The last couple of days has been challenging for me. Richard and returned to Michigan for the funeral of my second cousin, Mandel “Bill” Berman who was not just a cousin to my father but a brother. Born six months apart, these two attended the same high school and grew up among the same Jewish traditions in the city of Detroit. Detroit during the early years of their lives 1917 when they were born was much like any other city where nationalities and religious sectors lived in their settlements. Within those neighborhoods, there were divisions of wealth, and although Bill grew up with a polished silver spoon in his mouth, he never showed that side of his personality. What Bill and my father shared was a sunny side of life, believing that you started each day with a smile and energized feel and you never went to bed mad. Both men loved their wives and placed them on pedestals even knowing they had their flaws, however, those blemishes, made them that much more special. My dad and Bill were both extremely busy men working and community services, yet they still found the time for their children, always available with a hug, shoulder, ear and a heart full of love! When my dad died in 2004, I turned to my cousin Bill to fill a void and now I have only memories.
Along with my return, I stopped by the residence where my mother lived and saw two of the very special caregivers that meant so much to her and me during the 2 ½ months of her illness. Robin and Kafia and I shared hugs and the obvious need to stay connected. They brought my mother comfort and made the last weeks and days in my mother’s life easier for me and my brother Joel. It was Robin, Kafia, Pauline, Gwen, LaFreda, Allison and a few others that daily came into mom’s apartment with a smile filled with loving kindness. They reassured my mother they would not hurt her and they were there to help her. Mom was the boss, and she guided them as to what she was willing to do and how she would play out her days. Going back to see these loving women means so much to me and I am honored that they have become my extended family. I look forward to bringing the love of the DVasha Series to the Jewish Senior Life Campus in West Bloomfield (and beyond) to share how precious life is. Sadly, too many of us are too busy looking for love, we don’t see what is right in front of us.
Today, before leaving Detroit, Richard and I took a tour of the Holocaust Museum and if this doesn’t make you stop and think about life and appreciate living, nothing will. What it made me think is why do we spend so much time trying to be the best or be better than the next person. Why is it so important to be number one rather than just live and care for each other?
This takes me back to the Berman family, with their financial investments they enjoyed their life and partied but they gave to others without proving they were superior. In fact, they were/are humble people. Until yesterday I had no idea how invested The Berman Foundation was and so much beyond. It wasn’t until Anne Parsons, President, and CEO of the Detroit Symphony spoke at the funeral that I learned so much about my cousin. Anne just happens to be a friend of my family’s (through my brother) another very giving and modest person, and beyond delightful.
I was very lucky to have gotten to know Bill over the last 12 years, although not as well as I would have liked. Bill and I spent many hours discussing Autism once he learned my son Alex was on the spectrum and he shared the challenges his granddaughter had encountered as well as her mother as they worked through education and therapies and socialization. Cousin Bill admitted he didn’t always understand the special needs but knew that it takes a special person to raise a child and learn patience and guidance. He kept encouraging me never to give up and maintain the faith in Alex. I would send him updates on how Alex was doing and although I sometimes felt like there wasn’t much new from one to another when we did speak he always said, someday, he will be OK.
I believe with my mother and father in the heavens above watching over Alex and Bill up there too Alex has their wings hovering over him. However, Alex is responsible for placing one foot in front of the other and step into the light and walk in his own shoes to create his future. I know we can all make it and we must reflect on the Holocaust and not allow anyone to take our lives, our choices and our dignity away from us EVER AGAIN.
Whether we are honored like Bill to live to 99 years young or my mother 96 ½ years younger, we must take care of ourselves and be willing to lend a helping hand. We can no longer see color, or reject another person’s beliefs. We must allow each of us to believe and come together in unison and share our thoughts, compare them, and listen. We do not have to force them on another – you can live in a blue house, and I can live in a green house and together they will blend well.
Let’s go into 2017 living life, sharing what we have and not counting what others have. We can do it!