Friday, November 30, 2007

Acts of Kindness

Leo Babauto, author of Zen Habits wrote a post about acts of kindness (with the goal of bringing people closer together). This is a concept I truly believe in. What prompted him to write was that when he went to the DMV (in Guam where he lives), a woman who works there was particularly helpful and he was so grateful.

And yet, when he was talking with his sister Katrina, she said she felt that most people aren't as kind as they used to be. She's noticed that people say "thank you" less often, and don't smile at strangers. They spend less time walking and talking with each other and more time in their cars where they often act rudely. They watch more TV and spend more time on their computers and less time outdoors interacting with others.

Leo mentioned that when he thinks of ways for people to establish community and help each other, the image that comes to mind is Amish barn raisings.

He is hoping that by offering to do kind things for others (he gave away 50 eBooks to the first 50 people who responded to his post), others will also do acts of kindness.

In the last 18 months, one of my favorite acts of kindness was playing the Autoharp at my mother's assisted living facility. Like Leo at Zen Habits, I'd like to know what my readers are doing to restore kindness and develop a sense of community. Do tell!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where Are The Bipolar Success Stories (Follow-Up)

There was a burst of activity on the subject of "Where Are the Bipolar Success Stories? (Part 1) so I decided to follow up. First, I'd like to thank casdok, JayPeeFreely, Syd, and Marja for their contributions. I've highlighted a few of their comments but I'm hoping you'll read them in their entirety.

casdok who has an autistic son found the post to be "Food for thought indeed." Perhaps she has similar feelings about the way autism is perceived and the way the media portrays it.

JayPeeFreely wrote, "I always find that love is missing from the hearts of people that can't rightly know what it is that people depressed or (psychotic) endure through. They just can't put aside their pre-conceived, pre-ordained notions as to what people under this problem have to get through."

I couldn't agree more!

Syd wrote, "Unfortunately the media chooses to focus on the most extreme and disturbing cases because they make for higher ratings. And to be honest, many within the BP community perpetuate the 'awfulness' of this disorder by focusing almost exclusively on how terrible their lives are."

Absolutely!

Marja wrote, "...I believe that, one day, psychiatrists will subdivide bipolar into a bunch of different illnesses. I think there's a great difference between us in the way we suffer. The bipolar 1 that I suffer with had been hell for me for many many years, with many psychotic episodes. That must be different from those who have depression as their primary symptom."

I share this view completely. Although I didn't know a single bipolar person before I began writing this blog, it is clear to me from the comments I've read in the last ten months (and the other bipolar blogs I've visited) that people experience this illness totally differently.

I think there is a huge difference between people who come to this illness from the manic side and those of us who come to it from the depressive side. I believe that people who suffer from psychotic episodes have a completely different experience from those of us who don't. I also can tell you from experience that bipolar medication can cause "quasi-psychotic" behavior for people who have never experienced it before (and won't again after they stop taking the drugs).

I find it inconceivable that the doctors and researchers who study this illness lump everyone together and prescribe medication with a "one size fits all" mentality.

And finally, in response to another comment by Marja about my feeling that working in a mental illness facility isn't "uplifting," it just goes to show you--once again--how different we are.

While Marja hosts a weekly support group for people suffering from mental illness at her church (and I think it's terrific), that would be a tremendous "downer" for me. What I have learned, over time, is that I need to focus on wellness, not illness. I read very few bipolar blogs because, as I've mentioned before, I don't find them uplifting. Being with people who are depressed depresses me.

While I would agree that I am a bipolar success story, I'm not a member of any mental health organization nor do I plan on joining one. In fact, I'm even having difficulty publicizing my new book: Bipolar Depression Unplugged. My problem is that while I believe the book provides important and unique insights about the way bipolar depression is treated--oh so badly as we all know--my focus is more on illness than wellness.

I wrote the book because the act of writing about my treatment saved my life. I could never have survived such an idiotic, inhumane, ineffective, and downright horrific treatment regimen without being able to poke fun at it. And I want others to understand that they are not alone. Most of all I want them to know that if I could survive 120 depressive episodes, so can they.

But...and this is a big "but"...I also know that without a vigilant stance--which in my case means focusing on the positive and surrounding myself with others who feel and act similarly--my depressions could return.

And perhaps that's why there aren't more bipolar success stories. Maybe, there are others--like me--who are well most of the time but neither wish to be defined by this illness nor spend the rest of our lives reliving it.

While the trend in treating physical illness is to focus on wellness, that's not the trend in treating so-called mental illness. While people who are suffering from cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and a host of other illnesses can participate in inspirational and motivational treatment programs--that isn't the case with so-called mental illness.

And until it is...I'd rather play my Autoharp for seniors at assisted living facilities than spend time with my fellow bipolars.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bipolar Depression Unplugged

My newest book, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out is available as an eBook from Chipmunkapublishing in London. The following is an excerpt.

"Between 1993 and 2003, I took 25 different medications in different dosages and different combinations. And I got sicker and sicker.

One of the most depressing days of my life was in 2003 when I downloaded and read the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2003 Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Bipolar Disorder. I wanted to cry. The guidelines for prescribing medication for Somatic Treatments of Acute Depressive Episodes were based on the flimsiest information.

I was dumbfounded when I learned that studies on lithium had been completed before 1980. There had been no published controlled studies of valporate (Depakote). The two studies on carbamazepine (Tegretol) included only 36 patients.The studies on lamotrigine (Lamictal) were equally distressing.The summary statement of one study reported “in a flexible-dose, placebo-controlled study of lamotrigine in 206 patients with bipolar I or bipolar II major depression, both treatment groups improved significantly (response to lamotrigine was 50%, response rate to placebo was 49%), but lamotrigine did not distinguish itself from placebo.”

I finally realized that for ten years, I had been taking an array of toxic medication whose treatment guidelines had been based almost solely on anecdotal information because there hadn’t been any substantive studies."

(to be continued)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Where Are the Bipolar Success Stories?

There was an article today in the Los Angeles Times about a meeting place for mentally ill people in their twenties and thirties. The seed money was donated by the parents of a man named Daniel, who was diagnosed as mentally ill when he had a psychotic episode in college many years ago. He went on medication, graduated from college, was a client at another mental health facility and then a staff member, and then he committed suicide.

While I imagine the story was intended to be uplifting to low-functioning people in this age group who have no social life, I thought it was yet another depressing article about mental illness.

I truly wonder whether being bipolar is so bad or if it's just the treatment that is so ineffective. Isn't there a difference between people who suffer from psychotic episodes and those who suffer from depression? If people who suffer from depression get help--truly effective help that enables them to change their behavioral patterns and stop the triggers--isn't it possible to stave off this illness early on?

Surely, there are people--besides me and a few others who read this blog--who get well.

I've often wondered whether people continue to feel ill because they think of themselves as mentally ill? Do they continue to feel depressed because they're hanging around other people who feel depressed? Was it truly a good idea for Daniel--once he was well--to be a staff member at a mental illness facility? Might he not have felt better if he had spent his days in a more uplifting environment?

Any thoughts?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Feeling Grateful

In the last month, my son, husband, and I have seen three films: 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, and No Country for Old Men. (Yes, all three are violent but when you're the mother of an 18-year-old male, chick flicks aren't an option. To be honest, I really enjoy action-adventure films as a genre.)

Each time, we capped off our evening by going out to eat. Last night, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant that specializes in Pho. As we were driving home, I realized how lucky I feel that I'm well enough to go to the movies.

There were years when going out at all--because of my depressive episodes--was truly difficult for me. I'd have to force myself to get out of bed. By the time I got showered and dressed, I was so tired that I had to rest. The process of driving to the theater, walking inside, sitting through all the previews, watching the film, and going home was interminable.

Going out to eat was even worse. For years, the medication I took caused such an array of side effects that I was frequently nauseous, and had to order bland food. And it took all of my energy to participate in dinner table conversations. I was doing so little in life--that there wasn't much to say. And I felt so lousy that it took a tremendous amount of energy to try and be upbeat for the sake of my husband and son.

Now...all of that seems like it happened to someone else...so very long ago. It's inconceivable to me that it dragged on for so many years. I can't imagine how I withstood all the pain and suffering.

I am so grateful for my husband for standing by me. I am so thankful that my son has blossomed--despite my illness--which had to have a huge impact on his life. I am so glad that my mother, who was always there for me--lived to see my recovery--and that I could be there for her when she needed me.

Today, on my parent's wedding anniversary, I thank God for my mother and father. I believe that my ability to survive adversity was because of my high self-esteem and strong personality. Who knows where that comes from? But from my earliest memories, I have felt fully and unconditionally loved and supported.

For another look at gratitude, check out Syd's posts on Bipolarity.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Solitude

While I usually don't post on Saturday, it somehow seems appropriate. After a holiday--any holiday for that matter--I always need a few days of solitude. I used to worry that my need to replenish was a bipolar symptom. Now I think it's just a part of who I am, and I'm quite comfortable with it. I particularly like the following quotes on solitude.

"I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up."
--Pearl S. Buck

"What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great person is one who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say."
--Thomas Merton

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Friends (Part 2)

In her book, Among Friends: Who We Like, Why We Like Them, and What We Want To Do With Them, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, using herself as an example, writes about why friends withdraw when someone is ill.

"I have a problem with illness. Armchair analysis suggests it is because my mother died of cancer when I was young and I have never been able to visit sick people or hospitals without stirring up these memories. But it may be something more ignoble: cowardice, laziness, a primitive fear of "germs" or the unknown, a self-serving denial of human frailty and the fragility of life. Whatever the cause, it is humiliating to own up to such behavior, and like any coward, I do so only having discovered that others are guilty of it too."

I am disturbed by her sentiments but I find her honesty appealing.

I wonder how many of you were deserted by your friends when you were ill with bipolar disorder. How did it make you feel? Did you welcome these people back to the fold when you were well? How did your illness affect your willingness to count on others? To trust them? Has the lack of empathy by others caused you to be more empathetic with others who are ill?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Friendship (Part 1)

While I intended to write about my new book today, I've decided to post about friendship instead. As I approach Thanksgiving this year, I would like to discuss the importance of friendship. As you all know, my mother died on October 26. Her lengthly decline and subsequent death was very sad--for a number of reasons.

Losing a parent you love is always heartbreaking. But I know that one of the things that disturbed me most during the final years of my mother's life was how many of her friends deserted her--during her decline. And it was truly unfathomable to me.

A few days ago, one of my mother's closest friends (for so many years) called and left the following message on my answering machine. "Susan, I heard your mother died. Well, I've been out of town and out of touch, but you've been out of touch too. I've heard there is going to be a memorial service but I don't know when it will be. Could you call me and let me know?"

When I listened to the message, at first I was just angry and then I was sad. It was perhaps one of the least sensitive messages I've ever heard. The memorial service had come and gone. Yes, I had been out of touch, but to be quite honest, I was sick and tired of my mother's friend calling to ask me where she was living (this woman doesn't have a memory problem) and then giving me all the reasons why she couldn't visit.

At first, I had returned her telephone calls. Later, I didn't. In my defense, I knew she could always call my sister. Also, she was friends with other friends of my mother's. But I lost patience when I realized that these calls were "bullsh*t."

If my mother's friend was interested in seeing her, she would have. She was my mother's only close friend who didn't visit once in the two years mother was at the assisted living facility. Why was that?

I wondered how she defined friendship. Was her view of it so shallow that she didn't realize that one loves one's friends "in sickness and in health?" Why would she think that now that my mother is dead, I have any interest in talking to her--ever again?

My anger and passion about the topic of friendship made me realize that I needed to begin researching it further. Stay tuned!

(to be continued)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Moving On

A few of my online friends have recently expressed concern about what I'm up to. At first I was going to write a new post. Then I decided that my email to Marja, with a few minor changes, expressed it best.

Dear Marja,
Actually, I'm swamped with stuff. My new book: Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out has just come out as an eBook. (For those of you are interested in it, I'll write about it tomorrow.)

I had to quit my photography class this semester because I missed too many classes but my professor--who I genuinely like--will be teaching it again in the spring. And I've already enrolled.

Next semester (which is a short one, only six weeks), I'm taking a music appreciation class, and Sydney and I are working together on an exciting new venture (which I'll also discuss further down the road).

So...my plate is full. I've just needed some time off from everything to grieve in my own way. And once my son goes away to college in January, my husband and I plan on pursuing some of our hobbies that Alex doesn't like, namely fishing and hiking.

But...I appreciate your concern.

Love,
Susan

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bipolarity

I usually don't post on weekends, but I highly recommend that you check out Syd's post today on her blog Bipolarity. She's discussing emotions, which I feel is a really important topic, and one that I'd like to explore further.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Change (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote a post about change and quoted William Bridges, who's a transition specialist. My friend Marja wrote a comment about how she doesn't like change.

The truth is that I don't like change either. Like Marja, I've been married to the same man for almost 30 years. I have lived in the same house for 27 years and I live five blocks away from the house in which I grew up. Most of my closest friends are people with whom I went to high school (although I have made new friends over the years and recently made one of my dearest friends through this blog). I've worn the same hairstyle for more than 35 years, and I felt terrible when the guy who cut my hair for 12 years recently moved to Mexico. Most of the tradespeople with whom I deal are the same people my mother found so many years ago.

Why then did I write about change? Because like it or not, the world changes around us. A few days ago, my friend JayPeeFreely wrote asking what new "adventure" I plan to involve myself in? It's a good question because now that my mother has died, and I won't be spending time with her--which has been considerable these last few months when she was so sick--I have a lot more available time.

Also, my son will be going away to college in January--another life-changing experience. I'm quite thrilled for him and don't intend to be one of those clinging mother's who can't let go. It's his time to assert his independence and my responsibility to allow him to and help him in whatever way I can.

So...what are my plans? I'll discuss them next week. In the meantime, I'd be interested in knowing how other people deal with change and transition. Do you like it? Hate it? Do you cope well with change or do you try to pretend it's not happening? If you've got good coping skills, what are they? If you don't, do you think this presents problems in your life?

To all...have a nice weekend. See you on Monday!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Change

Sorry that my post is so late today. I've been out and about, and seem a bit out of sorts. So...I'd like to share a quote from one of my favorite new books: The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments by William Bridges, Ph.D.

"It's a paradox: To achieve continuity we have to be willing to change. Change, in fact, is the only way to protect whatever exists, for without continuous readjustment the present cannot continue. Even the great conservative, Edmund Burke, realized this, for he said that 'a state without the means of change is without the means of its continuation.'

"The refusal to change will not guarantee that whatever we care about stays the same. It only assures that whatever we care about has been deprived of the very thing it needs in order to survive. A marriage, a career, a dream for the future, even a picture of the past: Each of these things is being primed for destruction if it does not change over time.

"Here is another paradox: The very things we now wish we could hold onto and keep safe from change were themselves originally produced by changes. And many of these changes, in their day, looked just as daunting as any in the present do. No matter how solid and comfortable and necessary the status quo feels today, it was once new, untried, and uncomfortable. Change is not the only path ahead, but it is also the path behind us, the one which we traveled along to wherever we are now trying to stay."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bipolar Blogging (Part 3)

I guess the bottom line is that I'm well and have been for almost a year. I've figured out what initially triggered my illness--so many years ago--and resolved it. I'm continually identifying triggers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and I try to resolve them.

I've learned how to brainswitch so that when something bothers me, I can stop the brain kindling, and I no longer ruminate about past events.

And on a daily basis, I have a wealth of wellness activities I've developed that not only work for me but are fulfilling and satisfying.

Finally, I rarely take medication and when I do, I'm able to take a very low dosage and it's effective. Once again, I'm the exception to the rule.

So, despite having a wealth of knowledge about this illness, I'm ready to move on. I started this blog with the goal that I could share what I've learned. I was hoping that readers would find me who've were interested in discussing wellness rather than illness, and who have developed a wide array of healing and wellness activities that we could share. For the most part, that hasn't been the case.

Still, now that I'm well, I can appreciate certain lessons I've learned from being ill. I've often thought that while some people have lived in monasteries or ashrams for years and have gained insight from these experiences, I've had a similar experience from having been so sick for so long.

In my case, it was 10 years of near silence due to depression. Now that I'm well--most of the time--I truly have learned what is important in life. And I try not to sweat the small stuff.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bipolar Blogging (Part 2)

3. My third reason for changing the name of my blog--is to expand my readership. The people I'm interested in attracting are those who have overcome adversity and are truly seeking happiness, fulfillment, and wellness.

After months of reading a variety of different blogs, I realized that I'm bored with those that focus solely on bipolar themes and issues. Almost five years ago, after spending ten years doing bipolar research, I stopped visiting bipolar websites and reading bipolar books when I realized that reading about this illness made me feel worse rather than better.

I've mentioned elsewhere that during this decade, I'd read over 100 books on manic-depression, unipolar depression, and related topics. Perhaps one or two had any positive effect. For the most part, they were dreary and self-limiting.

During my darkest days, I read the books on cancer that I'd bought when my father was dying of prostate cancer. I'd found a wide array of books on cancer that were uplifting and positive. I read inspirational stories about exceptional patients who lived far beyond their life expectancies. I familiarized myself with techniques for reversing illness. I read about doctors who truly believed that their patients could get well.

I couldn't find similar books on bipolar mood disorder. I didn't feel the success stories were inspirational in the least. The lack of insight about this illness was downright depressing. And the psychiatrists and psychologists who write on this topic truly need help. Either they have no patients who are life-affirming or they're just extraordinarily downbeat people.

(to be continued)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bipolar Blogging (Part 1)

Thank you to all of the people who have been so kind and supportive these past few months, particularly: Sydney and JayPeeFreely as well as Marja, Marie, Dream Writer, AKA Cate, Cindy, Daily Dose, and Howard.
* * *
What's in a name? I've finally decided to change my blog from Bipolar Wellness Writer to Susan Bernard. Why? There are three primary reasons.

1. Bipolar wellness is just one of the issues I write about. For the last few months, I've been focusing on my experiences caring for my mother...and then her death. Although I'm now moving on, I've got to tell you that scattering my mother's ashes was truly a wonderfully healing experience --aside from the fact that I thought I might be arrested, that I had a lengthy talk about biodegradable urns with the mortuary guy who told me about the one he sold that looked like a Frisbee, and when all was said and done...the only person who would have laughed as loudly about my experiences as I did--was my mother, who I truly miss!

2. Most bipolar blogs are too downbeat for me. I apologize to anyone I may offend by this comment but as far as I'm concerned, it's true. Having survived more than 120 depressive episodes, I feel I'm entitled to my opinion. The fact is that, for the most part, if I've learned anything about avoiding depression--and quite honestly, I've learned a lot--I believe that dwelling on the negative makes you feel worse.

There is a difference between "writing to make sense of one's experience and to try and heal," and "writing to dump." While I occasionally engage in the latter, it's truly with the goal of trying to understand the triggers or people who have caused me to feel depressed in the past, and to rid myself of the anger I feel toward them so that I can move on.

I strongly believe that "writing to dump" on a daily basis provokes negative emotions and causes depressive episodes.

(to be continued)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tribute to My Mom (Part 4)

The following are excerpts from the tribute I wrote to my mother--in a letter form--that were read at her memorial service. I realized that some of the things I'd written were so personal that only her family members and friends would appreciate them. So...I'm including the parts that I feel everyone might enjoy and understand.

From you and daddy, I learned about love and marriage. Even when I was a child, I couldn’t imagine how I could ever find anyone I loved as much as you loved daddy and he loved you. It was only fitting that I found another "Bernie" as my soul mate. Still, the depth of your love for each other was inspirational. I will never forget the poems you wrote when daddy died. This one made me cry.

Berny Schwartz: 1921-1989
I don’t want him to be gone.
I want him here to mow the lawn,
to rub my back,
to kiss my ear.
I want him here
to take out the trash,
to hold my hand,
to wiggle our toes in the silver sand.
I want to hear him whistle again.
You were my darling,
the dearest of men.
I loved you Berny,
and oh how I grieve.
Why oh why did you have to leave?

And this one made me laugh!

Is it too late
to ask questions quite complex?
I need to know
because I loved you so.
Is there life after love,
and after death…is there sex?

Mother, I’m sure there’s sex after death for you and daddy. After all, he’s been waiting for you in heaven for more than 18 years. My fantasy is that when you first arrived, you’d have a passionate reunion, and then play tennis together again. I’m sure that by now he’s given you a racy new convertible sports car with a stick shift, another new wedding ring, some great costume jewelry, a new hat or two, and that you’ve bought at least a few pairs of shoes.

Mama, everyone always says that people who die will be sorely missed but not forgotten. But, in your case, it’s true. A few nights ago I had a dream that I was standing at the Pearly Gates and there was God, who looked just like Golda Meir.

I said, “Hi, I’m Susan Bernard.”

“You’re one of the Schwartz children,” she said.

“Your parents are truly wonderful. The March birthday parties are extraordinary. Everyone has so much fun. Those ecumenical Passovers have brought all kinds of people together. Your father is a highly sought after doubles partner, and your mother’s new column, Speaking from Heaven, is a great success.”

I started laughing and I awakened. Then I started crying—when I realized that you were gone. Still, my memories sustain me. Mama, you were a wonderful mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. I felt lucky that my small nuclear family lived five blocks away and I could drop in and visit so often. Bernie, Alex, and I were glad we could continue the Schwartz family tradition of spending every Sunday with you—for sixteen years—with Bernie cooking your favorite foods and Alex being the lightpost for your love—and you for his.

I will treasure the last few years when you talked less, but I could share my love by playing my Autoharp and singing to you, telling you stories of your youth and mine, and just being with you—so that you could feel my love with a touch, a smile, a hug.

Whenever I’m feeling sad about my loss, I turn to your poetry. This one made me smile and brought tears to my eyes.

On a Sad Day
Don't cry for me.
I have loved and been loved
with more sweetness than most.
I promise to be a gentle ghost,
with only a reminder here and there...
an off-key song...a steak that's rare...
an ice cream cone...a silly poem.
So, smile awhile and think of the stories I'd tell,
then remember me...and laugh like hell!

Mother, you taught me how to laugh, and love, and cry. You also taught me to end every story with a good punch line, so I wrote my own small poem for you.

Oh mama, I love you so!
I'm so sorry to see you go.
I know it's time to say goodbye
but I'll love you dearly until I die.

Love, Susan,
Your one in the middle.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tribute to My Mom (Part 3)

The following are excerpts from the tribute I wrote to my mother--in a letter form--that were read at her memorial service. I realized that some of the things I'd written were so personal that only her family members and friends would appreciate them. So...I'm including the parts that I feel everyone might enjoy and understand.

I learned about friendship from seeing what a good friend you were. Whenever anyone was sick, you were the first one to rush over with homemade matzo ball soup and fresh rye bread. You remembered everyone’s birthday and anniversary and you were generous and thoughtful in so many ways.

During the sixties and early seventies, I think you did cross-stitch patterns on work shirts for all of your friend’s children, and later—when those children had children of their own—you cross-stitched baby’s undershirts.

Mother, you and daddy shaped my moral character, but in different ways. He and I had long talks about honesty, integrity, family, loyalty, and the work ethic, but you taught me by your actions.

You were always out there in the community blazing trails, whether it was writing the Fair Housing Newsletter, joining the temple Social Action Committee, busing children to Overland Avenue Elementary School, being the Jewish panelist on Portraits of American Women, a member of Women For, attending services with Christian parishioners at All Saints Church and Leo Baeck Temple, and participating in a wide array of political events. For you, establishing a "liberal" agenda was a moral imperative.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tribute to My Mom (Part 2)

The following are excerpts from the tribute I wrote to my mother--in a letter form--that were read at her memorial service. I realized that some of the things I'd written were so personal that only her family members and friends would appreciate them. So...I'm including the parts that I feel everyone might enjoy and understand.

Mama, when I think of my childhood, there are so many stories to tell and impressions to share. You were an exceptional role model in so many ways, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized how special you were. When I was young I guess I thought that everybody’s mother could write wonderful poems. This is one I know by heart because you wrote it about me:

For Susan
Do you have the problem of a middle child?
The consensus is you do,
if you’ve an older one and a younger one,
psychiatry says you’re through.
In our house, the big one
is the very first grandson.
And the little one
is precocious and wild.
But the one in the middle
plays the fiddle
and her charm has us completely beguiled.

As I got older I learned that everyone’s mother didn’t write poems, and I certainly knew they didn’t wrote a newspaper column, but you never made a big deal about it. Writing was just something you did…all the time.

What amazes me is how many of your readers called our house, and you always had time for each and every one of them—whether they truly had news items for your column or they were lonely and needed someone to listen.

Growing up as one of the Schwartz children whose mother wrote Speaking from Cheviot also meant that everywhere I went—everyone knew me because everyone knew you.

And our home was the cornerstone of abundant joy and happiness. You and daddy were so welcoming to our friends, and you entertained grandly. Who can forget the March birthday party celebrations? And what about our ecumenical Passovers where you included people of different religions and everyone read from the service?

I’ve often thought about how inclusive you were to so many people. Whether it was Thanksgiving, Passover, or Yom Kippur (to break the fast), you always invited friends who were widows or widowers, those whose children lived in different states and couldn’t be with family members, new friends you’d made, or people who interested you.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tribute to My Mom (Part 1)

I'd like to thank everyone who wrote to lend me support and provide solace. Yesterday, my aunt, cousin, and I scattered my mother's ashes. Today, I'm taking my aunt and cousin to the airport to return to Austin, Texas. I'd like to spend this week sharing the tribute I wrote to my mom--before moving on, and returning to my life.

Dear Mama,

As I’m sitting down at my desk to write my tribute for your memorial service, tears are streaming down my face. Already, I miss you so! I’m not sure there ever has been a daughter who loved her mother (and father) more.

But I will miss you and mourn you privately. Today is my opportunity to celebrate your life, share some stories, and tell friends and family members what you and daddy taught me, and how special I always felt when people said, “You must be one of the Schwartz girls.”

One of the greatest gifts I received from you and daddy was that for my entire life I have felt unconditionally loved. But perhaps my earliest memory is when I was a five-year-old kindergartner. One day when you picked me up from school, I was crying because my teacher told me I couldn’t saw wood with my left hand. You hugged me and kissed me, wiped away my tears, and held my hand as you led me back to my class. As we entered the room, you walked right up to my teacher Mrs. Sweeney and said, “I don’t want you to change my daughter. She’s perfect the way she is. You’ll have to teach her to saw with her left hand.”

From that moment on, I knew you would always stand up for me, and so you did. You also must have had a huge impact on Mrs. Sweeney. More than 15 years later when I was a senior at UCLA and taking some education classes, Mrs. Sweeney, who by then was a bigwig within the Los Angeles Board of Education, was a guest lecturer in one of my classes. Afterwards, I walked up to her and said, “Hi, my name is Susan Schwartz. You probably don’t remember me but I was in your kindergarten class at Hancock Park Elementary School.

Without batting an eye, she asked, “How’s your mother? I read her column.”

I smiled and said, “Fine.” We talked some more and just as I was ready to walk away, she paused, and with a twinkle in her eye, asked, “Do you still saw with your left hand?”

I remember laughing out loud as I left the lecture hall and thinking that I hoped that when I had children, I would be as much of a heroine to them as you were to me.

(to be continued)