No One Holds a Candle to You, Dad

Visiting my in-laws always triggers strong feelings of missing my father. It pains me so deeply to think that my child will be held by my father-in-law, but not by my own father; that my child won’t meet my dad­—and get to know the humble and sweet, intelligent, and sensitive man that he was. In fact, this very morning, it being the 4th time we are staying with my husband’s parents in LA LA land (i.e. LA), it concretized in my mind that my next writing project could be to write about my father and compile all the lovely stories that family, friends, and former patients had to say about him. I am not surprised that this idea came to me while visiting my in-laws—as I said, it is here that I feel my father’s absence the most and miss him most acutely.

And the only thing that will ameliorate the pain of my children not knowing my father would be to write up a text describing who he was and what he meant to those with whom he was closest. In fact, I could even see myself devoting a whole room to my dad in our future home with pictures of him hanging on the wall; it’s kind of shrine-like, I know, but it just feels like the next best thing.

But I would be remiss to end this writing here, for I had another revelation this morning, albeit perhaps less major.

Our April visits to LA also coincide with my father-in-law’s birthday—as if I need another jab in the proverbial chest that surrounds the gaping hole that is the loss of my father. Thinking about this, I pitied myself and my situation even more. But then, this morning, for the first time I realized that my father is in fact with me during this time.

You see, four days out of the year in the Jewish calendar, there is a custom to light a memorial candle and recite Yizkor, a prayer for family members who have passed on. And guess what? My father-in-law’s Hebrew birthday coincides with one of these days! So when my father-in-law gathers his friends in his home to celebrate, the pain of missing my father is slightly abated by the presence of the lit memorial candle in the corner of the room, which symbolizes my father’s soul, and the Yizkor prayer that I recite for him that day. From this I know deep in my heart that my father is indeed there with me.

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When A Loved One Passed On Before the World Went Digital: Where Are You, Dad?

This morning I was looking for a picture to post of me and my dad on my Instagram account. While I once briefly referenced my father on my page, I never posted a picture of him, nor did I fully explain the enormous influence that he had on my decision to become a nutritionist.

My Instagram account: gila_health_and_wellness, is an interesting breed indeed. It is an account dedicated to healthy living, but since I had no desire to create a solely personal Instagram account, it sometimes contains pictures about personal quirks/passions of mine that are, dare I say, not at all related to nutrition (Oh my!).

Being that I have black-and-white thinking, this is constantly itching at me. Are there people who begin to follow me and then stop because my feed is not solely about nutrition and exercise? I mean, I chose the name for my professional business to be “Gila Health and Wellness” several years ago with the intention of including more than just nutrition and physical activity. I wanted to include other topics such as mindfulness and emotional well-being, which are not strictly nutrition- and exercise-related.

But as I broaden my definition more and more of what “health and wellness” means to me, I continue to wonder if I am making a mistake in spreading my net so wide.

But, alas, I digress. And only time will tell if the unique fusion that is my professional image on Instagram, which in every way mirrors my person, catches and keeps the attention of others.

In my efforts to find more people who would be interested in what I express on my Instagram account (i.e. garner more followers), I realized this morning that I have yet to post a picture of me and my dad (my inspiration for becoming a nutritionist) on my Instagram page.

And I realized today that I don’t have any digital pictures of me and my father.

I created my current Gmail account in 2007, the year after my father died, so I wouldn’t have any there. I created my Facebook account in the summer of 2006, 3 months before my father suddenly passed away, so nothing there either.

I didn’t get a smart phone until 2013, which means that I wasn’t digitally chronicling my life until around that time. I mean, I had started to, but not nearly as heavily as the present time.

And, here I am two for two, for I have digressed yet again! For the intention of this post was not to write about how much more digitally inclined I have become (together with the rest of the world!). Rather, I wanted to express that this is the second time that I am intensely realizing that I do not have easy access to pictures of me and my father.

The first time, it was about five years ago, when I reflected on how I had no pictures with him, let alone of him, in my apartment.

And being that I have often struggled with feelings of abandonment after losing my father, I couldn’t help but notice that not having pictures with or of him, was probably both a symptom and a driver of my intense feelings of abandonment and loneliness.

I think I knew subconsciously that seeing pictures of my dad would make me miss him even more, and I created a reality where not seeing my father’s face for months on end was normal.

But, as I concluded then, I recognize today that this may not be the best approach.

And so, setting aside my strong desire to successfully build my brand based in part on my unique, painful experiences, which are, in fact, not so unique at all, since many can relate to them—setting aside my selfish professional pursuits for one moment, I can acknowledge, once again, that there are times that I rarely see a physical image of my father; and it’s weird.

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Home Renovations Hold Painful Connotations

My mother is planning on redecorating the house within the next coming year or two. Being that my parents never renovated the home since they bought it in 1986, renovation is a very positive thing. But somehow I am not taking it so well.

On the one hand, I am excited to see my childhood home become more modern and increase in beauty. On the other hand, and this is a very heavy hand, I want to keep living in the home that my father used to live in. I am afraid, for example, that when we redo the kitchen, the new kitchen will feel starkly devoid of any memories of my father; that I will in turn feel my father’s presence less—or more accurately—feel his absence even more.

I have been pining away at this thought for the past year or so—the conflict that I have between wanting to have a better, brighter childhood home, and not wanting to change the way things were when my father was alive.

I do not know if there is a term for the grieving that happens when one renovates one’s living space such that it is unrecognizable to the person whom they once shared it with, for whom they long. I know that holding onto a loved one’s material items is a common form of holding onto their memories, and taken too far, a not-so-healthy one.

In general, I try hard to put organization and minimalist, Zen living above keeping items of sentimental value, but for some reason, renovating the space I used to share with my father, the home in which he and my mother raised me—I can’t seem to emotionally prepare for this.

Then this morning, I had a thought. The greatest part of the grieving lies in the feeling of moving on and redoing the home without my father ever having stepped foot in it or experiencing it for himself. Surely my father cannot physically inhabit this space, but I could think about what my father would say if he were in fact here during this renovation.

I could imagine the sort of design he would prefer. I could think about the discussions he would have with my mother, as she spoke with the interior designer to set up the plans.

He wasn’t one for modern-day design, but I am sure he would appreciate the user-friendliness of the new cabinets and the increased counter space.

My father cannot inhabit the space, but I can mentally bring him into it. I can imagine how he would participate in the process. And I can envision him grabbing an Israeli salad from the fridge and chomping down on it on our new kitchen counter. (He usually ate his snacks standing up ;))

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Why Do I Write Books?

I was going to title this, “Why do I write?” but that question is answered by an internal spark inside of me, which I cannot fully explain. But why do I write books? What motivates me to invest financially and emotionally in creating finished products out of my writings? Well, that has a more concrete answer.

For the past two years or so, I have attributed my desire to write a book (and then another book!) as a way to counteract my perfectionist tendencies, as well as those of my mother. We both have a tendency to want to make something perfect before we share it with the public and I have seen my mother’s frustrations at having started her own creative projects, but not quite bringing them to fruition.

This feeling of just wanting to put myself out there and be heard and seen was one of the great driving forces that motivated me to start a listserv seven years ago and send out my writings to friends and family. Each time I pressed the send button, I felt liberated in knowing that I had edited and reviewed my writing well enough, and it was now ready for the consumption of others.

But there is another reason why putting out a book is so attractive to me. And while I am not always as conscious of this reason, it is just as powerful and cathartic, if not more so.

I write and publish books in order to create products that will last eternally. Having experienced the sudden death of my father when I was twenty-one, I learned that life is short. Publishing books of my writings is a way for me to soothe my soul—to affirm that I will make my mark on this earth and have an influence on this world that goes beyond my own lifetime (may it be a long one). My father’s sudden passing taught me the fragility and temporal nature of life. I want to connect to posterity, just as my father lives on in me and in the many lives which he so beautifully touched.

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Not So Awake, But Alive!

This morning I missed the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train to a conference by five minutes. This is day two of the conference and I was fortunate to make that train yesterday, but the bus/subway ran differently today and I left the Bronx subway stop eight minutes later. Since I knew I would anyway miss the LIRR train, I decided to stay on the local 1 subway where I had a seat and was comfortably reading my book, instead of switching to an express train at 96th street.

The thing about the LIRR is, like the Metro-North, it only runs every 40 minutes or so. As I sat waiting in a cafe which played soft rock music and watched the multitude of passers-by who regularly commute at 7am, I began to realize that even though I was exhausted and crabby, I did have 35 minutes of free time.

With the energizing music playing in the background, I opted out of continuing to read my book. Feeling bored, I went on Facebook. I saw a post by the cousin of Adam Krief, z’l, which accentuated how being alive is such a blessing.

Yes, waking up at the crack of dawn and commuting to Long Island was uncomfortable. But it was intriguing too. Here I was in Penn station observing the lives of hundreds of New Yorkers. Most days I am not part of this particular hustle and bustle, but today I was there to see it and experience its energy.

Feeling more liberated and less irritated, I did some calf stretches. A few minutes later I recorded a video for my Gila Health and Wellness YouTube channel documenting my unique morning experience.

Somehow, although I am anything but wide awake, this morning I am feeling very much alive.

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Tough Realities of Adulthood: Desk Jobs with No Windows

This afternoon I went for two quick walks in between patients. I had managed to workaholicize my lunch break, and I had a bit of extra time in my afternoon schedule, so I took advantage of it.

As I went for my second walk, which lasted a whole 8 minutes, I pondered an oft-pondered thought: that I get paid to be in an office for 8 hours a day to sit on my a** and work at my computer. Well, I do get a one-hour lunch break, so I should not overlook that. Nevertheless, adulthood is not what I imagined it to be. When I was a little girl, I thought my parents were going out and pursuing their dreams and talents and saving the world when they were at their jobs. But now, I see the truth: that adults get paid to sit on their a** all day and not go outside.

Yes, there are many people, myself included, who are in jobs which they are passionate about and which serve an important cause. But when you think about it, we are all getting paid to stay indoors during the daylight hours. To sit at our desks, to answer phone calls, to type up reports, etc. So long as we don’t have too much fun—we are doing our jobs. Heaven forbid, we should ever take a beach day in the summer, or take part of the afternoon off to go for a delightful spring stroll. No, that is reason for getting fired!

And so, when my child asks me, “Mom, what it is like having a real job?” I will tell her, “I get paid to sit in an office on my tuches for 8 hours.”

Of course, I will also tell her that I enjoy helping people with their nutritional intake and health, but I want her to get an honest look behind the scenes of reality. Being a responsible adult means denying your natural instincts for fresh air and the outdoors, it means having to be disciplined so you can’t have fun most of the time, it means putting the welfare of others ahead of your own.

Oh, the irony that in our livelihood we die a little every day.

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Studying My Study Habits: Choosing Compassion Over Perfection

This morning I completed the pre-test for the Pediatric Weight Management training course I will be taking at the end of the month. On the heels of blogging about graduating Brandeis early, as well as recently writing a book which goes into further detail about this and other formative experiences of my twenties, I am feeling rather self-aware about my studying habits.

I noticed I was much more compassionate to myself during this pre-test process and much less perfectionist than I had been in the past. To be sure, after I graduated college, I began to mellow out about my grades. After all, I had already gotten the great SAT scores that I had dreamed of as a kid (My parents modeled academic excellence for me. Ever since I was young, I knew my dad went to Harvard, and my mom went to Yale. Not because they were haughty about it, but because they valued their academic achievements.) I also had already graduated college with honors (Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude) and straight As.

I certainly can’t go back and say I resent my perfectionist tendencies, since they fueled my previous success. But in a way, I do, because they blinded me from other areas of my life which needed more attention, in particular, my mental and emotional well-being.

So today when I completed the pre-test for the Pediatric Weight Management training course, I brought to it a more moderate and self-compassionate approach. I didn’t aim for perfection. I aimed for the 80% I needed to pass and attend the training. I kept everything in its proper proportion. Knowing that I also want to begin studying for the Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) exam helped me not to obsess over the nitty gritty details of the weight management pre-test. But it is more than that. It is knowing that I no longer base my self-worth on how good my grades are. It is accepting that I am not perfect and I cannot get everything right. And that that is ok. Because in the end of the day, I know I have a lot to give to the world. And my goal right now is to move forward, make healthy, grounded decisions, and contribute my unique gifts to the world.

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