Tuesday, March 11, 2014


March 10, 2014

Again, it has been a long time since I’ve shared a reflection. Mostly, I’ve been feeling that it made sense to wait until our transition back to life in the US was more complete before I could reflect about it. I’ve realized recently that if I wait for the feeling of being settled, there might not be an update, so instead here is a reflection about our many recent transitions.

In June last summer, we moved from Kampala, Uganda, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Leaving Uganda was hard for us. For many reasons it was time to come back, but we had really loved our time in Uganda and our life there. Leaving is never easy. Later on, upon arrival at a new place, there is the excitement, the endless errands of setting up, the reunions, and the discovery that balance out the sadness, but the actual act of leaving, of packing up, saying good bye, walking down familiar paths for the last time, was painful. As we packed up our treasures in Uganda, a few materials things that went into boxes to decorate our new home and remind us of Uganda, but mostly the friendships, memories, lessons that we packed in boxes in our hearts, I wondered how much of this beautiful and fascinating country can we really take with us? We really do pack those experiences into boxes in our hearts. We have to, otherwise, it would be impossible to adapt. It is impossible to walk through life in Cambridge with the same set of eyes, thoughts, sensations, and experiences that seemed completely normal in Uganda. The ongoing comparison would reduce experiences and feelings to a list of pros and cons, a connection to a place to an assessment, and so instead we put those treasures in boxes in our hearts for when it is safe for them to come out. We packed, and we hoped that as we unpacked for our new life some of the treasures will re-surface, find a suitable place in our life, friendships, and interactions, and in doing so, honor our Ugandan hosts with a new version of ourselves that carries them along. Keeping in touch with friends, and especially with people we shared our daily life with, such as Pia and Rowena, has helped to keep Uganda close in our hearts. Pierre’s focus on Uganda in his studies has kept it close in our mind. Some of the recent challenges in the news about Uganda’s new laws against homosexuality have made me feel far away. The three girls we support who are in school have passed their exams and are in the final two years of their secondary education, for which we feel incredibly thankful and proud of their efforts. Our cat, Chpatti, might have gotten the short stick in this transition. She’s adjusted well, but certainly being an apartment cat does not compare to her Kampala adventures and weather.

In Cambridge, after a nice summer, we slowly settled into new routines. Pierre dove right into the Ed.D program at Harvard. It has been exciting to see him engage with classmates, professors, and colleagues and to be in an environment of learning and reflection. The Education School already provided Pierre and I with that wonderful environment back when we were doing our masters, and it has been nice to be back in it, even on its periphery for me. Daniela started daycare, which she calls school, and she adjusted very quickly. She loves other children and her teachers, and it has been really fun seeing her making friends, learning new activities, and just enjoying the extension of her world beyond our family and friends. She has grown so much in the past 6 months. She is a real talker, and often tells us things like “actually that is a good idea” or “I play for two more minutes, then I do a diaper check (for her dolls), and then I come.” She loves to sing and dance, take care of her dolls and babies, draw and paint, play with friends, and give hugs and kisses. She is so loving and able to express her emotions in the sincere way only children can. Sometimes, she just exclaims, “I’m happy” or “I like you” to someone who has played with her.

For me, moving back, involved many simultaneous transitions. I went from working part time to working a few days a month, from being one of Daniela’s multiple caregivers to taking care of her most of the time, and to having a lot more “free” time or time that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with. One of the things that was important for me in the transition was having the time to be the kind of mother, partner, friend, neighbor, and global citizen that I want to be. I’d reflected a lot over the past two years since my father died that we’re here to love, but this transition gave me the first opportunity to actually make a time commitment to the idea. I wanted to leave empty spaces in my agenda symbolically, but mostly in my outlook on life, that I could fill with doing things with and for the people I love and doing things that I love. It all made sense in theory, but to be honest, I learned about myself that I had a hard time with spaces and free time. It took a long time to learn how to structure my days so that I was really using the time to do things that are important to me and that felt rewarding. I’ve spent a lot of time with Daniela, which has been lovely, even when tiring. I have been able to spend a lot of time with family and friends, here in the area, and to keep better touch with those who are far. One of the greatest joys has been being here for the arrival of Baby Dario, one of my best friend’s, Sheede, baby and my Godchild, and being able to see him regularly and make him laugh and to share the first few months of his life so closely. I’ve worked on my writing. It is a slow process, but I feel like it is moving. The young adult novel I worked on in Uganda is now finished, and I am excited to see if it can be published. I’ve started work on another young adult novel, also set in Uganda, and there is a series of children’s stories in progress. I’ve also started working on my teacher certification to explore if spending some time in the classroom is something I can incorporate into my life. I’ve made new friends with other mothers who live near us. I must admit that I used to think that these “mommy friends” somehow limited friendships to commiserating about sleep woes and toddler-friendly recipes, but there is so much more to these friendships, and I am so thankful for the incredible women and their beautiful children I have met this year. These are the friends that sometimes see me at my most vulnerable. When I am tired and my patience is low, and I share with those around me and Daniela, whom I care about most in the world, a version of myself that is not my best, and I’m overcome by regret and guilt, which I can’t sulk in for long because toddlers move on quickly and need you again two minutes later. These are the friends that don’t judge and offer support and make me laugh about it, and somehow through the baby talk, there is room for real kindness, and getting to know each other, one broken up sentence at a time, and for genuine friendships to emerge.   

Mostly, I’ve realized that being happy with these transitions had to do with letting go of my ego, of the voice in my head that questions if I am doing enough or how other people see what I am doing. When I can turn that voice off, which has gotten easier and easier, I feel happy with most of my days. I’ve often heard people share the sentiment that God, or whatever power one might believe in, gives you what you can handle or bear. Others have shared that the universe doesn’t gives us what we ask for, but what we need to learn and grow. Sometimes, I think, we have everything within us already. We all have everything inside, the strength, weakness, love, hate, courage, fear, ego, humility, pride, patience, anger, empathy, jealousy, selfishness, and kindness. It is all there, in all of us, and it is up to us to choose to find the parts that we want to put forward, that make us happy, and enable us to contribute to the life of others. I think of my father, the eternal optimist, and yet he was not na├»ve. He knew the world was a tough place, but he chose to focus on the good. He is still with me so much in all my days. Sometimes I will think of a funny memory, like watching the super bowl in the hospital or how he used to make Meshi run in circles, and it really feels like he is making me laugh. Mostly, I think of all he did for our family, and I feel content to have created some space in my life to try and do the same for mine.

Finally, just as transitions were starting to feel settled enough to reflect, our family is in for another big one. Any day now, we’ll be meeting the newest member of the Alon de Galbert family and Daniela will be a big sister. We’re excited and nervous and a million more feelings, but mostly just looking forward to meeting this new little baby.

Until next time, thank you for being in my life.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Re-learning to Live

May 21, 2013 

Have you ever noticed that death is our best teacher to really live? If we had countless days in the world, would we make the most of each one? After the loss of someone we love, we all try to live a bit better, to love more, to laugh more often, to enjoy the time we have. The challenges in our lives, the sad parts, the holes in our hearts, create a contrast with the joy, love, and beauty we experience and it extenuates them, makes them more meaningful. The loss of my father a year and a half ago was so huge that sometimes it feels like more than a lesson in living but re-learning what life really means to me. For the past few months, I have been trying to get closer to the things that really matter to me.

Early in the year, we made a big decision for Pierre to apply for PHD programs in education. Later in the year, we got the good news that Pierre was accepted at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and we’ll be heading back to the Boston area in the summer. Knowing that our time in Uganda was nearing an end has transformed the last few months here. Preparing to leave a place helps to see all the things that you love in it. Kampala has really been our home. We came here a young couple. In our time here, we’ve been married, we’ve made friends, we’ve lost my dad, we’ve added Daniela to our family, we’ve travelled, we’ve learned, we’ve made mistakes, and we’ve intertwined our lives with people in our paths. As I walk down our bumpy road these days, I try to capture all the people that I see each day, their smiles, their waves of hi, their work, and their chats are more than just scenery along the path, but the environment of my home. In the last few months here, we’ve tried to enjoy our everyday life here, and with lots of visitors, we have also gone to see places we had not seen yet in this beautiful country. Pierre has also started a local language literacy initiative called Education Solutions Uganda. It has been wonderful to see him doing something he loves and believes in and to be able to support his efforts. The first local language books he produced are in Rutooro, a language in Western Uganda, and we’re in the process of getting them to schools.

For me, I have been trying to do more things I love. I’ve done a lot more writing. I am 4-5 chapters away from finishing my first novel. It is a short novel for young adults focusing on the life of an adolescent girl in rural Uganda. It has been a ton of fun to write it, and I hope in time it can get published and help to raise awareness about important girl education and health issues in Uganda and Africa. I’ve also been writing children’s stories, which I love to write, and I hope someday Daniela can read them too. I’ve been taking photography lessons, trying to call friends and family more often, and generally do the things that make me happy.

As for Daniela, she is the best teacher. Children are the best teachers for re-learning to live. She is just full of joy and love, and she proves to me daily that it is all one really needs. She is so full of goodness that sometimes at the end of the day, when Pierre or I come home, she just can’t contain it, and it spills over in little dances, kisses, hugs, mumbles of joy, and hands up high. I’ve been able to work part time and spend more time with Daniela, and now that she is talking and walking, we have a ton of fun together. We read books and play games, and there is nothing better than the whole family dancing to Baby Love in our living room. I recently read that Ann Lamont wrote that “What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here... So go ahead and make big scrawls and mistakes. Use up lots of paper."
 In re-learning how to live, I am amazed at how much my Abush is still a part of my life. I think of him all the time, and through his life and his example, he guides me and he gives me courage. It always bring me back to the realization that what we leave behind is love. Our greatest contribution is the love we give to others, and re-learning to live is simply making room and opportunities for that love to flow.

Yesterday, on the one and a half year anniversary of my father’s death, Zach Sobiech, a young and beautiful soul, died of a rare cancer. The video of how he chose to live his last days (http://www.upworthy.com/this-kid-just-died-what-he-left-behind-is-wondtacular-rip?c=ufb1) touched me in a special way. As he said “you don’t have to find out that you are dying to start living.” Because somehow, all of us, we are always in the process of dying and we never know when it will be, and it is doing what we love that brings us to life. It may sound selfish, but I’ve learned it is actual the best we can do for others. Howard Thurman once said, and I could not agree more, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Thank you for being in my life

Monday, November 19, 2012

How much life can you fit in a year?

How much life can you fit in a year?

When I was 16, my father took me to Los Angeles for my birthday. I was fascinated at the time with movies and Hollywood and my dream was to meet Sandra Bullock (ok, you got me, it is still one of my dreams). We only had 3 days and our goal was to accomplish as much as possible. We woke up early, ran from place to place, ate on the go, planned routes to maximize our time, came home late, and slept very little. In the end, we saw everything on our list, except Sandra Bullock; turns out she lives in Texas.

My Abush was like that. He always did a lot with a little. In his brief life, he lived fully. He saw the world. He loved without boundaries. Ha launched new products. He had children.  He helped others. He inspired. That is why, a year after his death, the most heart-breaking aspect of losing him is how much he is missing. He would have done so much with another year, especially a year of health and a first year as a grandfather. I ache when I think how much he would enjoy each emailed photo of Daniela. He would have loved Lior and Shoshi’s trip to the Galapagos, mirroring the one we did together in 2005. He would have been so proud of Neta going back to school.

We’ve also had a busy year, learning to be parents, watching Daniela grow, helping Ima to move from our house in Needham, weddings, 8 countries with Daniela, and many other firsts. Yet in terms of my grief, I feel very little progress. Throughout each day, the occasional swell of tears, a tight feeling in my throat, a wondering thought about a good memory, the what ifs, the pain that we can’t go back have become familiar aches and pangs that I almost find comfort in them. I am somehow reassured by the fact that it is not easier, that he is with me everyday, that he has not diminished in my life. At the same time, the weight of this loss gets heavier, and I am somehow disappointed in myself that in a year I have not been able to transform it.  There are moments of clarity and love, when I think I can take this energy, his energy, my sadness, and use it to really live. Mostly, I feel this need to do something with what happened, something for him, in his memory, for me, for our family, and not knowing how is unsettling.

Recently, a friend of mine who lost a family member unexpectedly, shared with me that this tremendous loss has reminded her that more than anything we are here to love. In a shoebox in the closet I have letters from my father. Pieces of papers filled to the edges with love. I hang on to these like a lifeline. We are here to love. It is the most we can give. I try to live my life in honor of that purpose, to love more and to show it, because in the end, even a long life time, is not enough for all our love.

Daniela – there is nothing but love for Daniela. She’s fit so much life into one year since her birth. She’s learned to breath, open her eyes, smile, eat, poop, sleep (sort of), hold, sit, crawl, clap, stand, walk (almost), turn pages in a book, empty the book shelf, chase the cat, make sounds, open closets, climb into boxes, talk (in her own language at the moment), listen, give an object, take it back, understand, hug, kiss, eat food, drink from a cup, and make us smile. She has been to eight countries, and been on a 13 plane trips. For her birthday party in Uganda, she played with friends, had banana cake and the world’s best pineapples, was serenaded by two saxophone players, and received a live chicken as a birthday gift, quite the party for a one year old! It is hard to believe that Daniela is a year old. I remember her being placed on my chest when she was born, so small and so vulnerable. Now, she is almost a little girl, her personality shining through, and she is joyful, loved and loving, and I can’t be thankful enough for her.

My wish for the next year of Daniela’s life and another year we live in memory of my Abush is that we fit more life into the next year. Hopefully less airplane trips, but more love, more friends, more creative moments, more family, and more happiness.

Thank you for being in my life,

Daniela decorating for her party

Daniela is our gift 

A picture of Guy that I love. I miss that smile so much! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Things We Carried

I’ve been hesitating to write an update for some time now. I fear sounding like a broken record. It has been nine months since all the magic and the trauma that happened last November, yet in my heart it happens over and over each day. A few months ago, people stopped asking “how are you?” with a special emphasis and a concerned look in their eyes. We’re back to the quick “how are you” in one breath that doesn’t really expect a response. It is normal, and in a way it makes things easier, but nine months are a blink of an eye when you’ve lost someone who has loved you for thirty years. It is a friend’s e mail that encouraged me, saying that sharing my experience of loss has helped her. Perhaps, we always look for that shared human experience. When I was in Needham in June to help my mother move to a new house, she shared that the real world works on deadlines and calendars, but sometimes we just need a day to be sad. In those days, we function, but the hole in us is a bit bigger. Sometimes this emptiness makes us kinder, more open, and willing to receive, since there is a space to fill.

When I reached Needham in June, my mother and her friends had already done a lot of work on clearing out our home. The house looked like a page in an Ikea catalogue. It was strange arriving in a home that didn’t really look like our home anymore. As we packed, the things that weren’t moved yet meant so much more. The world map on his office wall and the drawers filled with old cell phone and batteries made me feel like time didn’t cheat us of our beloved Abush and he was coming back. It was hard to let go of things. Sure, without him things are just things, but there were so many untold stories behind boxes of business cards he kept and notebooks filled with terrible handwriting. I found his notes from his trip to visit me in Ecuador. On one page he just wrote:

Inbal with the host family = wonderful

That made me cry, and also feel proud. Going through his office was almost like talking to him. He made me laugh with funny cards he wrote my mother. He kept all our financial records and I remembered how whenever we talked of anything financial he used to say, “Ha Bank Shomeha - the bank hears you!” referring to himself. A proud father, he kept all our school records and awards. Mostly though, it was heart-breaking, pulling apart our home when we should have been all together enjoying Daniela.

We went through things slowly. The slowness was essential. We needed to go through everything so that even if we could not keep the items, which was crucial given the smaller space, we could hold onto the memories. There are items that triggered memories, and our fear was letting them go without holding on to those memories. The packing became an exercise of letting go of things, while holding on to everything we could in our hearts. Even with this recognition, it was hard to let go of things that were his, but we had to. He simply kept everything: coins, post cards, coasters, hotel note books, business cards, stamps, national geographics… The constant fear being that if we don’t have enough room in our houses for the things he kept, will we always have enough room in our hearts? I have learned now that we do, that the heart expands and even now, our love for Abush grows. I still admire how he lived life. I found boxes and boxes of pictures, filled with pictures and Costco envelopes. Abush labeled the film developing envelopes with a yellow highlighter so they were easy to find. I packed hundred of pictures, keeping them to make albums someday. All our special moments as a family sitting in boxes, because in Aba’s life we were too busy living. Now that he is gone, we’ll make time for the boxes.

The final days were the hardest. We really had to let go of so much. Somehow, it felt insulting when the stuff of your life is bargained for, appraised. Some things we couldn’t even give away for free, like our happiness isn’t good enough for someone else. Towards the end, cleaning out the house and finding many things from our childhoods and life with Aba and throwing out alcohol wipes, hand sanitizers, medical tape, syringes, and boxes of pills, felt like going back in time to a time that he was healthy. Yet, the last years of his life, the years of his illness, were also some of the best years in our life. We were all convinced that we could win and we were happy. We don’t want to throw out those years, like he might come back and we’ll take him in again, gladly, even if he still has cancer.

On the final morning, I sat on the stoop and thought of our coffees there, on his bed and thought of the Sunday mornings we all jumped in, in the basement and laughed at the time we cleaned sewage backup with hospital gloves and masks. Aba was still everywhere in the house, and yet within hours, we would be in a new place that he doesn’t know, and we carried him there with the things we were able to carry. We sat outside the house that wasn’t our home anymore, and headed to a new house that will become a home, where memories of Aba will come alive, not from the walls, but from our hearts. In that last day, as I sat outside with Daniela, watching the movers and keeping her out of the chaos, a butterfly came and sat on my Aba’s favorite tiger lilies. It sat there, beautiful, calm, so unlike the storm in my heart. Though I long for a sign from Abush, it was hard for me to believe, but still it was nice to stop on a stressful day to take pictures, to enjoy life, marvel at its beauty, the way Aba always had.

After the big move, we took a few days to enjoy time together. We went to the Needham fireworks, which are the best. We spent a day with friends by a beautiful lake. The day at the lake, in between this hectic visit and a busy time back in Uganda, felt a bit sad. My Aba always joked that for all his hard work fighting the cancer, how come he wasn’t getting time off for good behavior? We did so much work moving, how come we didn’t get time together with him for all our efforts.

Back in Uganda, things have been good. Daniela is growing so fast. She sits, stands, walks holding things, chews with her eight teeth, claps, laughs, and talks to herself in her own language. She changes everyday, and she teaches me that each day comes with opportunities to learn something new. In her honor and with my Aba’s inspirations, I’ve been trying to make the most of each day. I’ve been doing a lot more writing, and I really enjoy it. I created a page for my writing on facebook so you can check out some of what I am working on there. I also did a writing workshop with high school students and it was so much fun. The students had fun stories and they were proud of writing a complete story. We all have stories to tell, and I love doing activities that make all of us feel like storytellers. We also took a family trip to Gulu and Lira. In Lira, we visited Pia’s village, which was so interesting. I am putting below a short piece I wrote about the visit. We attended a huge wedding of over 5,000 people, which was quite the experience.  

Thanks for being in my life.

Travel reflection: There is something about traveling that always makes me reflect. This travel reflection is about what we mean by home. For me, home has always been a complicated question. I hope the short story below makes you think about what home means to you.

Is this the way home?

Since I have known Pia and Roweena, they have talked about their village.
The sweet maize from the village.
The soft cassava.
 The dark nights.
The fresh air.

“It is real village,” Pia often says, as if some of the other villages I have visited are less real, or more developed.

Finally, this weekend, thanks to a wedding in Gulu, we got the chance to travel with Pia and Roweena to Northern Uganda and take an extra day to travel to the village.

I was surprised when Pia asked if we could take a cousin who knows the way better than she does. “It’s only my 3rd time coming here,” Pia explained, a bit apologetically.  There was no room in the car, so we proceeded on our own. The dirt road was bumpy, really bumpy; twice we had to drive through a stream. The sun was hot with very few clouds in the sky, the heat unforgiving, even in the air conditioned car. We were all eager to reach. After an hour and a half of driving, Pia asked if we could pull over to ask for directions. Again, I was surprised.

“Is this the way to Otuke?”

The old man on the bicycle, his skin shining from sweat, indicated that we should proceed straight.
Almost an hour later, Pia was watching closely through the tall grasses trying to find her grandfather’s compound. “Here it is,” Roweena helped as we almost missed the turn. We pulled into a nice clearing in the grass, a few grass-thatched roofs, a few graves, scattered trees, a few cement ruins, and fields all around. Pia breathed in deeply. “We’re here, I was the most nervous in the car that we would not find the place.” We looked around, enjoyed the nice breeze in the shade, and saw Pia’s plot of land, which she bought recently after years of saving money. As we walked to Pia’s field, with the soft music of an adongo accompanying us, we were introduced to many members of the family’s clan.

The day after, when we visited more of Pia’s family who lives in Lira Town, her uncle gave us more of the family context. The family had moved from the village when Pia was very young, a baby, because of cow rustling from neighboring Karamoja. After some time, the family returned and left again as violence in the northern region pushed them farther way. The family only moved back to the village three years ago. The cement ruins we saw are all that is left of their old home. Pia’s first time back in the village was for her grandmother’s funeral this year. Yet, it is home, deep in her heart it is home, even if we had to ask strangers on the way for directions.  

The many expressions of Daniela 

The butterfly on Aba's flowers

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In March, we traveled to Israel, Daniela’s first time to my childhood and her 4th country. After the past stormy months with the devastation of losing my Abush and the light of welcoming Daniela, we needed some time as a family, all together. We also planned a memorial for Guy to celebrate his life in the place where he grew up and is loved by so many. The memorial was moving and difficult, and many thanks to all who attended. We had wanted to have the ceremony outside, in a little park full of trees between my grandfather’s house and his late brother, my dad’s uncle’s, house, a place where many generations of our family have played and walked. The weather did not cooperate. As we gathered to remember my dad, the sky opened on us. As we ran around trying to figure out what to do, I tried to remember that rain is a blessing in these parts of the world, but it was hard not to add my tears to the rain, and to feel that somehow we were crying together. In my deepest, saddest moment, I feared that Guy was disappointed in us, that he would have planned it to perfection. So many people came to honor Guy’s life that Zvi’s house was too small to shelter us from the rain. In the end, we all ended up at the community center, wet to the bone, but together, and it was a real testament to my dad that so many people fought the rain with us, and stayed, and we had a wonderful and difficult time sharing memories of Guy. I know that if he was able to see us somehow, from above, where I like to picture him watching us with a really great zoom lens, taking pictures, he would be happy to see everyone together. It was his favorite thing in the world, people he loved coming together.  A good friend of my dad reminded me how Abush would always tear up when he laughed, the joy spilling from his kind eyes, and that perhaps the rain is his thanks for our memories of him.

It is amazing to hear stories I have not heard about my dad. Learning new things about him feels like another moment together, a gift across time and space, the impossible desire to spend another little moment together, fulfilled somehow, for an instant, before the longing for a more familiar, “real” life interaction returns with its familiar ache. At the memorial, many people talked about the time that Neta was born, very pre-mature, and my parents’ strength at this time. I had not known that our family business, the self-decorated plastic plates that we sold to kindergartens across Israel, had started when my parents needed money for Neta’s treatments. I can empathize now at the despair a parent must feel to have a sick child, and as a parent, am even more amazed at my dad’s ability to pick up the pieces of a hard situation and make something productive, beautiful; a real mechanic of life he was, able to make things run again. I want to make something beautiful out of this situation. I try, here and there, to write, to keep in better touch, to do things I have always wanted, but it is hard, and somehow it seems to always fall short of the energy with which he lived his life; the way he was able to do so much in such a short time and love so many people throughout his journey. Lehaspik (a lose translation would be to accomplish a lot in a short time given to you) was his favorite word, and he hespiked so much. I know we have a tendency of glorifying those who have left us. Sure, he was not perfect, if nothing else, he had crooked teeth, but he was wonderful, as good as it gets, and somehow living to honor his memory is hard. The inadequacies of the living is a state I am learning to accept, because although life is a wonder, and I am ever more aware of how thankful we must be for every moment because it really is very fragile, it is exhausting to try to make the most of it all the time, and sometime one needs to just be sad, or have a normal day. And so, under the memory of our loved ones, we sometimes fall short of the expectations we project from them onto ourselves.

One of the hardest transitions of these past few months has been from the time at home with Daniela into being a working mother. I feel very lucky to be part of an organization that is supportive and flexible, I know that my conditions are better than most. Yet, the transition is hard. Motherhood for me has been a bit of a magic spell, a love potion of sorts, and it is hard to explain the enormous joy and awe that a day at home with Daniela and Pierre summons with such simple things like reading stories or tickling feet. My work is still very interesting. I work with some great people and we do some very creative things in our efforts to help vulnerable children, a cause I can relate to even more deeply as a parent. Perhaps the difficulty is in having one foot in the clouds and one on the ground; the going back and forth between these worlds every few hours is a long commute.

If I have learned anything about grief it is that it is not linear. The stages of grief make me laugh, and maybe that is a good thing since laughing is nice and I remember my dad’s contagious laugh. Grief, for me, is more like a spiral. The same emotions repeat as the spiral goes through different times, events, and memories. One minute I feel some momentary respite of acceptance, and the next I am dreaming of the toy in my grandfather’s house, a container of metal pieces that takes the shape of whatever you put behind it, that has my dad’s face and he is talking to us about how it is to see us from up there. Perhaps the hard part of this grief is the unpredicted nature of it. Sometimes the spiral takes me down, deep into my saddest thoughts and fears, and sometimes the spiral goes high up, into beautiful moments that lift me out of this sadness to an alert state of being and thankfulness and joy. My recent trips, with Daniela to South Africa, with Pierre and Daniela to Rwanda, and with our little family and grandmother Leslie to Western Uganda, had some wonderful moments. Driving towards Lake Kivu in Rwanda, on the way to Kibuye, with the lake adorned by the green hills, fields creating patterns on the horizon, and lush green everywhere, was one of those moments, when one cannot help but feel lucky. Rwanda’s was Daniela’s 6th country. Pierre and I look through her passport and can’t help but giggle, and I know my dad would have found it tremendously hilarious and wonderful that she is so well traveled.  It is such a beautiful time, the way Daniela smiles at everything and everyone and looks around with curious eyes. The pure happiness and love that comes in her eyes for the simple things, a smile, a tickle, and tight hug, are moving reminders that we can learn the most from our children. In these moments, with Pierre, who is my rock, and my Daniela who is my light, in the beauty of this life we are lucky to have together, I think that certainly I have learned a lot from my dad, and perhaps he is also learning from me, and that he would not care about me adequately living in his memory, but about me living this imperfect life with happiness and love. 

   Daniela in Kampala, Uganda

Daniela and I at Cape Point, South Africa

Daniela and I by lake kivu in Rwanda

Daniela with her great grandmother, reminding us there is still joy during Guy's memorial

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I started making lists when my father was dying and we did not know yet that he was dying. 

Things that happened in the hospital while you were sick:
  • ·       We met so many families in the hospital, to some we felt connected, as prisoners on this trip we did not ask to take. There was one woman from Peru who liked to sit next to Pierre. She said she found him calming; he really is.
  • ·         We drew pictures of our visions of you being healthy with Iris and left them on the wall next to all the other pamphlets of emotional care during emergency care and support groups.
  • ·         Whenever the doctors came you told them you were feeling fine.
When he was unconscious, the lists continued.

Things that happened while you were sleeping: 

  • ·        Lior did great on her exams, even with going back and forth to be with you.
  • ·         Neta came to see you from Israel.
  • ·         Ruthy massaged your feet with love.
  • ·         Sabush wrote you letter everyday.
  • ·         Ima convinced the doctors that she was allowed to lie down next to you, even in the emergency care unit.
  • ·         Iris brought you a stone from Beenleigh.
  • ·         I began looking like a balloon, a big one.
  • ·         Daniela was born.
Now, that my father has died, and a big part of me feels unconscious, I make lists to remember. 

  • ·         Our last meal together at home, Mafe Boeuf.
  • ·         The time you put your hand on my stomach and Daniela kicked you and you laughed, the only time you two interacted, at least that I could see.
  • ·         Your last words to me, how are you feeling?
If everything is so transient, we have to write everything down, as if words ever brought back a person.

When my Abush was in the hospital, at times it felt like we were negotiating with the doctors. “We’ll take him home even less than perfect. We can handle physical rehabilitation if he needs it, even dialysis, just let us take him home.”  Death may seem final, but somehow the negotiations continue, we search in the dark for more of him that we can carry with us.

Things I search for/ negotiate: 
  • ·         Letters in shoe boxes
  • ·         E mails that are meaningful
  • ·         Pictures I have not seen before
  • ·         Videos so I can see him again
  • ·         Stories from his friends that I had not heard before
  • ·         A dream, I would so much like a dream so that we can be together again, maybe he can meet Daniela there.
People often say that those who have left us stay with us, in our hearts, souls, memories. We carry those who have left with us, and yet no one tells you that the carrying is heavy. Everything is touched by absence, everything is touched by grief, every breath, and every smile, it is like carrying around another person only instead of preparing to enter the world, the person is entering deeper and deeper in. I am not sure how mourning becomes easier if each day that goes by makes it the longest time we have gone without talking. I just miss him more and more.

It feels impossible that he is really gone, that we can’t do it over and maybe find the mistakes that could save him. Sometimes it seems strange that the world keeps going. My world feels so different. I had 30 years as my father’s daughter, and now is my new life as a mother. I so desperately wanted these lives to overlap. It is difficult to accept sometimes that the same world that brought me Daniela, the world I travel and marvel at its beauty, its diversity, is also the world that took my Abush away. When I feel joy, and there are joyous moments, I feel at the end of my breath, “I’m still mad at you world,” and when I feel sad, in those small  hours of the night, I don’t forget to say thank you for all that I do still have.

When Daniela was born, I truly understood what my parents did for me. Caring for a child is unconditional love, especially in the first days, when a baby cannot do much but eat and sleep, and yet love just overflows towards them, without any need for response. We begin our lives with our parents’ love, it is the foundation for a life time. Now that my father is not with us, the hardest part to accept is the lack of response, not being able to e mail, or skype, or meet anywhere. I write him letters because I think about him all the time and sometimes it is nice to do something for him. Without response, now is my turn to love him unconditionally, not because of how he helps me, makes me laugh, or loves me, but just because he was wonderful. At the end of the cycle, it is my turn to love unconditionally, to give and give and not wait for anything in return.

In the time since my last update, we’ve travelled a lot. We went with Daniela to Paris to spend time with family there, and a few weeks ago returned to our home in Uganda. Being here with a baby is nice, it connects me to something universal that deepens my connections with friends and colleagues here. The walk up our hill that used to take 15 minutes, takes 45 minutes with Daniela because everyone wants to see her. When I go to work, I am greeted at Mama Daniela, and Pierre was told that now that he has a child he can be referred to as Sir. When I run down our hill at the end of the day because I miss Daniela, and I really do mean run, people smile and let me run by. Sometimes people still think I do funny things, like when I read to Daniela and people ask “you know she does not understand you?” or when we use a soother and people want to know “if that ka-thing gives her food.” In just a few months, Daniela has become a little person who smiles at us, laughs, makes sounds, and even has preferences. 

Things I want to be in my Abush’s memory: 
  • ·         A good daughter to my mother, a good sister, a good wife
  • ·         A good mother
  • ·         A writer
  • ·         A happier person
  • ·         A person who takes pictures of food
  • ·         An optimist
  • ·         Someone who can hold grief in one hand and happiness in the other
  • ·         Someone who keeps all who have crossed my path in my heart and in a tin box
  • ·         A person who can still make him smile with pride
Thank you for being in my life.

Some Pictures of Daniela in Uganda.