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A mother's lesson of resilience

The most memorable lesson about resiliency is something I learned from my mother. First, I need to tell you about losing my middle brother, Steven. Steven died in July 1997 after suffering injuries during a car accident. One Sunday, Steven and his newlywed wife were driving to a barbecue at my oldest brother Marty’s house. A young man in a SUV crossed lanes and hit them straight on. Steven saw it happening but there was no place for him to go. He was conscious as the first responders cut him out of the car, and distraught seeing his unconscious and bloodied wife air lifted to the hospital. The driver who caused the accident was unharmed. Steven was taken to the hospital and was taken into surgery for the treatment of several broken bones, including his femur. Although the surgeon told us the surgery went well, Steven never regained consciousness. At first he was diagnosed with adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) caused by the trauma. ARDS allows fluid to leak into the lungs causing breathing to be difficult and inhibiting oxygen from getting into the body. We knew it would be a long, rough road to recovery, but only a day later we learned that the swelling in his brain left him brain dead. We sat together as a family and collectively made the unimaginable decision to remove him from life support. Steven’s wife, although suffering numerous injuries, thankfully survived.

Losing my brother was devastating for me, and more so for my parents. My daughter Juliet was almost a year old and the thought of losing her seemed unbearable, so how could my parents go on after losing a child? In reality, I probably didn’t think that much about it at the time, as I was in too much pain myself. Our family sat Shiva for a week following Steven’s funeral. Shiva is a Jewish custom of allowing family and friends to visit, share stories, laugh and pray together, and that helps us through the first days of grief and mourning. During this time, we received a tremendous outpouring of love and support, including meals that were prepared and sent to our home. On the final night of Shiva, one of Steven’s co-workers showed up with enough food to feed a small army, and we had already eaten. A neighbor offered to store it in their spare freezer. My mother turned to me, and told me that we could use the food at my daughter’s first birthday party. I looked at her incredulously. Was my mother suggesting we have a party when all I wanted to do was cry? Yes, she said that losing Steven demonstrates how fragile life can be, and we need to take every opportunity to celebrate life.

I remember Juliet’s first birthday party. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we served the delicious Italian food so kindly brought for us on that last day of Shiva. Our whole family gathered for the occasion in our backyard. Juliet delighted us all with her hands in the bucket of beverages as she fished all day long for ice cubes to eat. I remember how she loved opening and reading every card, but ignored the gifts. Overall, it was a happy day.

The lesson for all: keep an open mind and be willing to let others lift you up during the difficult life moments.

You may find it leads to happy occasions and sweet memories. I am deeply grateful to my mother for this life lesson and beautiful example of resiliency. Since this is Mother’s Day, it is the perfect time to tell mom how much I appreciate her for this and all of her life lessons, how I celebrate her, and the special place she will always hold in my heart.

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