Friday, April 2, 2010

Yin & Yang Weekend

I just got home from an incredibly hectic shift. Arriving at 6:00 a.m., there were eight people waiting to be treated from the overnight, several waiting for over three hours. When I left at 2:30 p.m., there were, again, eight people waiting to be seen, the wait still over two hours. Not the same people, of course. But still, the feeling of accomplishment was a little lacking.

Chalk it up to the yin and yang of the ER.

This weekend holds more of the same. Much to be happy about, with a touch of sadness mixed in. The yin and yang of my life.

I'm off from work the next four days. As I type, perfect weather hovers outside my office window, an unexpected embrace of warm sunshine befriended by a slight breeze and an endless blue sky. A long-lost hug that will linger for four days, if the weather-lady is right. Just in time to welcome Easter weekend, one of my favorite holidays. Peanut butter eggs, marshmallow chicks, fruit-flavored jellybeans, big chunks of chocolate--by noon Sunday, if my family isn't on a sugar high, then shame on us. If you see my family in church, I will be the one with peanut butter breath. My wife? She'll be the one with fluorescent pink, yellow, and blue sprinkles, remnants from the marshmallow chicks, clinging to her chin.

What makes this a most happy weekend, though, would be that it's...(drum roll, please) my birthday. Yep. Easter Sunday will be my 43rd birthday. I'm surprised, really, that I am entering my mid-40s. I remember very well when 40 seemed ancient to me, and I've surpassed that. Although my mind, spirit, and body are, for the most part, preserved, I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder who the person looking back is. According to my wife, it's my father's son.

Honestly, though, I couldn't really care that it's my birthday, except for the excitement it brings to our home, to my family. For the past week, I've caught my kids and wife whispering to one another, multiple times, only to stop as I approach. "Hmmm," I'd ask, faking bamboozlement, "what are you guys talking about?" My kids, especially my youngest, can't lie to save themselves, and yet they are able to play along remarkably with this.

Our family's birthday tradition? Started by my mother and successfully passed on, I, Mr. Birthday Boy, get to pick out dinner, which this year will be perogies and fresh sausage from the local Polish market. God Bless the Polish. And my birthday cake? Like every year past, Mom's Famous Chocolate Cake, made from scratch (including one cup of brewed coffee), topped with creamy, whipped, melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter frosting.

Doesn't life sound good? And taste good? Believe me, it is all good. Especially the cake.

So for all of my yang, what is the yin? The most simple way to explain it, I guess, is with two words--Mom's cake. Now baked by "my girls," my wife and daughters, and not by Mom.

Four years ago, on April 6th, Mom died. Two days after my 39th birthday.

My memories of Mom are almost all good, barring the last few weeks of her life, when AML ravaged her beaten body. I remember my 39th birthday very well, the feelings of helplessness that day. Trying to smile on the outside while the inside was desperate to change fate. The yin and yang of my young kids trying to celebrate my birthday while Mom lay ill in her own bed, breathing her last few breaths. After years of Mom breathing her beautiful spirit into us seven kids, it was her time to exhale her last breath. And time for us to breathe her spirit into our own families, without her.

After four years, it's easier to celebrate again. Time is the great healer. Thanks to my thoughtful sister, Rosie, who photocopied each of us a copy of Mom's hand-written and manually-typed recipes (refined tips included), chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting is not the only recipe of Mom's that my family enjoys. You should taste her Apple Jewish Coffee Cake. Laminated and bound, these recipes are truly gifts that keep on giving.

This is not depression, trust me. Simply, the memories and reflections of my mother's life are quite strong during this time of year, walking hand-in-hand with the introspection of my own life. As human beings, we have the privilege to experience some of life's lows, embrace them, grow stronger and wiser from them, and use these experiences to better ourselves. An ever evolving task. From this rubble, an appreciation of life's finer moments is gained.

Do any of you know where I am coming from? Any stories to share?

A memorable holiday weekend, filled with fun and laughter, good food, and celebrations of our religious beliefs, awaits my family. I know that. And I look forward to it. Plus, don't forget about the birthday presents I'll need to unwrap! I'm easy that way--give me a good book and a great musical CD, and I'm happy. At points, though, I know my mind will wander to thoughts of my mother.

It will be okay.

After all, I know where all this sunshine came from.

As always, big thanks for reading. A Happy Easter to all of you who celebrate this holiday. Enjoy your weekend. See you next week...


Cathy said...

Happy Birthday to you this weekend. I hope it is great one.

I lost my mom 8 years ago this last March. Two years ago at Christmas I made recipe books for all my nieces, great nieces, my 2 son's and my grand daughter. These were full off all my mom, and her mom's, favorite family recipes. I typed them, put them in plastic sheet protectors and used 3 ring binders so they can add to them. I put more than 120 recipes in each. They loved this gift.

I'm not sure we ever get over losing our parents, but like you said, time does help. I still think about and miss my mom so much at Holidays.

Have a good weekend with your family. Nothing better than chocolate and peanut butter together...:)

landlockedtxn said...


First, Happy Birthday, and Happy Easter.

I definitely can empathize with your story. I, too, lost my mom at the age of 39 3 years ago. The passage of time makes it easier, not easy, to enjoy these special days, especially when they are tied to something so life changing.

Hope you have lots of chocolate and happiness this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday. It's mine as well.

My sister committed suicide a week before Christmas. It was bizarre watching her children (they were young) bounce from profound grief to shaking their presents and wondering what was in them.

Blessings to you and your family.

Heather said...

Had I known it was your birthday I would have found that bra and put it in the mail! ;) Happy Birthday friend!

Now, you're gonna have to let me know where you live, because if there's a polish market where you can get fresh pierogi...I am moving.

Finally...I ache for you. Again, it's the case of science vs humanity...something medical professionals know so very well. Your mom would be so honored by your words, your thoughts, the value you put on her recipes. So, now I'm crying and blubbering, and I'm gonna stop.

Because your mom wants you to be happy.

littlepretendnurse said...

Happy Birthday! April birthday people are a special lot!

This July 6th will be 9 years since my father passed away. Right at one month after I graduated high school. The Fourth of July doesn't hold the same lure for us that it once did. I still will have something happen in my life at work or school and start to file it in my mind to the Tell Dad Folder. Then it hits me that he isn't here to tell anymore. I have gotten better over the years at not having to explain to those around me why it looks like I was suddenly punched in the gut. I don't think that missing him has gotten easier. I have developed better coping skills over the years.
At the funeral the director (who was wonderful) explained how we could keep my dad around forever. By simply telling stories and talking about him. I don't think a day ever goes by where I haven't thought of him. He is always with me.

I know your Mom is looking down on you and smiling.
And it bears repeating:


Anonymous said...

Ah, Happy Birthday!!

Make sure to thank your mother for this sun for all of us, okay?

AND this son, now that I think about it. :)

emmy said...

I know exactly what you mean. We buried my father on my 25th birthday. I thought that I'd just let that birthday just slide by, but one of my cousins walked in with a cake and my mom had the gift of diamond earrings that he'd gotten for me. It was a long time before I could put them in my ears. My birthdays haven't been the same since. I enjoy the celebration, but it's always with a twinge of missing my father and thinking about the year that had gone by without him.

I hope you have a wonderful birthday and a very happy Easter.

Stephany said...

"From this rubble, an appreciation of life's finer moments is gained."

Yes, this is true, it is during the hard times, that one can reflect on days that came before, that were happy or golden moments.

When I turned 50 in December, I had no idea I would be visiting my youngest in a locked psych ward. Afterward, my s/o and my oldest daughter (visiting from another state)took an hour from the stress and celebrated my birthday, the waitress brought ice cream with a candle on it. I look at the photo, and it appears "normal", as any other photo of a birthday.

Life is good if you have that favorite cake and your family with you, Happy Birthday and Happy Easter, many more golden moments await.

CottonLady said...

Happy Birthday to you! Just like you, we fondly remember special things about our loved ones. For me, it's my father and husband. The thoughts bring a smile to my face and an ache in my heart. It has gotten better with time-I think and talk about them often so they will be remembered by their loved ones.
Easter blessings to you and your family.

Katie said...

Happy Easter and happy birthday! May the Lord bless you in a remarkable way this year, as always.

Oh, and I really want some peanut butter chocolate cake now!

God's blessings,
<>< Katie

Leslie said...

Easter is my favorite day too!

Happy Birthday!

Sorry about your mom. What a blessing that you had to have her even for that short time (any number of years is too short for great moms).

From a fellow peanut butter lover.

merinz said...

Happy birthday!

Bongi said...

happy birthday. sterkte vir die jaar voorentoe.

Rositta said...

Happy Birthday Jim. Enjoy that cake.
This Easter it is 10 years since my Dad died and three my Mom. Last year my husband was in Greece tending his dying Mom. I still have difficulty with special occasions especially Mother's Day. My Mom died one day before Mother's Day. I guess I was fairly lucky to have her for as long as I did. I have a few of her recipes that I make but mostly I am putting together a book like you described for my one and only offspring. Happy Easter...ciao

StudentDoc said...

Happy early Birthday!

I'm too young to have lost my parents yet (I'm truly sorry to anyone who has lost parents in their mid-20s, and 39 seems too early too). However, we do something similar with my Grandmothers recipes. She was a wonderful baker, and we traditionally make her apple pie at Thanksgiving each year (apple because she always remembered I don't like pumpkin). Even with my father's gluten allergy, we make a gluten-free pie and a "regular" pie every year. Right now, he has all her recipes, but eventually I'll make copies so I can have a set too.

Unfortunately, while I inherited my father's family's talent for baking, I did not inherit my mother's talent for cooking (you'd think they go hand in hand, but they didn't with me). When she's gone (something which worries me more and more as time passes because of her worsening MS), I'll still take all her recipes with me, despite my inability to do anything but boil water. Perhaps it skips a generation, and my future kids could use them.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and an even better birthday with your family!

Anonymous said...

I, too, would like to wish you a happy birthday. Although you will be the one opening the birthday presents Sunday, it's your readers who get to open a present every time we click on a link to your blog. Each new post is a gift. May the spirit of your mother's love be with you this weekend.

Jacqueline said...

Have an awesome birthday!

Maha said...

A lovely post as always. And the fact that you like peanut butter Easter eggs makes you just that much more awesome!

My grandfather passed away a few weeks before my 26th birthday and the day wasn't the same without his phone call and our thoroughly strange blend of English, French and Hindi conversation. He was a huge part of my upbringing and I've come to a place where I can recall his memories without immediately crying. It's tough to lose someone close to a birthday or a holiday but it's comforting to know that they are with you in spirit and want you to be happy.

Which brings me to my last point - a very happy birthday to you! Hope you have a fantastic Easter weekend :)

rlbates said...

Happy Birthday / Happy Easter to you! My brother John will be 47 tomorrow (almost the same bday as you). Take care.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Jim, and have a glorious Easter day with your family! You can never eat too much chocolate and peanut butter (wow, that cake sounds incredible), so I hope you really, really enjoy it.

Isn't it something how happy times can be sad ones, too, all mixed in together? I understand how much you miss your Mom, and how that cake brings her spirit and love close to you each year. I'm sure she'd be glad to be remembered with such fondness and love.

In May, my Dad will have been gone for five years. He tipped off a chair while tying his shoe to go golfing, and hit his head on the floor. He'd survived two heart surgeries in previous years and was on coumadin; unfortunately, the bump on the head started a large bleed in his brain, and we lost him a couple of weeks later. It was shattering to all of us, but most of all to my Mom. They'd been married for 49 years.

Spring has been bittersweet ever since. But I think of him and remember him with joy and love. Thank you for writing such a lovely, upbeat post. Yin and yang, indeed.

Anonymous said...

My research into aging and society for thesis states that reminiscence is a good coping strategy for older people...but you're not that old yet Doc~! haha Still, reminiscence is a good thing, maybe also for young people too?!

(I think if I knew you in-person, I would have a lot of fun joking with you like this)

The Mock Doc said...

Happy birthday as well! I have been a longtime follower (really since inception) and have been inspired by, inter alia you to start writing about my journeys towards medicine.

And so I have at Thanks for the inspiration!

Cal said...

Happy Birthday! A double whammy of chocolate, cake and candy coming your way on Sunday. Enjoy!
I am fortunate, I have never lost someone close... never even attended a funeral. Fingers-crossed I will not have to for a long time to come. I am sorry you lost your mother, I cannot imagine it, but it must leave a hole in the heart forever.

coulrophobic agnostic said...

Happy birthday and happy Easter :)

I'm coming up on my first birthday without my dad and I'm really dreading it. Besides not wanting to turn 27 - it seems so much closer to 30 than 26, somehow, and I haven't accomplished anything in my life - I just really don't want to face the day.

Anonymous said...

Even at the age of 60, having lost my mom 6 yrs ago and my dad last year,both in April, the holidays are hard. But my new grandson reminds me of the circle of life. Enjoy your birthday with all it's traditions.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

happy birthday. be so glad (i know you are) that you have these lovely memories. i envy them!

smiles, bee

t. said...

Happy Birthing day to you for sure. I hope it's one of the best yet! I wish you at LEAST another 43 more years of love, laughter, and happiness. You are a kind soul, Doc, all the best to you!


Jabulani said...

See this post? THIS is why I spend time teaching my kids to cook and bake and sew and just generally make stuff. Why I drag them round museums and parks and for walks in our woods telling them to look out at what's around them. Because one day, I truly hope, they will have a crate of memories they can open up and revisit, either alone or together. As you do.

Years ago my father said we should always go through life making memories; taking snapshots of everything, so that later, we could bring them out and live through that time again and again. To live a rich life, we should have lots of snapshots.

Blessings to you over Easter and in your special day. Have a happy one.

girlvet said...

I lost my mom 6 years ago around this time and I still miss sitting outside with her on a beautiful day talking.

moomag said...

A wonderful tribute, which I can relate to very much this week. Last Monday would have been my mother's 98th birthday, and Wednesday was the 5th anniversary of my sisters death. A time of reflection and wonderful memories at Easter time. Thank you and keep up your wonderful writing. Hope your birthday and Easter were excellent.

Smalltown RN said...

Happy Birthday weekend to you!

You ask if any of us can relate to where you are coming from. I think many of us can. I lost my father when I was only 28...I had just told him I was preganant with my 2nd child..he died from a massive stroke went into a coma for 3 days and then died....My mom pasted away 5 years's still so tender.

Easter weekend was also traditional in our house...starting with Holy Thursday and mass....then Good Friday and mass....we didn't eat meat on Friday's and Good Friday was no exception. My father would come home from chruch and start to clean and cook 35lbs of squid(calamari). Mom and my sister would boil up about 20lbs of potatoes and do this very special potatoe dish in the salads and buns....and pies for dessert.

Easter morning....was a set table laid out would be a half grapefruit cut up...then a cereal...ususally a sweetened one...that and Christmas were the only time of the year we got a sweetend cereal....then mom and older sisters would cook up eggs and bacon for our very large family. Easter dinner in the early days there would be about 30 of older sibs and their respective partners would be a feast of ham and turkey with horseshoe potatoes .....

Yes I have very fond memories of Easter weekend thanks to my parents. Oh and the Easter outfit...again...we got new outfits twice a Christmas and Easter. It wouldn't be Easter without our bonnets and gloves. I carried that tradition on to my girls....oh I loved to dress them up for Easter...

I hope you had a fantastic Easter Weekend with your family!

StorytellERdoc said...

Hey All!

A sincere "thank you" to all of you for your kind words as well as your birthday and Easter wishes for the weekend. It was a good one, yes?

I hope you all had a great weekend as well.

A quick mention--I have met so many incredible people through this blogging, and I thank you for reading and letting me into your lives. The comments you leave are awesome, and I thank you for your input.

See you Wednesday.


Karen said...

Happy Birthday to you! Great that you have a collection of your Mother's recipes. When my Mom died in 2001, I put together a book of her recipes for my sisters. It's a wonderful way to connect again and again.

SeaSpray said...

Wishing you a belated Happy Birthday Jim! And a Happy Easter too. :)

It sounds like a beautiful family weekend for you. What a sweet tribute to your Mom. The cake sounds yummy.

There are a lot of things I liked about this post, but I especially liked "After all, I know where all this sunshine came from."

She obviously did a good job as a mom as evidenced by her thoughtful, compassionate son who also has a marvelous sense of humor ..even if ...his taste in music is somewhat lacking. ;)

My tongue would be stained and I'd smell like spice jelly beans. :)

expwoman said...

Oh, the chocolate cake with peanut butter icing! My husband's grandmother made it, and it's his favorite. And every time we eat it, it's like she's there is spirit.

Marie said...

When I first read about your birthday I was going to make some silly comment like, Oy, 43? You are just a baby!

Then I got to the part about your mother and you made me cry.

I am so, so sorry you lost her but I am also so, so happy that you had such a wonderful woman to raise you into such a wonderful man.

Sadly, my mother is mentally ill and my childhood was a brutal blend of verbal and physical violence. I grew up insecure and haunted and it has taken decades of therapy to sort out the healthy person I was supposed to be.

However, I was blessed to have remarkable people in my life, especially my grandparents, who did love and nurture me to the extent they could. They literally saved my life.

So here's to all people who have made a difference in a child's life through kindness and modeling. Your mom, my grandparents, bless you all till we meet again.

And have the happiest of happy birthday's my friend!

Peter said...

Yes! Happy Birthday old man! Not an insult, just adding an English swang to the sentence old boy!

As for me, most people think I was born old. But that comes from people that will one day be just like me!

Take Care,

MamaOnABudget said...

I lost my mom 2.5 years ago. We buried here 5 days before my 31st birthday, and 2 weeks before my daughter's first. I see my funny and vibrant 3.5 year old (and her 5 year old brother who brought hotwheels to the visitation to show them to Busia, driving them on her casket) and know just how much she would have loved these two little monkeys =) But I'm glad that their two younger siblings have Busia (and Jesus especially) to watch over them until we meet them someday.

My mom was famous for overwrapping EVERYTHING in plastic. Send a package? It's in a bag in the box. Putting empty boxes in the basement? Only after they're wrapped in seran and under a bag. I think of her often when I have to wrap something in plastic for legitimate reasons. She's the butt of many happy jokes and memories now =)