Updated: Feb 25, 2020
It reminds me of a dark cloud or fog…
Hail falling… thick and heavy... relentlessly crashing down on your heart…
Everything comes crashing to a halt.
My life was pretty regular... I had two healthy kids and we were expecting our third. It was an exciting time, yet a really scary time. My husband was transitioning from full time learning into part time learning and part time working. I had quit my job to start my own business. I am not a huge risk taker, but I was motivated to find job satisfaction, and I wasn’t getting that from my 9-5. I felt it in my gut, the deepest part of my intuition - I was destined to do more.
Most of the people in my life were supportive of my decision, others... not so much (well, those other people aren’t living with the decisions that we make... they don’t live with the regret we hold onto as we get older and realize we let our fears hold us back...) This was my life. And I was excited to take charge of it.
I had certain dreams ever since I could remember... Marry... Grow a family... Start a business... Figure out how to manage money... Buy a house... Live a sound financial life…
First, the husband… Although my mom and I had a complicated relationship for most of my childhood and teen years (like most mother-daughter relationships tend to be at some point), the second my husband entered my life, I’m pretty sure it was love at first sight... for her. She loved him, and we often joked that she loved him more than me. (She wouldn’t like me writing this but I guess she’ll have to laugh this one off in heaven).
Next check-box... the house. After reading “The Surrendered Wife”, I began taking inspired action. As prescribed, I stated my request; “I’d really like to live in a house.” Notice I didn’t say “we need more money for a house”. I just repeated the words “I’d really like to live in a house” in many of our daily conversations. Many times over. I made vision boards to get in the mindset of “anything is possible”. I surrounded myself with growth oriented people with growth oriented mindsets. I immersed myself in this “surrendered wife culture” even though some people probably thought I went off the deep end. I remember reading that Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb until he failed 200+ times before. I kept this idea at the forefront of my mind. Every failure became a learning curve... and life was meant to be lived... and learned from.
We weren’t even really looking for a house. After all, what young kollel couple could afford a house in Woodmere? One day, a friend from our carpool told us about a house on her block that was unlisted… a private seller! Why not go look at the house... it’s free to look, right?
But from the moment we looked at it, we knew this was our house. It had to be. A big closed-in backyard... 5 bedrooms... 3 bathrooms... great storage spaces...enough room for my over-sized family (I have 8 siblings) and even room for an office!!! Just the right amount of parking spots... central location... hmmm… I found myself saying to my husband, “I love the house and all, but maybe we shouldn’t buy a house when I’m due with our third child and I just quit my job?” “Trust me”, he said. So I did. That mantra always seems to work for us.
And I found myself dreaming of the day my third child would be born...
Everyone would come to my new house. Me, Gila. I have a house to host my gigantic family in! My parents would sleep in the basement and have their own room and bathroom. No more asking all my friends and neighbors if they could please just squish my small family of 11 people into their house for shabbos…
I had lofty goals for my delivery with this baby too. Hypnobirthing it was. I sat through hours of classes explaining how to breath through the “surges” (painful contractions we aren’t allowed to call painful). I dreamed of a beautiful birth story. No epidural. My mom would be with me, or at least be watching my other kids so I could bond with my new baby. She’d be here because whenever I, or any of my siblings had a baby, she magically appeared. She was a permanent fixture in all of our birthing plans (and life plans).
Ahhh. Life couldn’t get any better...
Until everything came crashing down.
Cancer. Stage 4 cancer.
My younger brother got married in June of 2018. What a beautiful simcha (celebration). Everything was perfect. A few days later, my mom wasn’t feeling well. “It’s just a kidney stone” she told me, "no worries". I even remember her leaving me a funny and classic voice note on my phone saying (more like cracking up), “You know when you're pregnant and you eat something you like, and the baby jumps, well this kidney stone does too”.
She thought it was so funny.
Well the kidney stones were taken care of, but she still had pain. A new pain. A fibroid? OK, that’s normal and common for women of 56. But, they couldn't be positive it was a fibroid unless they operated. Mommy would have surgery and we would all go and help out while she recovers from an intense but manageable surgery.
Weekly family phone meetings ensued. I remember missing a meeting because I couldn’t miss my exercise class. I knew my sisters would fill me in. “Gila... why weren’t you on the call??? They think it may be cancer!” WHAT??? Why wasn’t I on the call? because I’m the worst person in the world!
It can’t be cancer...
She was just fine…
Remember the wedding? She was just laughing and dancing...
She was alive, vibrant, shepping every bit of nachas a mother can possibly shepp...
The next few weeks, we waited for the results.
My dad and sister called me at work… “Gila, are you alone?” Shoot. That’s not good. “Mommy’s out of surgery. She has cancer. It’s stage 4. Most people don’t recover from this type of cancer”.
And down… down I fell... into a rabbit hole of, well, my first stages of grief.
My first thought was my oldest daughter. Her savta was her best friend and biggest fan. Mommy wouldn’t take her to Dunkin’ Donuts (just cuz)... but Savta would. Mommy wouldn’t read 600 books at a time... but Savta would. Mommy didn’t get to go to her first day of school, but savta sure did. This, coupled with my own complicated relationship with my mom, made their relationship that much more special.
But she could never die...
She won’t die...
This will all be ok...
She will fight through it…
If anyone could, it would be her...
I had to compose myself until I could get to my car and drive home. And oh what I drive. The tears flooded my car. I made it home only to fall apart.
We wanted to go to Rochester and visit her in the hospital with the rest of my siblings...
But meanwhile, at my own doctor’s appointment... “your baby is breech”, we need to schedule your c-section.
C section??? Did you just say c-section? Um I’m sorry you will not be cutting me open under any circumstances. “Right, but you do need a c-section if your baby doesn’t turn”.
This was the least of my problems right now. We’ll do this thing called a “version”, and the baby will turn. It will all work out... right?
“Your offer was accepted on the house. Closing day will be September 4th” and… in true Glassberg style, we will be moving in on the exact day of the closing, to save double payment.
Four days after we closed and moved into the house, we went to the hospital to try to flip the baby.
To no avail.
“No worries,” my doctor said, “ You’ll come in next week and we’ll do the epidural, try and turn him again, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll do the c-section.
One last ounce of hope for a natural birth... Giving birth is hard and painful, but when the baby actually comes out it is the most bonding and connecting experience. At least there is a chance I will have this experience with my baby…. I hope and pray to myself.
A few days later it was Rosh Hashanah. I was 9 months pregnant. My mom had stage 4 cancer. My baby was breech. And there were boxes everywhere.
Help. Help. Help. Please, someone come help this situation get a bit easier.
And the call comes… Right after Yuntif.
“Gila, mommy’s in the ICU. I think you should come. I know you may not be able to, since you are due in a few days, but I’m asking everyone to come, and didn’t want to leave you out.” said my dad.
OK. I will come. We will go. To Rochester. Nine months pregnant. With my medical records... (just in case). My mom will not die. If I have to deliver this baby in the same hospital as my mom so she can be there, I will, and she will hold this baby!
When we got there, my loud, bright, vibrant, “life-of-the-party” mother was lying in a bed in a cold ICU room. Wires everywhere. I got to hold her hand and kiss her forehead. I’m not leaving this hospital until she does...
It was Friday, so I stayed in the hospital with her all shabbos. After all, I was nine months pregnant and there was no way I could walk back and forth to my parents house. I stayed in her room the whole night as she moaned, machines moaned, I moaned inside... of pain...
Wait...is this happening right now? Not yet...
I remember mommy making a joke, “Tell tahtee it’s payday.” I didn’t get it... but I was so happy to hear her speak and make a joke.
We all sang and davened in her room... 2 visitors at a time, the ICU staff instructed... ya right, that was a nice try.
The next day she stopped responding. The nurses explained that she might not make it much longer.
No. She will! Obviously she will...
I met the doctor (a total stranger) that insists I would need a c-section if the baby doesn’t turn. No version or chance at this point.
A few hours later... She’s died. She was gone.
Everything was hazy... but also clear as day.
Her funeral would be the next day. Erev Yom Kippur... so no eulogies.
We stood in the graveyard (where just a few years earlier we stood together to bury my 3-month-old niece. My mom took it the worst, wailing and screaming in pain. Maybe she knew she’d be there with her soon).
We returned to the house, where we sat together for a few hours. Then we got up. Shiva was a mere two hours. Because of Yom Kippur, shiva ended.
None of my friends lived in Rochester. My husband spent Yom Kippur in shul (in retrospect, that was probably not the best decision)… I felt so alone.
Maybe this is not really happening... I kept thinking.
Thursday we drove to the hospital.
Yet another turn of events. I felt that this baby would be a girl... but it wasn’t. Nechemiah brought us all the comfort we needed though.
I was in another hospital room, and this time, I was the patient.
I am sorry for your loss, and mazel tov on your son.
I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t move.
My mother… gone.
I’m just... alone.
We stayed in Rochester for a few weeks because it was Succos and we wanted to be together.
After Succos, we returned to our new home with our new baby. But I had no mother. A new baby but no mother. As I said before, Nechemiah brought us all comfort, but the reality was, my emotions collided. Mourning the loss of a perfectly healthy mother a few weeks prior, to celebrating new life in a new home.
Those first few weeks are a blur.
Everything reminded me of my mom.
When I went to the grocery store and saw ready made coffee in a jar, I thought back to when my mom was in the ICU and I asked my husband to get us all coffees. He brought 5. One for me, one for him, one for my dad, one for my sister, and one for my mom...Thank you for getting us all I coffee, but My Mom actually cant eat or drink anything by mouth? What! She was just fine?
My basement guest room that was designated for her… she never got to see it.
It was hard to walk down those steps.
The house I had dreamed of my entire life was tainted with pain and memories of what never would be.
I was home for a few months with my new baby before I picked up some part time work.
I was ok… Until I wasn’t.
Until I thought about my mom… every second.
I thought about what could have been. What should have been.
Grieving the loss of not having the dream birth story.
Grieving that I could not celebrate the house I saved every penny since I was 5 to buy.
Grieving that my mom would not be there to celebrate at my daughters wedding.
Grieving the loss of a happy father.
Grief is real. It hurts. It’s different for everyone.
Some people want to talk about it. Others don’t.
Some people bury their grief until it comes and smacks them in the face. I knew this because my mom lost her mom when her mom was in her early fifties too. She never spoke about her.
That wouldn’t be me.
I’d have pictures of her all over my house. And speak of her. Write about her.
Keep her alive with memories and words...
At least your baby is healthy... but this baby will never know my mom. At least you have a house... but this house was supposed to be for my family to come celebrate together... for my mom to cook us shabbos meals and play outside with the kids... My mom was meant to relish in the nachas that her kids actually pulled through, and bought that house in Woodmere.
I miss my mom everyday... but I have learned to bear the pain.
I speak about her often.
I don’t want anyone else to ever feel shame about their own grief or depression.
And so, I share my journey with you... in hopes that it will give you the courage and strength to process your own grief and share your own story with the people that could benefit from hearing it and can support you through it.
You did nothing wrong. This horrible thing… it happened to you. You did not cause it.
Self care is the key.
Say no when it’s too much for you... even if others are not happy with your boundaries. Only you can know your true limits (and don’t judge yourself for setting those limits).
Write. Meditate. Create.
Get yourself a good therapist.
Cry. Feel your pain. Yell. Scream. Shout.
Talk about it... or don’t. Whatever feels right for you.
Everyone’s journey is different... Your personal grief is your own journey.
In the grief process you will learn more than you want to know about yourself and your family...The strength of love…..the strength of siblings….the strength of community. How much a mother can impact a child’s life... How much pain a heart can bear and still survive.
There is more to my story...
Each day it grows. It changes. I change. We change. We learn. We grow. We share. We help. We support. We love. We try. We do our best.