Eulogy for Harold

Going to a funeral is difficult. That deafening silence in the chapel brings back painful memories and stirs up emotions that I work so hard to control. No matter how much time has passed, that aching and longing for my parents and sisters is never buried too deeply, always bubbling in my heart, ever so slightly, like a pot of porridge on the stove.
Admittedly and honestly, I’m not big on current events, politics, math or science, but I’m fascinated by people and animals. I have some pretty incredible people (and animals) in my life, and when I attend a funeral (an unfortunate reality) I listen carefully to the eulogies and absorb the words and stories that are used to describe the person who died. Often I learn things I didn’t know, sometimes I wonder about what was left out, and occasionally I feel inspired and aspired to do more for others, to be a better person . . . to do whatever I have to do in order to ensure that when I die, I can be sent off with a positive, heartfelt and inspiring eulogy.

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a 50 year old man who I was proud and privileged to call my friend. Harold was diagnosed just over a year ago with a malignant brain tumor.

Harold and I met about five years ago and we became instant friends. It was really easy to become friends with Harold. And quite honestly, at this stage of life, with a big family and lots of friends, I’m very fussy about who I allow into my inner circle – who I choose to add to my personal network. Harold and I sat on an advisory committee together, for a children’s grief centre. During those meetings, Harold was brilliant, funny, insightful, caring, genuine – I learned so much from him. Our friendship quickly extended beyond those meetings, and we met for lunches and had great phone conversations. I met his wife and boys, and he met my husband and kids – and we all felt connected.

When Harold was diagnosed, I was devastated. How could Harold be stricken with a brain tumour? Harold does more good for others than anyone I know. Harold has a PhD. Harold is devoted to his family. Harold is funny, generous, kind, smart, compassionate. Harold is too young to die.

Within weeks of his diagnosis, I got a message from Harold. Please come over. Harold wanted to talk about this death sentence – less about himself and more about his concern for his wife and kids. Knowing that I had gone through a tragedy at age 13, he wanted to know what I did, and how I got through such profound loss as a teen. Searching for comfort and hope that his family will be okay, we talked endlessly and honestly for hours at a time, every week. When he was in treatment and was too weak or sick for a visit, I checked in with his wife, Suzanne.

Harold got sicker and sicker and our visits ended, but Harold was never far from my thoughts.

I listened to the two eulogies at Harold’s funeral , nodding my head in agreement. Harold was everything they said . . . and more. He was such a great person who truly lived life in a way that mattered. Many, many people loved and admired Harold, and we will all feel a lasting loss with him gone.

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Are Imaginary Friends Actually Visits From Deceased Loved Ones?

‘Thirty something’ years ago, when my kids made comments about their ‘imaginary friends’ – making visits, having conversations, joining us on outings – we accepted them as exactly that; imaginary friends dreamed up in their vivid, child-like imaginations. But our knowledge and experience about so many things has changed since then. Children are now raised with differing and different messages about health and wellness, sexuality, bullying, safety, technology, and . . . thanks to many movies and TV shows, psychic-mediumship; the presence of loved ones in spirit, and the ability to communicate with them.

While logic and reason say otherwise, I now have to believe that those imaginary friends were actually visits from my deceased loved ones – now known as after-death communication, or ADC. An ADC occurs as a visit between a family member or friend who is dead and someone who is alive, without the help or involvement of a psychic-medium or ritual. Far from imaginary, this is a genuine encounter.

I have met with psychic-mediums and I have received astonishing messages from my deceased family members – information that was private, detailed and accurate. Those life-changing visits validated what I had often wondered about – the on-going presence of my family on the ‘other side’.

But none of the visits to the medium can compare to the experiences I am currently having with my almost three-year-old grandson.

Any drop of skepticism has now diminished. G.O.N.E.

“The lady told me to be careful not fall out of my bed,” my young grandson, Ben, told my daughter, Rebecca, the morning after she took the rails off his bed.

“What lady?”

“The lady who was in my room.”

My daughter called me later that day to tell me what had happened, but knowing that Ben commonly remembers his dreams, we assumed it was just a dream.

And then ‘the lady’ came up again as he was sitting and eating breakfast with Rebecca a few days later.

With his spoon in the air, he asked “What did the lady just say?”

He then looked around, seemingly puzzled. “Where did she go?”

“What lady?” my daughter asked.

“The lady who comes to my room. She was just here.”

My daughter and I discussed this later on the phone. Who is this lady he keeps referring to?

Ben was at my house on Friday night, and we were reading a book in the family room. About halfway through the book, he casually got up and walked over to the wall of old photos.

“That’s the lady who comes to see me in my room,” he said, pointing to a photo of my late mother (1930-1970). “She comes to my room in her rocket ship!”

Incredible and credible.

I was absolutely speechless.

It is truly impossible to describe the emotions I felt when he made that statement – a totally genuine, innocent comment that reassured me that this ‘lady’ was not just in Ben’s imagination. He knew exactly who she was – my mom, who I lost in a plane crash in 1970, when I was 13 years old.

I went on to ask him if he knew anyone else in the pictures. “Nope,” he said, and then casually walked back to the couch and picked up the book so we could continue reading.

The on-going exposure to psychic-mediums in the media has successfully increased awareness and acceptance of the ability to connect with the deceased. Many people are finally starting to believe in the ability to communicate with spirits.

For me, it is incredibly comforting and validating, knowing that our loved ones never really leave us.

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Eight Choices That Will Make You Happier

As I reflect on my past experiences, I understand and have internalized the importance of making positive choices. I know that I generalize, but I truly believe that the more choices we make, the more alive we feel, and the more alive we feel, the healthier our choices.

I believe that happiness is a choice … a conscious decision.

The following are my eight happiness-inducing choices:

1. Choose to be surrounded by positive, optimistic, happy people.
They like to solve problems and are pleasant and fun to be around. They like to share good news and celebrate good times. They look for and find the good in others, and they make the best of any situation. They smile from the inside.

2. Choose to stay busy and continue to learn and grow.
At all times, whether we are dealing with difficulties or issues, or not, having too much time on our hands can cause worry and stress. Keeping busy and interested in a variety of areas and activities makes our lives more meaningful and enjoyable.

3. Choose to help others.
One of the most fulfilling and rewarding things that we can do is to help others. We bring happiness to our own lives when we are compassionate and caring; when we understand the importance of helping others who are dealing with challenges and difficulties.

4. Choose to express gratitude.
It is important to cultivate an attitude of gratitude…to search for, find, talk about, treasure the good things in life, and count our blessings. We can then realize and truly appreciate what we have.

5. Choose to look ahead — don’t look back. 
Life is too short to waste time dwelling on the past. The healthiest thing that we can do is to learn from the past, focus on the present, and look forward to the future. We cannot let past pain rob us of present happiness.

6. Choose to have faith and patience. We must, in all situations, have faith that somehow “things” will work out. It is important to remember that everything takes time, and so, we have to remind ourselves to have patience.

7. Choose to spend time with animals. 
We have much to learn and gain from spending time with animals, especially dogs and cats. Aside from being positive, sincere, loyal and faithful, they intuitively understand forgiveness, gratitude, appreciation, unconditional love, helping others, and patience. They have so much to teach us about happiness.

8. Choose positive thoughts.
We cannot live a positive life with a negative mind. We have the ability to choose our thoughts – to choose how to perceive any situation. We can choose to look for the positives; for the silver linings, and the rainbows after the storm.

We can choose to let joy into our lives. Yes, we can choose to be happy.

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Choose to surround yourself with the “RIGHT” people

When I was faced with horrific tragedy as a young teen, and was drowning in a mixture of emotions, my “life jacket” was the belief and faith that somehow, I would survive. I hung on with all my strength to protect myself from being pulled under by the indescribable power of grief and despair.

Fortunately, I seemed to have intuitively understood how important it was for me to surround myself with the “right” people — people who were positive, happy and optimistic. For me, the “right” people were pleasant and fun to be around, they liked to share good news, to celebrate, to look for and find the good in others, to make the best of things, to solve problems, and . . . they smiled.

Even now, I never underestimate the power of a smile.

Spending time with positive people taught me countless lessons. I learned that if I was able to fake joy, I was able to make joy. When I smiled and acted happy, I felt better. And there was something empowering about a smile that had struggled through tears.

I believe that positivity is contagious, and that happy people are drawn to other happy people. And, I believe that it is the same with negativity.

That is why, as a teen, I chose to stay away, and I continue to choose to stay away from negative, difficult, controlling, grouchy and needy people. These people suck the life and energy out of others, and try to pull them down into their dark and gloomy existence because misery loves company.

That is not to say that I suggest ending a friendship when friends are going through a rough time. I suggest the opposite, for that is when friends need friends more than ever. I’m talking about ending relationships with unhappy, negative people who always complain about everything and everyone — the people displaying chronic negativity.

I call it weeding the garden.

When people complain to me about their toxic friendships, I tell them to stop watering the weeds in their lives and start watering the flowers. And yes…there are plenty of flowers. The world is filled with many happy, beautiful, positive people who know the meaning of honesty, loyalty and goodness. I believe that we should focus our attention on them.

People can inspire and motivate you, or they can drain you . . . choose wisely.

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How I Ended Up Living Happily Ever After

Two wounded teens meet, fall in live, and live “happily ever after”… fairy-tale, coincidence, or serendipity?

My husband Barry and I were each born into families enjoying “fairy-tale” lives. Our parents were young and in love, and their lives were full of hopes and dreams for the future.

And then, sadly, those fairy-tale lives came to an abrupt end, with tragic deaths.

Barry and I were both 17 when we met. We had just finished high school. I was dealing with my tragedy — the death of my mother and two younger sisters. Barry was an orphan, responsible for his older brother with special needs.

Barry was seven months old when his mother died suddenly, leaving his dad alone to care for him and his four-year-old brother who was developmentally delayed. After raising his boys alone for almost 17 years, Barry’s dad died suddenly of a heart attack.

I didn’t know too many other teens dealing with crazy and unusual lives filled with tragedy. How unbelievable to have met someone who, like me, was in foreign territory, an unrecognizable world, and uncertain about how to proceed. I suddenly felt as if I had met the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion, all rolled into one — Barry was that incredible combination of brain, heart and courage.

And there we stood, in the “Land of Oz” at the start of the “Yellow Brick Road” — the beginning of our journey together.

We were both in strange and desperate situations, faced with fear and distress, and the intense will to survive and to move forward. As in fairy-tales, we felt the need to be brave and strong, and determined to create a happy life together.

We focused on the present and chose to use our experiences, our pasts, as the springboard for our future.

Neither one of us took life for granted. We knew how precious life really is.

By the time we were 19, we were living together in a tiny, one room apartment. Even though none of our parents had gone to school beyond high school, we were both determined to complete university degrees, have meaningful careers, and make a difference in the lives of others.

We juggled full-time university, part-time jobs, food shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry. I waited tables and washed hair at a beauty salon. Barry pumped gas at a full-service gas station and spot welded cars at a General Motors plant. We did what we had to do. We looked for reasons to be grateful. We often talked about how lucky we were to have each other, and to have good part-time jobs so that we could pay our bills. We were grateful to have relatives and friends with whom we could visit and spend time.

Our lives were difficult, but we chose to stay positive and optimistic. We chose not to indulge in self-pity. We were determined that our past pain and suffering would not rob us of our present and future happiness.

Barry and I got married as soon as we graduated from university, and we had the traditional wedding that we wanted. While there were times during the planning of this milestone event that I ached for my mother and sisters, I did my best to keep busy and distracted. I reminded myself that while we can’t always change the situation, we can control our attitude and our thoughts.

It has been over 34 years since our wedding and we consider ourselves extremely blessed. We have three terrific children, a great son-in-law, a delicious grandson, wonderful relatives and friends, and so much more.

We are wiser because of our experiences and because of what we have dealt with in our lives. We are proud to say that our tragic childhoods did not define us — they refined us. We feel that we turned our wounds into wisdom. We are survivors, not victims. We are proof that people can survive, and thrive, after tragedy.

I completed a Masters Degree in Social Work and was a summer camp owner and director for almost 25 years.

Barry is the President and CEO of Teva Canada. Teva is the largest generic pharmaceutical company in the world.

Barry and I grew up together, leaning on each other, and continuously building our life based on common values and dreams. We feel that we were destined to be together. Was it a fairy-tale meeting, was it a coincidence, or was it serendipity?

Living happily ever after…

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Give Up – Give In – Give It All You’ve Got . . . You Choose

In my book Repairing Rainbows: A True Story of Family, Tragedy and Choices, I recount the terrible time when I was thrust into a “tornado” of major loss. One minute I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was going to be okay and the next minute I was overcome with anguish. Paralyzed. Out of nowhere would come a fresh flood of terror. A panic attack. Like a time bomb, ticking away silently and then exploding with a loud boom.

Despite, or maybe in spite of, the sorrow, heartbreak and tremendous pain, I was determined to find happiness and joy again. I refused to succumb to a life of despair. I wanted to laugh and have fun.

I had to find something to make the panic and anxiety stop. I had no idea how to process or deal with such profound sadness, grief and anger. What I did know was that I did not want to give up, and I did not want to give in to the constant pain that was deep in my heart.

I discovered that the only thing that helped, even temporarily, was focusing on the things that made me feel better and gave me pleasure and joy. My “pain medication” or “emotional anesthetic” was to do whatever I could to keep busy, distracted and focused on helping others.

I felt so much better when I was spending time with happy, positive people, doing things for others, finding things for which to be grateful, and choosing positive thoughts.

I did not feel guilty about wanting to be happy; my mother had always told us that health and happiness were the most important things in life.

And so I forged ahead . . . with determination, courage, compassion and hope. No matter how hard it was – and it was hard – I was not going to give up on life.

Giving up was never a choice for me.

I chose a direction. I tried to find my way, doing what I had to do in order to survive, in order to find my “new normal.”

I spent a lot of time imagining and daydreaming about better times, and about having happiness and joy in my life again.

When I reflect on those teen years, I realize that my life was comparable to Dorothy’s inThe Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her little dog Toto were caught in a violent and devastating twister which swept them away to a land beyond the rainbow – the land of Oz.

Everything was foreign and different in the land of Oz, thus rendering Dorothy’s life unrecognizable. She was frightened and confused. I certainly can relate to those emotions and the feeling of an unrecognizable world.

Initially immobilized, Dorothy found the courage and determination to find her way home. Dorothy met and leaned on some wonderful people as she followed the Yellow Brick Road – the people who were caring, positive and sincere – Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, the Munchkins, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. They followed the Yellow Brick Road together, they supported and encouraged each other and together they dodged the “bad guys” – the Wicked Witch of the West and the Flying Monkeys – the ones who were mean and cruel.

Dorothy stayed focused and optimistic, and she held on to her hope with persistence and determination.

Like Dorothy, I intuitively knew and understood that the choices for the direction of my life . . . were mine.


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Learning To Live With Grief

I am frequently asked why I wrote Repairing Rainbows so many years after the plane crash. The truth is that I did not have the courage and strength to open the wounds that I had kept so carefully covered and protected all these years. While I knew that my story was an important one to share, each time I considered the idea of writing a book, I stopped myself, terrified to relive that horrible time when my whole world had fallen apart.

For almost four decades, I did not talk about the plane crash. Instead, I buried the tragedy and any associated feelings of grief as deep down as possible.

Seemingly, that was the way tragedies and death were dealt with in the 70s. It was almost immediately after the plane crash that I was told, directly and indirectly, that the subject was closed, never to be discussed… the subject of death was unmentionable.

I found that people would avoid or dodge me, acting as if I was contaminated or contagious. And those well-meaning people who wanted to show support and compassion would often say “You are so strong,” or “You look so well.” This put extreme pressure on me to keep up appearances and to hide my true feelings.

I moved forward by clinging to the theory that ‘if you fake joy, you can make joy.’ If you put a smile on your face and act happy, you will feel better.

I went back to school two months later — my first year in high school — and no one acknowledged the fact that my mother and two little sisters had just been killed. Instead, many of the teachers and students, obviously feeling extremely uncomfortable, just stared at me without saying a word.

Silence isn’t always golden.

I spent a lot of time imagining and dreaming about being happy again. Over the years, I thought that I had succeeded and won the ‘grief’ battle. And in many ways, I did. I created a wonderful life, and with the exception of my family and close friends, most people had no idea that the tragedy had even happened. People just assumed that I had a ‘normal’ childhood and adult life.

But I could not suppress my grief any longer. Eventually I did have to face it, acknowledge the pain and actively deal with it.

So, when I finally ‘uncorked’ my story, I found myself carrying on conversations about my late mother and sisters, with uncontrollable emotion and tears. But talking about them was exactly what I needed to do in order to finally process and work through my grief.

This confirms what the researchers now know and understand; that people who are grieving must be given opportunities to express their feelings, to talk about the death, and to share stories and memories about the person who died. Grieving family members need to feel that the death is not too terrible to mention, and that their loved one will not be forgotten. It is said that healthy grieving is about rebuilding life, while still remembering and cherishing the memories of the person who died.

When I began writing Repairing Rainbows, all of the grief and sadness came pouring out with gut-wrenching emotion. Repairing Rainbows is the story of my life and how I dealt with personal tragedy, and the choices I made along the way.

There is no recipe or template to follow that will determine the course of any tragedy, and the effect it has on one’s life. While at times life makes no sense, there is always a way, a path, a direction to take back into the world to truly live.

As a badly wounded teenager, I chose a life of hope and happiness, and I continue to choose that life every day. My parents and my sisters would expect no less.

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Talking About My Mother and Sisters’ Deaths Helped Me More Than Silence

Growing up in the 60’s in the suburbs of Montreal, life felt safe and secure. And then on July 5, 1970, Air Canada flight 621 crashed, killing all 109 people on board. My mother and two younger sisters were on that flight. I was 13 years old.

The loss was beyond devastating. My father fell into a deep depression, numb to life; I was essentially left to fend for myself.

On the cusp of my teens, I had to make sense of life, death, loss and the unfairness of it all.

Forced to carry on with the impact and effects of such profound loss, I had no one to talk to. In the 70’s, no “grief counsellors” or “therapists” arrived at my school or at my home, as happens today. I didn’t get any help to understand, express and process my grief. Instead, my dad and I just had to manage, and do what we thought was best.

Not knowing how to handle the subject of death and grief, people around us thought it best to never talk about it. The myth was that ‘if we don’t talk about it, we can live beyond it.’ They wanted to protect us, spare us from more pain, and prevent the stirring of feelings.

Family pictures were put away, all of my mother’s and sisters’ personal items were cleared out of our house and we were expected to move on with our lives and reconstruct our world as if nothing had happened.

We didn’t talk about the plane crash, or about my mother and sisters, because we didn’t know how. We were overwhelmed, frightened, haunted with terror . . . and alone. Very alone. No one should ever feel alone in grief.

I intuitively understood, even as a thirteen year old, that we all have choices, and we make choices. It seemed obvious to me that the more choices we make, the more alive we feel; the more alive we feel, the healthier our choices.

And so I made choices.

I made some very different choices from my father about how to deal with this tragedy — the sudden death of my mother and sisters. No matter how hard it was, I was not willing to succumb to despair. I was not going to give up. Giving up was NEVER an option for me.

I made a conscious choice to find the strength to overcome the grief and to overpower the sadness.

I wanted what everyone wants: to feel joy and happiness, to laugh and have fun. So I chose to LIVE.

It was a conscious decision. And it wasn’t easy — I am never going to say that it was easy. But the other option — to be in a sad and miserable state — would have been harder.

Determined to chart a new course for my life, I discovered that what really helped, even temporarily, was to do whatever I could to keep busy, distracted and focused on helping others.

I clung to a hectic schedule, as if it was my life jacket. I was busy with school work and fund-raising projects and I spent as much time as possible volunteering on the children’s floor at a hospital. I would spend time playing with children who had cancer or other horrible illnesses, making them smile or laugh, distracting them from their pain, because knowing that I was helping them, made me feel better.

I intuitively understood that the best way to cheer myself up, was to try to cheer someone else up. And, the best part about helping others was that it took the focus off my problems. It was like taking a badly needed break from my own pain and grief.

And… I was amazed by the incredible power of giving back.

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Walmart Mom of the Year Contest

When Sam Walton established Walmart in 1962, he made sure that every Walmart store reflected commitment and support for the community. Today, Walmart’s Community Outreach Programs underwrite college scholarships, raise money for children’s hospitals, and provide donations and support for charity events and fund raisers. Along with this ongoing commitment to the community, Walmart lives up to their mission statement which is all about helping people save money so they can live better.

The Walmart ‘Mom of the Year’ Contest is yet another example of how Walmart promotes support and commitment to the community. Out of the 16,909 nominations, they will choose eight moms who will each win prize money to be donated to the charity of their choice. The judges will choose the winners based on the positive impact they have on others, and the degree to which they help others. And one of the most incredible parts of this contest is that women are being nominated by family and friends, who are using this opportunity to write beautiful accolades about them.

This is a brilliant contest Walmart – way to go!

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I have learned through the years that one of the most effective ways of dealing with a difficult situation is to be busy or distracted. Too much time to “think” can be very dangerous. The greatest gift we can give to ourselves is a project or activity that keeps us busy and is extremely pleasurable at the same time.

Several months ago,  a box of young kittens was left on the side of the road near my summer day camp, Adventure Valley. Since there are no coincidences in life, I believe it was meant to be that someone just happened to walk by and heard the kittens crying in the box. Next thing I knew, I was at the Vet with three young, healthy and adorable kittens.

I saw this as a gift from the Universe – a wonderful thing to be busy with and an opportunity to make a difference. It is also remarkable how animals have such a natural ability to show gratitude and appreciation.

My Vet told me that there is a desperate need for foster homes for young kittens, and that because of the shortage of foster homes, healthy kittens are being euthanized every day.

We immediately transformed my daughter’s bedroom and adjacent washroom into a kitten nursery – litter box, food and water bowls, a cozy pet bed and plenty of toys.

The kittens required a lot of time and attention, but they were an absolute joy. Within a few weeks they were chubby and old enough to be adopted.

We found wonderful homes for them and have heard from the families that they are precious and cherished pets.

We have since then become an official kitten rescue home and received a new litter of 4 very young kittens who were left in a box outside of Petsmart. We bottle fed and litter trained these tiny kittens, and have watched them grow and develop into absolutely adorable and affectionate little pets. They love playing together and zooming around chasing each other. They are in great health, fully litter box trained, playful, cuddly, entertaining and very social. They love lots of attention!

It is a delight to be busy looking after these kittens and I look forward to finding wonderful homes for them.

When you first look at a litter of tiny kittens, the work and time needed for their care can seem overwhelming and terrifying. That’s where my sense of determination and the desire to take on a challenge jumps in! That sense of empowerment – the idea of helping, doing something worthwhile, achieving and succeeding – fuels me to JUST DO IT!

Dream. Visualize. Imagine. Believe. Be persistent. Never give up. I will persevere! I am worth it! I can do it!

Nothing builds self-esteem, self-confidence and the feeling of empowerment like a meaningful challenge followed by accomplishment.  At the core of the concept of empowerment, is the idea of ability to solve a problem, have a purpose, do something important. Realizing that you have the desire and ability to care for tiny, dependent little kittens, and that because of your tender love and care, they can be healthy, content and playful, is incredibly empowering.

I strongly believe that there is nothing that harvests more of a feeling of empowerment than doing something meaningful and important.

Ironically, the reality is that you will quickly discover that it’s not such a huge undertaking after all.

When you rescue kittens, you’re doing something important. You are giving these animals a second chance. You’re keeping them alive. They will cry for you – they need you and they will depend on you – and they will love and appreciate you with unconditional gratitude and love.

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