American Airlines Crash

It is always chilling for me to read about yet another plane crash, and even more so when it’s American Airlines–the same carrier that crashed into my family’s home.  Thankfully there were no fatalities from this crash in Kingston, Jamaica.  You can be sure though that those passengers will be changed by the event. They may think about the flight they almost took, or missed by a few minutes–or how they raced to catch this one. Some may have been convinced to take the trip by others, or talked out of another one.  Details are always telling–and sometimes chilling.

In Replacement Child, some of the people on the ground escaped the plane crash and death by a twist of fate, or a last minute decision. A teacher who kept his class late, a rehearsal cut short. And, then again, the fateful decision of my sister Donna to come home early from school that day. I think often of how small decisions have a ripple effect and it makes me hesitate to suggest a certain flight, a specific mode of transportation for my loved ones. What if I push them to the one that crashes and burns?  No, I let them make those decisions themselves and back away from that particular responsibility.

Every time I hear of another plane crash it reinforces one of the main tenets of my personal philosophy: Anything can happen. We are held here by a mere twist tie, at the mercy of the forces of nature and every decision of every other human on the planet. It isn’t an easy philosophy to carry–but it does make me grateful for each and every day.

Michael Brewer on the Road to Recovery

I was so glad to see that Michael Brewer is being released from the hospital in time for Christmas with his family. He is the 15-year-old who was burned over 60% of his body when a group of kids surrounded him, doused him with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire this past October.  Michael’s courage is obvious when you watch the video of him during rehab on the Today Show, and at CNN.com.

I remember my sister telling me about how she used to be lowered into a water tank for hydro therapy because she couldn’t tolerate rehab exercises any other way after some of her reconstructive surgeries.  Her surgeries went on for some 20 years after the plane crash and fire that critically burned her over 80% of her body.  Like Michael, they didn’t know if she would make it.  And, like Michael, she pulled through because of sheer determination.  I was so moved to see Michael attacking his exercises with such focus.  Hearing his mother talk about reserving her positive energy made me think of my mom too,  throughout all of my sister’s hospitalizations. Always looking to recovery and the positive result of each surgery.  These mothers share the knowledge that their children need their undivided positive cheerleading. Michael’s mother sees that she can’t waste her time or energy on negativity. Her son’s survival depends in part on her encouragement and support.

My heart goes to Michael Brewer and his family with prayers for his continued recovery, and a joyous holiday together.

Open Letter to Mary Karr – Another Replacement Child

I just finished Lit, Mary Karr’s new masterpiece of a memoir.  It was her first memoir, The Liars’ Club, that inspired me to begin writing my book Replacement Child, so I impatiently waited for Lit to appear in my bookstore.

Besides being side-swiped by Karr’s incredible poetics and hard-hitting truisms throughout her new book, I found that we were both replacement children. In her story, she tells of how her mother sought to replace the babies that were taken from her by their father, and she traces the seeds of her mother’s craziness to that loss. Her replacement status was surely a main ingredient in Karr’s particular struggle for her own identity throughout her life.

We had other similarities in our lives too.  When I saw pictures of Karr with her son Dev, and learned how having her child brought her to face the stark reality of her alcoholism, it struck a chord. Though she credits prayer with saving her, I see motherhood as her catalyst, as it was my own. Mary Karr’s prose and poetic phrasing never cease to mesmerize me. What a beautiful book.

Replacement Aunt?

Heading off to Florida today for a book signing event at the Palm Beach Bookstore tomorrow, Dec. 5th at 1:30.  My heart is conflicted in making this trip.  My nieces, my sister’s daughters, are there and I am truly happy to be seeing them both–as well as my sister’s grandsons.  They have planned a reception of friends to welcome my Florida book event–and that touches me very deeply. The last time I was in Florida this summer, though, I witnessed my sister’s last breath and said goodbye to my first best friend. When we were growing up and would have the inevitable fights and slamming of doors that all sisters have, my mother would break in with “when I’m gone, you’ll have each other–now make up!” She had promised that. We did have each other to lean on through our parents’ deaths, just five years ago.  But, I wasn’t prepared to have lost my sister so soon–and now to have lost them all.  Maybe we are never prepared for that. Packing for this trip, where I know the the weather will be warm and I won’t need my New England sweaters, I find myself reaching for a bundle of responsibility from my bottom dresser drawer and tucking it into the side pocket of my suitcase. I can’t wait to hug my nieces, to hug them for my sister, and to feel her with me through them.

Thanksgiving Changes

When I was a kid, my mother invited everyone in our extended family to share Thanksgiving at our house, along with anyone else that had nowhere to go for the holiday. I remember our split level filled with a hodge podge of tables and chairs to seat everyone. Mom didn’t believe in buffet dining Everyone had to have a seat, pass the potatoes, reach for the salt, yell down the line for the sweet potatoes. She didn’t want everyone traipsing around the house with full plates. “Sit and eat!” she would be saying as she pulled out the turkey.  She was in her full glory with a full house of people eating her food.  This is the holiday I miss her the most.  It was more sacred than any of the religious ones. When I went away to college, and then later got married, it was the one holiday I made sure to get home to celebrate. I still try  to recreate my mother’s spirit of the holiday.  The more friends and family I can muster up, the better I like it.  I’ll make Mom’s stuffing and try to remember her advice about when to cover the top of the turkey with a foil tent, as she used to call it. I’ll resist the urge to reach for the phone to call her and ask her what temperature to put it at for how long, and how long the sweet potatoes will take. But, I can still hear her voice telling me–“Be sure you have enough for people who might drop in!”

Last Week for Book Club Discussion

This is the last week to be part of the book club discussion of Replacement Child at AuthorExposure.com.  If you’ve finished reading the book and would like to join the conversation, click here and see what others are saying about the book.  There are some very good insights about replacement child syndrome, what constitutes a  replacement child, and how negative effects can be avoided when parents decide to have another child after a child dies. I hope to hear more from other replacement children, and also parents.

More Replacement Children Come Forward

judy_mandel
Judy Mandel at Borders, Denver

At my very first book signing this Sunday, I met a few more people who identified with being a ‘replacement child.’ Also, after an interview appeared in my local paper (read it here) I received more emails from others who wanted to talk to me about either being a replacement child, or being a parent who made the decision to have a child after a child died. I hope to connect with them all in the next couple of weeks.

As I said, this was my first event for Replacement Child and actually my first book signing event period! I was very excited to get to the Borders in Denver and see that they had actually ordered a good quantity of my books and set up a wonderful signing table near the main traffic area of the store. Any published author knows that these events may or may not draw fans. Since my book only came out a few weeks ago, I was skeptical, but found that there were many people interested! Frankly, I was delighted just to be there with a table full of my books. Four years was a long time to birth this baby!

Friday I’ll be in Arizona at the Borders in Scottsdale on The Waterfront at 5 pm. Come join me if you are nearby! What a great ride I am having!

The Lurking Nature of Grief

I came to grief late in life, protected and coddled in my own death-free existence. Save for a poisoned rabbit and a disappeared gold fish, death avoided me for many years. There was certainly death hiding under the bed, the unspoken grief for my sister who was killed before I was born–but that grief was never truly mine. Not until my parents died, and recently my other sister Linda, have I gulped down the waves of grief that threatened to drown me. Like love and childbirth, I had no frame of reference for the intensity of the experience. Being immersed in these life changing circumstances, seems to be the only way to learn to navigate through–whether it’s an ecstatic journey or a mournful one.

Generally, I am a positive person! I swear I am. And a few weeks after the death of my sister this summer, I told myself I was ok. I could smile and laugh, go out with friends, enjoy visits from my son and his girlfriend, my stepson’s wedding. But, I could not play music. Picking up my guitar was something that could not be done. Playing it seemed incongruous to something that had settled in me–a darkness that I held close. I tried it once, but all the songs I sang came out in a minor key. The beats were all wrong.

Now, I’m headed out on a book tour for Replacement Child. It’s a dream come true for me, and I’m truly excited about it. But, of course, Linda should have been a part of the launch of this book. The story is her life as much as mine, and not having her here is painful every step of the way. I am toying with bringing her photo with me for my book events, just to have her with me in some physical way–but I’m afraid it would be too morbid for my audience. I may opt for wearing the last gift she gave me, a bracelet engraved with “Sister, Friendship, Love” and my initials.

Just when I think I’m doing fine, hurtling loss like an Olympic star, a certain song will come on the radio and knock me backward, push me from behind and hit me in the chest with brutal force. It could be one of Linda’s favorites like “Knockin’ on Heavens Door,” or a country song telling me “when you get the chance to sit it out or dance–dance.” When Linda couldn’t speak to me the last days she was alive and intubated, she knew that my stepson’s wedding was coming up and wrote on her pad “no matter what happens, dance at that wedding.”I did, and I’ll keep trying until I get the steps right, and the music comes back to me.

Laboring over last revisions

Replacement Child

The last edits and revisions on Replacement Child – A Memoir are finally completed. It’s been a more emotional ride than I’ve ever had editing –even the many revisions and re-writes on this manuscript. Re-visiting all the stories from my childhood, that all included my sister Linda, was more wrenching now than it was when I first wrote them because of Linda’s sudden death this July. I found myself again engrossed in our story and my memories, and sometimes ignoring my mission to correct commas and spelling errors for the galley.With my sister’s passing the texture of my memories has changed. While I was proofreading it, I had to stop and put it down often to collect myself. There were moments when I actually reached for the phone to call my sister to check out some fact that’s still bugging me.I am so grateful that I gave my sister the manuscript to read earlier this year. Now I can at least be sure that she approved of it. She knew she was helping me along the way, for the last four years, filling in the gaps of my memory and telling me new information that, as the little sister, I never knew. But, she never asked to read it until I offered. The day before she died, she chose the cover for the book.I wish she were here right now.