So meaningful to me

butterfliesYou know, it’s hard to figure out what to share here, and I know self promotion is rampant and I am as tired of it as you are, but sometimes I get emails from people who have found my book, #Replacement Child, and I am so moved I want to tell you all about it. Just this morning, I got this email from a woman in Ireland who found my book referenced online. This kind of email is why I wrote the book, and why I am glad I did.

Hi judy,
I have just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it.
For some reason last night when I lay in bed, I started to get upset about childhood issues. I decided to look up a child that comes after death of a sibling. Wow! One click on google and I realise something at the age of 36! I was a replacement child. I always knew my position in the family in that I came after death of a brother. But now suddenly I have an actual position that is recognised! I felt huge relief is all I can say but also amazement at how I did not realise that’s what I was , a replacement child! Feel a bit stupid too. I ordered your book and I am looking forward to reading it. I don’t feel so alone now.   I am married with kids but have always felt alone and different. Why am I telling you this?! Why email you?! I don’t know. You are a stranger who knows what I am feeling somewhat and after last night revelation I had to tell someone 🙂! Thank you,
B. in Ireland

I wrote back and asked her if I could share this, and she wrote:

Thanks for your reply. Yes of course you may use my mail for your blog. I actually feel found judy. It’s actually the single most exciting thing I feel to have happened for me. Struggling all my life with guilt of being on this earth in place of my brother. I don’t blame anyone, I always said, it’s just life , no ones fault. But the pain and unworthy feeling all my life has been crushing. Grateful to you and others for being there on Google , thank you from the bottom of my heart. When others verbalise another’s secret pain it is so liberating. Happy beyond words. Excited for a new chapter in life . Bless you X 

When a child dies and another is born: response to Yahoo article

Recently, I was interviewed following the news that a family just welcomed a new child into their family after tragically losing their six-year-old in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting two years ago. You can see the article here:   https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/when-a-child-dies-and-another-is-born-103051055797.html.

The reporter asked me some relevant questions about my own experience, being born after a sibling has died, that was the topic of my memoir, Replacement Child. It was also in relation to a new book coming out in the Spring of 2015, Replacement Children: Personal Journeys, co-written by Dr. Abigail Brenner, a San Francisco Psychiatrist, and Rita Battat Silverman. In full disclosure, the three of us have formed a unique friendship over the past few years, bonded by this very topic.

I thought the article was a good one, well written and sourced, and I was unprepared for the backlash in many of the comments on the Yahoo Parenting website. Most of the negative comments were in reaction to the very term ‘replacement child.’ I’ve known for quite some time that this term is offensive to some; especially parents who have lost a child and had a subsequent child. And, frankly, my own mother would have hated it if she had ever had a chance to weigh in on the title of my book. Sadly, she had passed away by that time. I also would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I have had misgivings about that title. Perhaps Healing Child may have been better? And, in my case, accurate to a degree. But not entirely.

The response on the website, over 450 comments at this writing, also highlights the reason why this psychological categorization has been so ignored for so long. Who wants to think they treat their child as a replacement, or that we may be one?

As the article points out, the term ‘replacement child’ was coined in the 60’s by husband and wife psychiatrist team Albert and Barbara Cain—not by me or Dr. Brenner or Rita Battat Silverman. The truth is that people like Rita and myself find great comfort in understanding the reasons behind our complicated issues of identity and self-worth; to be able to recognize our value as unique individuals. Our goal in writing our stories is to bring awareness to a sometimes-ignored psychological syndrome, for those who may find they identify with its characteristics, and for psychiatrists to be able to identify in their patients.

Following the death of their daughter when a plane crashed into their home, my parents didn’t have access to the kind of in-depth grief counseling that is available today, which would have prepared them more fully to welcome a new family member. It would have made the transition easier for them, and for me growing up.

No subsequent child need be a replacement of any kind. When a child is honored as a new, special individual, and parents have been able to adequately grieve for their previous loss, the new child can be the healing, joyful addition to the family that the parents intended.

My Sister’s Voice

The following is the text of my essay that recently appeared in The Southampton Review. You can order this fantastic literary journal at thesouthamptonreview.com. It looks much prettier in the publication!

My Sister’s Voice

     In the end I only wanted to hear my sister’s voice one more time.

They’d found a cancerous tumor lodged in her airway. I was grateful I had spoken to her on the phone just before they intubated her; the tube down her throat bringing life saving air to her lungs but not allowing her to speak. Linda was in Florida and I in Connecticut, but the fear in her voice cut across the miles. “If I get through this one, I swear I will stop smoking,” she told me in gasps of breath. It was something I had begged her to do for many years. She was never ready to give up “one of my few pleasures.” Now, she was ready and I was afraid it was too late.

I was at a concert with my son when I got the news that she had been intubated and was in intensive care. Bob Dylan was playing at a baseball stadium in a neighboring town. The place was packed with fans who knew all his lyrics, serving up a continuous background chorus to Dylan’s rasping “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Shelter from the Storm”. It was a sweltering summer evening in Connecticut with no wind and stick-to-the skin humidity. The kind of night that demanded cold beer. I had just headed to the concession stand as my cell phone rang. Stopped short on the concrete steps as people pushed past me to get their fries and hot dogs. The noise around me forced me into a corner to hear, covering my exposed ear and pushing the cell phone squarely against the other. Still, the information didn’t seem to make the leap. Some kind of insurmountable chasm from phone to ear to brain.

When Linda’s daughter had called me the day before from Florida, we thought her trouble breathing was a reaction to a new medication. I was not greatly alarmed, thinking this was just another chapter in my sister’s long history of health issues. All my life I had watched in awe as she overcame each one, and I was certain she would come through this one too. My mother had once proclaimed her our “little soldier” and Linda had never forfeited a battle.

Linda was two, and I was not yet born, when a plane crashed into my family’s home. She survived the explosion and resulting fire that killed our older sister, Donna.

Critically burned, Linda was not expected to live. Nuns at the Catholic hospital prayed at her bedside, saying she was very close to God, a notion meant to comfort my parents, but one that only frightened them. My father matched the St. Christopher medal on Linda’s pillow with a Star of David. He told me he was ready to take a miracle from any God who would listen. I believe my sister survived, however, through her sheer force of will.

As a child, I was a witness to Linda enduring surgery after surgery to put her poor body back together. Right after the accident, I knew that doctors had to enable her breathing through the burned and narrowed airway. The same compromised airway that she later fed with smoke and nicotine.

When I was six, I waited at the top of the stairs in our split-level home, wearing a white nurse’s costume, complete with a blue Florence Nightingale cape. I watched my sister’s face, her cheeks wet, as paramedics turned her, in her full body cast, trying to angle her to fit through the narrow front door. She caught my eye and we both smiled, each recognizing the other’s fear, our mutual protective instinct helping us through the moment. That winter I pulled snow off the roof outside her window to build her a snowman, complete with raisin eyes, a carrot tip for a nose, and a sock for a hat. I placed it back on the roof where she could see it from her bed; watch the raisins slip, the carrot finally drop and the sock slosh onto the wet slate as the weather warmed. The melting meant we were growing closer to the time when Linda would be freed from the prison-like cast.

At eighteen, one surgeon offered to repair her facial scars. She would squint as she looked in the mirror, imagining what she could look like—and if we might finally look like sisters. The promise of her new face captivated us both. She dreamed, and I dreamed with her. She might not need two hours each day to put on her makeup, applying the pink and green tints, the heavy foundation, the setting powder. I marveled each time at the transformation. How her Bette Davis eyes were accentuated, and the red-brown scars took a back seat to her ready smile. Linda gave me a sharp hug that day before she left for the hospital.

But it wasn’t to be. The scar tissue was too deep, and the risk of facial paralysis was too great. After that disappointment, she announced that she had had enough reconstruction—the world would have to accept her as she was.

“Take it or leave it, this is me, “ she said, always with a smile.

“Intubated” sounded so careful, like putting her in safekeeping, inserting the breathing tube as they had after the accident when she was two. This time, though, the smoke would win out.

A few days after that Dylan concert, as I sat with her in the hospital, she wrote on a pad to me:         “Did you get all the information you need? Are you okay with what is going to happen?” Still looking out for her little sister, helping me accept her imminent death and understanding what the doctors had told us; the chemo had no effect, there was nothing more to do. I shook my head, first “yes,” then “no.” My words stuck in my throat.

I was just finishing the edits on my memoir. She had helped me with the story by filling in details that only she was privy to, secrets my mother had concealed from me, as well as Linda’s own emotional journey. When I delivered the manuscript to her I told her I would take out anything she disliked. She didn’t change a word. “This is your story,” she told me. Later, I would find the beginnings of her own story on her computer.

We had joked that when the book came out, we would go on Oprah together. I had finally realized that my story, about growing up in the shadow of the sister who died, was also very much about Linda and our childhood together. In the hospital she wrote me a last note, urging me to “push” to publish the book to tell our story.

I feel her pushing me still. And I clearly hear her voice.

Still Here For Me

I haven’t written for quite awhile due to illness, which is such a waste of time! Right now I am still not sure my writing here will be coherent since I am still on pain meds, but it’s better than imagining the next worst thing that could happen–which I am prone to do. Maybe it’s my writerly self. Give your character an obstacle, they say, then try to imagine the very worst thing that could happen to them after that–then even worse. In the last 7 months my imagination couldn’t have held a candle to reality–but now things are better every day. My trip down this particular rabbit hole has pinholes of light that are getting brighter.

Since this blog pertains to my book Replacement Child, and the story of my family, I’ll tell you how the past several months have made me think differently about that story, and especially about my sister Linda. You may or may not know that a good part of my memoir has to do with my sister Linda’s survival of a plane crash and subsequent fire. She had a surgery each year from the time of the crash, at age 2 1/2, until she stopped at 18. “This is it,” she said. “Take me or leave me as I am.” I was the little sister left safely at home when she went to the hospital each year. Left to imagine and wonder what they were doing to my big sister in those great white halls with the funny smells. She always had a smile and, when possible, a hug for me when I went to see her. “Hey Jude!” She would sing out when I came in holding my mother’s hand.

Now that I am on the other side of having four surgeries in the past seven months, on top of two others a couple of years ago, I know what those visits cost her. And what each surgical procedure stole from her young life. My mother must have planned the timing of my visits precisely so that I wasn’t privy to the worst of my sister’s suffering. Strangely, it seemed to me in this last year that I would go through many of the procedures that Linda had endured, to a much lesser degree. She always warned me that she was prone to adhesions, and I may be as well. And that seems to be a major problem for me. Apparently we both have weak veins, necessitating multiple tries to get an IV started or blood drawn. As she did, I had to have a PICC line put in at one point, then a central line for my last bout.  I wished every day that she were still here in this life to talk to about it all, but sadly she is not.

I prayed she would come to me at several pivotal points in my treatments, but it wasn’t until I wasn’t paying attention, as I lay in the OR before surgery, that I felt her fully there with me. I immediately relaxed, my fear tremors abated. It was a calm I hadn’t felt in a very long time.By the time the anesthesiologist said, “Ok, now I’m giving you something to relax you,” I was already there. I closed my eyes and thanked Linda for her reassurance that this would turn out well. I know many people will not believe that my sister was there with me, and that’s fine. But I know she is the only one that could have calmed me that way.

In a way, I feel closer to my sister than I ever was when she was alive, and I am grateful for the deeper understanding and the knowledge that we are still connected.

THE SPITAK QUAKE: Dr. Felix recalls delivering replacement children

The Spitak Quake: Dr. Felix recalls the dark days of delivering ArmeniaNow.com

By Gayane Mkrtchyan
ArmeniaNow reporter                                                                                           
Those women, still in reproductive age, who had no more maternity plans, bore children again to replace the ones they had lost. They were not young, still they 
 

 

Reading and Discussion of my #Memoir #Replacement Child, November 12 at #JCC New Haven

Come join me tomorrow, November 12 at 11 am at the JCC New Haven for a reading and discussion of Replacement Child – a memoir. Hope you can make it!
JCC New Haven event flyer

An old friend of the family brings a new perspective

I just got a call from Donna’s second grade teacher—my sister’s last teacher before she died when the plane crashed into my family’s home. The teacher, also named Florence like my mom, was only 22 years old when the accident happened. Young and impressionable, she never forgot my sister, who she said was the “sweetest girl.” She remembered my mother fondly, too, as “one wonderful lady.”

After the accident, when my mother was still in the hospital along with my surviving sister Linda, this teacher went to visit. My mother had requested that she come, wanting to know more about what Donna was like in the classroom. I can understand how my mother would have wanted to have just one more parent teacher meeting, hanging on to Donna through her teacher’s more objective sense of her. They chatted for while, and then teacher Florence went to visit Linda in the ICU. She says she will “never forget the smell in that room” of burnt flesh.

They kept in touch. My mother confided to her that, as she took a walk along the river, she thought about how easy it would be to end her own suffering, but knew that she couldn’t do it because her remaining daughter needed her.

“Not long after, your mother was pregnant with you,” Florence told me. “I went to see you when you came home and brought you a small gift. But, I have to say, reading your book, Replacement Child, I think the title should really be Healing Child, because that’s what you did for your family. Linda would have grown up so alone without you. You were just what they all needed.”

I thanked her, as best I could, through unexpected tears.

Farewell to Kennett Love, Times correspondent who covered the plane crash in 1952

love-articleInlineKennett Love had an illustrious career as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. Among other milestones, he covered pivotal events in the Middle East in the 50’s during the beginnings of the cold war. He was in Tehran in 1953 when the CIA successfully overthrew Iran’s prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, replacing him with Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi who was a loyalist to Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and who also had close ties to the US. His reporting may have played a part in the coup.

But when I read of Kennett Love’s death this past weekend, at 88, I thought of his story about the American Airlines commuter plane that crashed into my family’s home, killing my sister. He wrote with compassion about the devastation and his article gave me some of the missing details of the accident. I learned from his story that the pilot’s wife had awaited his return only a few blocks away where they lived. That ten boys who were at the candy store below my parents’ apartment escaped unharmed. He was among the first to write about my sister Donna’s death in the fire. His writing style in that article riveted me when I found it. He wrote:

“Beside the cockpit, in a smoking doorframe, was a child’s tricyle.”

“The searchers were obscured by smoke and steam and the steady rain as they combed the embers for the bodies of the dead. Their wet black slickers glistened in the light of huge mobile arc lamps as they carried out their loaded stretchers or bustled intruding bystanders from their path.”

“Beside the fallen house, in a corner of the vacant lot, stood an array of three small freshly painted billboards. They were untouched and stood out strangely in the smoke and glare and confusion against the background of burned buildings.”

Kennett Love covered that accident in the beginning of his long career, but he remembered it well when I found him and spoke to him on the phone as I embarked on the research for Replacement Child. He recalled thinking then of my parents, “how could anyone survive such a devastating event in their life.”

I never got to meet Mr. Love, but I’m glad we spoke. He was one tangible link I had to the reality of the accident that changed the course of my family. Rest in peace Mr. Love.

#Memoir writing, publishing, essays and interviews over the past month

Image@ The Muffin

blog url: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/
specific url: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2013/04/author-judy-mandel-launches-her-memoir.html

@ Words by Webb
Stop by to find out what Jodi has to say about Replacement Child, a memoir about complicated family dynamics, by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://jodiwebb.com
specific url: http://jodiwebb.com/reviews/replacement-child/

@ CMash Reads
Don’t miss Cheryl’s take on Replacement Child, a memoir about love, loss, and family by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://cmashlovestoread.com/
specific url: http://cmashlovestoread.com/2013/04/10/guest-author-judy-mandel-showcase-giveaway/

@ Choices
Hear from Madeline about her thoughts on Replacement Child, a memoir of growing up as the replacement child by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://madeline40.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://madeline40.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-huge-welcome-to-author-judy-mandel.html

@ Tiffany Talks Books
Don’t miss Tiffany talking about her thoughts after readingReplacement Child by Judy Mandel. This is a great memoir about family and loss.
blog url: http://tiffanytalksbooks.com
specific url: http://tiffanytalksbooks.com/guest-post-replacement-child-by-judy-l-mandel/

@ All Things Audry

Stop by to learn more about Judy Mandel, author of the memoir about family, Replacement Child.
blog url: http://www.allthingsaudry.blogspot.com
specific url: http://allthingsaudry.blogspot.com/2013/04/welcome-judy-l-mandel-and-guest-post.html


@ Books I Think You Should Read
Liz takes a closer look at Replacement Child by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://booksithinkyoushouldread.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://booksithinkyoushouldread.blogspot.com/2013/04/guest-post-judy-mandel-author-of.html

@ Mrs. Mommy Booknerd
Fact or Fiction? That’s the topic today with memoir writer Judy Mandel, author of Replacement Child.
blog url: http://mrsmommybooknerd.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://mrsmommybooknerd.blogspot.com/2013/04/blog-tour-with-wow-women-on-writing.html

@ Kristine Meldrum Denholm
Kristine interviews Judy Mandel, author of Replacement Child, and asks the fabulous question: How do you sell a self-published book to an agent/traditional publisher?
blog url: http://www.kristinemeldrumdenholm.com/
specific url: http://kristinemeldrumdenholm.com/blog/?p=3077

@ White Elephants
Find out what Chynna has to say about Replacement Child by Judy Mandel a memoir about life, loss, and love from a child born into a family that had suffered the loss of a daughter.
blog url: http://www.seethewhiteelephants.com/
specific url: http://www.seethewhiteelephants.com/2013_05_01_archive.html?m=0

@ National Association of Memoir Writers
Stop by to learn more about a riveting memoir, Replacement Child, and its author Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://www.namw.org/
specific url: http://www.namw.org/2013/05/wow-blog-tour-guest-an-interivew-with-judy-mandel-replacement-child/

@ Memory Writers Network
Enjoy an interview with writer Judy Mandel and discover why she felt the need to write her memoir, Replacement Child.
blog url: http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/

Specific url: http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/turning-tragedy-into-memoir/

 

Thanks to @tiffanytalksbooks and @booksIthinkyoushouldread for hosting my guest blog posts #RCmandel

wildflowers 1My thanks to two blog sites for hosting me this week.

Books I Think You Should Read hosted my blog:

How Writing Replacement Child Changed Me: http://tinyurl.com/dxksg2x

 

Tiffany Talks Books hosted my blog:

Club Replacement Childhttp://tinyurl.com/cfq6vnu

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