can take with you on your own journey.

Lesson 1: Never turn your back on the ocean
I was playing near the breaking surf on the shores of NJ with my cousins, digging my feet into the wet sand until I was sunken in past my ankles. I liked the way the water rushed in quickly, surrounding me in a cold, white foam,and the way it tugged against my legs as it quickly receded from the shore. It was disorienting — looking down at my feet, stationary, as the water violently ebbed outward, giving me the distinct impression that I was moving with it. When the waves began to crash more violently and more frequently, that impression became reality. Unable to dislodge myself from the sand, and scared now, I was knocked off balance with each surge of the water. I let out a scream as my feet came free from the packed, wet sand, and I began to fall into a crashing wave. My grandpa, the only person who noticed my struggling, scooped me up in one arm, and set me down on the hot yellow sand near the dunes. “Never turn your back on a wave!” he exclaimed. Then, more gently, said, “Never turn your back on the ocean.”

In that moment, he taught me something incredibly valuable, maybe the most valuable lesson I have ever learned: to give every force in this world — a loved one, a mountain peak, a teacher, a vehicle, a child, the ocean — its due respect or be prepared to face the consequences for failing to do so. (And there is always a consequence.)

Lesson 2: You’re as good as the best 
As a child I internalized many narratives about myself that conveyed one particular message: no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, that I was not good enough, or smart enough, or anything enough. I was, to myself, a bonafide failure, and a person able to be described by any negative word ever uttered. It was quite a sad feeling, and as such, I behaved like quite a sad little girl. My grandpa seemed to recognize this more than anyone, and went to great lengths to reverse these negative ideas I had about myself and cheer me up. Aside from complimenting my strengths and drawing attention to the many ways in which I was important to the world, to my family, and to him, he took to reminding me over and over that my abilities, and every quality I possessed within me was “as good as the best, and better than the rest.” He said this so often that he replaced all the negative thoughts I had about myself with a completely new concept: that I was good enough, thank you very much, and in fact, I ranked right up there with the best of all who were. Whenever I became paralyzed by fears of failure or by fears that I was inadequate — whether it was during a college final, or doing something as simple as a pull-up — my grandpa’s voice rang through my head telling me what he always knew was true, that I was “as good as the best,” and it gave me the strength I needed to make it so. It still does.

Lesson 3: Eff beauty standards
When, as a fourteen year old girl, I dared to mention to my cousin that I was fat while sitting mere inches away from my grandpa in the back seat of his car, he immediately whirled around and declared, “I’m tired of this fat bullshit!” He spoke at length about how this opinion I held of myself was ridiculous, and how I said such self-defeating things about myself with such frequency that he worried about me. Eff anyone who dared to comment on my weight, eff the media that I consumed, and the society that I participated in which made me question my looks and my worth. I was Deena Lazar, untouchable, “better than all that horseshit,” he said. I ate a hamburger and fries for dinner that day, and finished the whole damn plate sans shame, my grandpa beaming at me, his granddaughter — still beautiful, still not fat, just a lot happier. When my teen society’s need for thinness was replaced with a greater need to conceal the fact that you were either OMGPALE or imperfect in some way, my grandpa caught me fussing over my appearance in the full-length door mirror in the guest bedroom of his Florida residence, and promptly put a stop to it. I was putting orange-looking crap all over my fair, sun damage-less face, and thankfully he caught me in time to remind me again that I was being truly ridiculous. He told me my fair skin was just fine, that orange wasn’t a good look on anyone, and that no one needed products to make them more beautiful. “I never wore any face coloring,” he said as he touched his cheek. “I never needed to wear any face coloring to look different, and you don’t need it either.” He left the room after he said this, and I immediately went to the bathroom to fix my face by taking off the orange and going without.

In both of these instances he helped me to realize that I didn’t have to play society’s game, that I didn’t need to change myself or feel bad for being who I was even if something else was trendier. He taught me to be unashamed, to be unintimidated, and to rise above it all. He taught me to be proud of myself, and to walk to the beat of my own drum: the only drum that matters. Eff everyone else.

Lesson 4:  Make an effort, give many craps
He taught me that formal language is just as easy to use as informal language. “Hay is for horses, not for men,” he said. It’s just as easy to say “hello” as it is to say “hey,” and it’s just as easy to say “thank you” as it is to say “thanks.” He taught me to speak in such a way that will be received well when it matters the most, like at a job interview, or giving a presentation. He taught me to look people in the eye when they speak to you to give them the respect they deserve (this action also conveys confidence, an added bonus). He taught me that it was important to stay up-to-date on politics and current events, and insisted on at least some knowledge about the stock market and its current state, and to have something to say about it or add to a conversation. He taught me to exceed minimum standards in all things: if being on time was good, then being early was my goal; if a paper requires that you use 3 sources, then my goal was to us 10. He taught me that I needed to really make an effort and give 110% in everything I do, because nothing good happens to people who don’t try, to people who don’t give a crap.

Lesson 5: Be kind, be generous, be thoughtful.
My grandpa was about equity over equality. He knew that to have the best impact on people, that we should meet them where they need to be met to get the biggest boost, and to him, this was basic kindness. He went to great lengths to make everyone around him feel important and included, and this wasn’t lost on me: from the way he would tailor his speech so that he didn’t bend or break his fragile granddaughter’s spirit, the way he had a pet name just for me (sweet girl), the way he gave every single one of his grandkids a crisp $100 bill when one of us found the year’s afikomen, and even the way he offered Alex a beer within a minute of meeting him while everyone else was busy sizing him up. He was quick to do a good deed, quick to give a person the shirt off his back or the hat off his head or the shoes off his feet (literally!), and quick to do anything to elicit a smile from his loved ones, which, when observed consistently, taught me was the correct way to conduct oneself. He was never stingy with thoughtful comments — whether it was to say I was beautiful, or that I had interesting things to talk about, or that he respected my opinions, or about how proud he was of me. I know he knew that I, specifically, needed those things to help me along my way, but he also knew that everyone else did, too: everyone flourishes when treated well.

Lesson 6:  You are loved (despite the voice in your head the constantly tells you otherwise)
The greatest lesson my grandpa ever taught me was that I am loved, even when my mind only seeks to find evidence to the contrary. When my brain told me I no longer had a family when my parents divorced, my grandpa cried with me as he told me that he, too, felt that way when his parents divorced but that no one can divorce their kids, or grandkids, or cousins, and I would not be alone. When my brain told me that I had to meet special criteria to earn his love, like having a bat mitzvah, for example, my grandpa told me that the only thing I ever had to do to be loved by him was to just exist. When my brain told me that the person who treated me badly must have had a good reason to do so and that I deserved it, my grandpa told me that person was just an asshole, and I deserved respect. When my brain told me that I was dumb, or unimportant, or unlovable, or hated, or forgotten, or a bad person, my grandpa was always there to hug me, to remind me of all the evidence that said differently. His love for me was the only evidence that really mattered.

I am who I am today in large part because of my grandpa. He taught me more than I could possibly write in a blog post, and meant more to me than all of my words or tears can convey. I don’t, at this point, really know how I am going to live the rest of my life when it has been so irrevocably changed and rendered unrecognizable. Absolutely nothing is the same, and nothing will ever be the same. I lost one of the only people who ever loved me and showed it, and a person I loved and respected so very much.

He was my last remaining grandparent, a true hero in my life, a person whose name I will utter whenever I am asked about who I aspire to be like. I am going to work as hard as I can to be half the person that my grandpa was.

I love you, grandpa. To be your granddaughter was an honor, and I will try to live in such a way that would make you proud.

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You may click here to view his obituary.

Hard Stuff

My grandma, in 6 parts

August 6, 2015

Last night, this world lost a true gem, and a beautiful soul: my grandmother, Shirley Lazar. My family and I are heartbroken over her loss, and I cannot believe that this is actually reality. My grandma was well-liked by everyone, kind, strong, and always thinking about others. She loved her family, especially her three children, loved to read so much that she pursued (and earned) a Master’s in library science, and her best friend was her husband of over 60 years. She was a listener, a traveler, and always appreciated a tootsie roll. She made the best matzo ball soup, latkes, brisket, and milkshakes I have ever tasted, and always hosted the best sleepovers. I wish you all could have known my grandma, and I was so fortunate to say that she was mine. I want to tell you stories, and memories, and all about this wonderful person who impacted so many lives, and so profoundly. I’ll be talking about her my whole life, I’m sure. My grandma was much more to me, to my family, and to this world than I could ever explain, but I thought I would attempt to tell you just a few things that made her such a special, important person in my life. Here they are, in six parts:

1. The Birth
I had jaundice as a baby, which essentially meant that my skin was yellow, and I know there’s something about bilirubin, but that’s past my scope of knowledge. Because of it, I wasn’t allowed home until at least a week after my birth, and when my parents were cleared to take me: they didn’t. Instead of going home, we went somewhere better: to my grandma’s house. Six lbs and swimming in a purple dress, my grandma held me in her arms in front of a big window — sun shining through — to simultaneously heal and fawn over her newest granddaughter. A picture of us together in that moment — her smiling down, nuzzling close to me — is actually my favorite of us together, mostly because it was entirely indicative of what she meant to me and what was to come in my life.

2. The Bracelet
I was maybe four years old, and I had a red tricycle that I loved. I also had a two-year-old brother who loved everything I did, and of course, my red trike was a pretty hot commodity. In a moment of kindness, I not only let him touch the trike, but also sit on it, and ride it. It wasn’t a super successful endeavor. The scene ended with a trip to the hospital and a few stitches to the forehead for him, and a very quick, on-the-way drop off at the curb of a place that wasn’t completely terrifying for me: my grandparents’ house. Borderline-hysterical about my brother, my grandma sat with me on her lap, stroking my hair, telling me that not only would my brother be okay, but that he’d come out with a prize: a bracelet for his bravery. She told me that I, too, was brave, and she took me by the hand up to her bedroom, opened her jewelry box, and showed me her bracelets. “You can pick one,” she said, “for you to keep.” I chose one that, for some reason, reminded me most of her: one with large turquoise stones. (She actually gave me a second one with dark stones because my grandma was always generous like that.) I kept it, and as I kid I always felt brave, and important, and a part of something bigger than myself whenever I wore or saw that bracelet in my own jewelry box. I think that “something bigger” was family, and I felt most like I was truly a part of a family whenever she was near. After all, she was the center of ours. I didn’t need a bracelet to know I was loved or important or included, but sometimes, when I was alone, there was something in its tangibility that reminded me and comforted me.

3. The Ice Cream
I was rarely allowed to have ice cream at home, and when I was, it was, like, one scoop. I see the purpose, but for a person whose favorite food was ice cream, this was obviously a severe injustice. Luckily, my grandma, who is actually the person who convinced me to do so much as taste ice cream for the first time, clearly agreed with my point of view. She kept at least one container of ice cream in her freezer (usually more), and was always prepared to offer me some whenever I came to her house. She would ask if I wanted a scoop of ice cream, I’d say yes, and she would give me two. She’d ask me if I wanted another scoop, and she’d give me another two. Sometimes she would even give me three! To my knowledge, she didn’t even tell my parents! Talk about grandma helping a girl out. My grandma was awesome. She was always looking out for my best interests, always looking out for my happiness, and always on my side — with ice cream, and with everything. I never eat ice cream without thinking of my grandma, and for some reason, it just never tastes as delicious when anyone else but her scoops it.

4. The Support
My parents were separated when I was a young teenager, and I was afraid that my parents separating from each other might mean that I was somehow separating from my family. I felt unstable at that point in my life, and did not know where I was going to belong. A few days after I heard the news, I went down the shore with my dad and grandparents, and my grandma cried with me, she told me that she loved me, and that no matter what happened in this life that I was always loved, and always a part of our family. I will never forget the level of understanding, compassion, acceptance, and love I felt in that moment. But really, I never questioned whether or not I was loved whenever I was with her. Her support meant everything to me, and to have her during such a hard time in my life meant more than I could ever express or even still can. I’m just so grateful for that kind of love.

5. The Jazz Concert
On one of my trips to Florida, where my grandparents spent time in the winter, I talked to them about their lives and their interests, and about things like how our respective generations differed in their musical preferences. My grandma said that she and my grandpa both liked purely instrumental music the best, but were also quite fond of jazz. Coincidentally, there was a jazz concert scheduled for later in the week, and they invited me along to go with them. Of course, I said that I would love to go, and was so excited to spend time with them in an environment we’d never been in together before. My grandma lit up when the music began playing, she sang along with her beautiful voice, danced in her chair, and was so cheerful. I’d never seen my grandma having so much fun, and it was contagious. Soon, we were dancing together in our seats, and having a blast. We talked and laughed all the way home, and I feel so grateful that one of the best memories of my life was made with my grandma.

6: The Night in NY
We hadn’t seen each other in person for a while, but it didn’t really change a thing. When I walked through the door to see my grandma, it felt just like old times. The scene changed a little, but was mostly the same. She stood up, walked over, and gave me a hug. I was crying, as I tend to do, overwhelmed with a mixture of happiness, and sadness, and relief, and a plethora of other feelings that are difficult to articulate. She kissed me multiple times, and asked me if I was happy, essentially with my life. I looked in her eyes and assured her that, yes, I am happy — she doesn’t need to worry — and she took me by the hand, and led me over to the couch, where we sat together, holding hands, hugging, just like we’d done since I was a newborn. I knew then, without a doubt, that even though I may not have felt so important to the world, that I was important to someone: her, my family, an inspiration in my life, a rock, a truly beautiful woman I was so proud to call my grandmother.

My grandma was so much more to me than any of these memories convey, more loved than I can express, and her loss is truly immeasurable. I just needed to write something, I needed to tell you about her, I needed to keep remembering because I’m going to — and already do — miss all of it, and I just can’t let it go. I’m not sure if I’ve even written anything sensical — but I don’t really care. I might as well just write her name over and over again: she’s all that matters here.

I love you, grandma, and I’ll always miss you. Thank you for loving me in return, even in my worst moments, even when I didn’t deserve it. Living on the same street as you as a child, walking on the same earth as you, having you in my life for nearly three decades was a true privilege.

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You may click here to view her obituary.