Ding-Dong! “Stand clear of the closing doors, please” blasted the announcer's voice across the station. Jonah had heard this everyday since he could remember. “3 stops till Kingston” he thought, carrying a backpack full of books that he dreaded carrying for hours on the commute to and back from school. Jonah kicked his feet back and forth, his feet grazing the ground just slightly. He stared at the creases on his shoes who's brand he couldn't recall. They were some off brands anyways, no reason to remember which ones. The subway screeched to a halt, the faces outside the car that were once blurred stare back at Jonah. People start to push and shove the minute the doors open. Running up the stairs to leave the station, a mirage of conversations, mumblings and people talking flood Jonah's senses. He can't really make out what they're saying, he doesn't really try. “Jonah! How was school?” Jonah's finally made it to his destination. A small deli run by an older Korean man and his daughter. The sign outside reads “Ray's Delicatessen” but most people here call it “Ray's”, “Mr. Park's”, “the Park/Park” or “the Deli”. For Jonah, he calls it “home”. “Fine Mr. Park! Same as always!” replied Jonah Mr. Park shook his head and chuckled as he continued to tend to other customers, “As long as you're not getting into trouble” It's become a routine, Mr. Park asks how he is and Jonah replies with fine no matter what. Jonah tries to not stress him out, he always hears Hannah, Mr. Park's daughter, complain about her forehead wrinkles, crows feet and smile lines. Jonah doesn't see a problem but still tries to avoid making them worse Jonah slips behind the checkout counter, he sits on the blue crate right under the cash register and starts his homework on his knees like usual. History, English, then Science and Math, hardest to easiest. Jonah loves closing up shop and definitely not just because he gets to eat some of the unsold bagels and sausages. “Ai *tsk* Jonah, you know you mustn't sit here” exclames Mr. Park. Jonah doesn't move, Mr. Park doesn't really care. Time passes, business has been slow these days but it only means more time for Mr. Park and Jonah to talk. The deli was not just a place to get a quick eat for Jonah after school, it was his place of refuge, one of love and community. He had somewhere to be and all Mr. Park asked for in return were English lessons and to use some of Jonah's beginner-level novels to practice his reading skills. Jonah knew Mr. Park stopped needing those lessons a long time ago and for those textbooks, Mr. Park still reads them. Even though he completed all of them, cover to cover, hundreds of times, it still gives those literary works a second life. And Jonah would never mind when Mr. Park read them outloud to him either, even when he pretended to hate it. Bed-time stories were for ‘babies' and not 8 and a half year-olds. Still, “Maybe these books aren't so bad” thought Jonah. For without them, their friendship would be lost in translation.
Busy, busy place our little fibro home. Teenage children crowding: two minute noodles, friends, music: loud! And me, the middle-aged dad, knowing less about life than ever. This learning curve about me is steep and getting steeper. ‘How are the children?' my on-the-phone wife asks the voice at the other end. Wonder who she's talking to? ‘Where will they stay?' she asks. Ah! This is about old mate who's on the way out with cancer. His wife and kids need help. Something clicks! inside me. ‘They'll stay with us,' I almost yell. ‘All with us, the mother, all of them—forever!' Where did that come from? I nearly lost it right there. The day wears on. They're coming to stay. Great. Back at my screen in a dusty, cobwebbed office, something's not right. The heart's pounding, booming out of the chest like in a rugby game. This is no ordinary palpitation. Had those for years. This is like running hard: thumping, thumping, thumping but not out of breath. Walking in the yard should fix it. Nope! Still going hammer and tongs. Lying down, pressing on the eyeballs—the Vagus nerve trick—which works on palpitations. But no dice. Finally, it goes away of its own accord. Days pass and it's all good. The children come to stay. Meanwhile, we're sorting the logic of the click! and the pounding. It has to be something to do with when Mum got sick. She and Dad went away and me and the brothers went to a hostel. I was six. It's an emotional trigger event. That's all this is. Back at work. Talking to young adults about life and faith. Taking a lost boy for a long walk at night. He needs to let some anger out. Meanwhile, under my own skin: ships sinking, spaces filling with a hurrying, flooding ocean. What the hell? It's a new day. I'm caught out. Can't stop it. Here it comes: a gigantic black crate seeming to drop out of the sky. A caged monster crashing around, flames shooting out the cracks. And me the little boy, terrified. I'm supposed to flip the latch, to let it out. It goes away like a truck passing on a highway. Maybe it's medication and lock-up time. ‘It's imagination,' I say. 'You've been helping one too many traumatised kids.' But I know imagination. This is not imagination. It's real. And there's my wife and lover praying with and for me—and both of us hoping for a way ahead, that this won't be some dead end street. Not now, we have enough on our plate. Days drag on. ‘This is embarrassing bullshit,' I murmur. ‘I'll fix it myself.' ‘Whatever you do,' a friend says, ‘don't try to fix it yourself.' ‘So,' my prayer to God voice says, ‘What do I do now?' Maybe there's someone out there who could help, the idea returns to me. I laugh, thinking of all the disappointed people I know: stories of quacks and healers. Maybe you're not ready yet. Don't lose your nerve. ‘God did not give us a spirit of fear,' I say, quoting an old verse, ‘but a Spirit of power, of love and a sound mind.'* So, here we are, walking the dog down to a rippling brown river and wondering. Is there such a thing as a prayer or a question that's before its time? Or things that need to be allowed to have their day? We stop. Under a cold grey sky. The dog looks at me. What the? Did I just hear a murmur of dissent from my false-self? That middle aged—well educated—voice: offended at the suggestion that there's something on offer that I'm missing out on: terrified of the chaos this might unleash, or, if truth be told, the freedom. We reach the river, water rippling over stones and the fresh, sweet smell of a sandbar. On the haunches now, head bowed. The dog licks my hand. Before we try to sail this ship on the next Big Life Journey, perhaps we need to allow things in the harbour to float out to sea: half-formed dreams, faces running with tears, premonitions and prayers. Grievings of the Holy Spirit, longing to have a voice in the space, time and matter that is me? We make it back to the house. The un-pulling is heavier. Remember, don't lose your nerve. Trust. Pray. So tired. Have to sleep. Everyone's out, thank goodness. Here comes the lying on the floor part, paralysed. And a flashback dialogue with a fourteen year old girl, of which I'm speaking both sides—seeming to gather information about the six year old me in a trauma hell-hostel. Like a video replay. ‘Father in Heaven,' I pray. ‘What do I do now?' Relax. Lie here, wait and let it play. You're not crazy. This is real. ‘Trust in me,' the words seem to be spoken directly to me. Days and weeks pass with more monster in the cage moments, flashbacks: waiting, thinking and praying. I talk with a friend about the monster in the cage. ‘I remember that,' she says. ‘I was sitting on a huge box: all these tentacles coming out.' Oh. She's one of the sanest people I know. Maybe there is hope. ‘I had to choose to open the lid,' she says. I knew she would say that. ‘So,' she continues, ‘You're ready to open it are you?' ‘Yes.' * 2 Timothy 1:7
My little sister was given up for adoption when she was born in 1992. She is my mother's eighth and last child. To think I have been trying all that I can for the past 15 years or so to find an unknown person is sometimes so crazy to me. She could totally hate me, but I am going for it. Through the whole process, I just wanted to know that she was okay. I wanted to know that she had a good life and a good family. I always focused my search on finding her parents, because it was never my place to tell her she was adopted. I never wanted to hurt anyone. For many years, I felt like a failure. All this technology at my fingertips, and I still couldn't find her. I even applied to be on a TV show. I was in contact with the show for a little while but ultimately, they couldn't find her. “Where did I go wrong?” I thought. It wasn't until 2017 that I realized all that I had learned from trying to find her. Starting this journey opened a whole new world for me. My love of genealogy. I am sure it was always there, but it was flourished because of her. I have used all this knowledge to help so many people over the years. Some with great success and some with no solution at all. I decided to start my little side quest and Genealogy Girl was born! Since then, I have been able to help even more with their genealogy, finding family members, hunting graves, and returning photos/documents from estate sales/vintage stores to the original families/blood lines. It has been an amazing experience so far! For me, she is more than my blood sister. She became my inspiration for the amazing things that I do now to help others. I decided to buy a DNA kit from Ancestry.com. It took about eight weeks to get the results in which felt like forever. When I finally got the email that my results were in, I shrieked in excitement! I had about 3,000 matches. I just knew that one of those had to be my sister. I was so disappointed when there were no sibling matches. I was devastated. I just knew that I would never find her. I didn't even go through my matches for weeks. When I finally did, I found so many new connections. I was able to build my family tree so much more. I had contemplated buying more DNA kit from other sites, but it just didn't feel right. I slowed down on looking for her. I felt like that was a sign for me to take a break because it would happen when it happened. My half-brother decided to research his DNA and medical traits using a DNA kit from 23andMe.com in 2019. He and I have the same mother so I figured his DNA would pick up on any sibling matches. Unfortunately, there were matches for siblings. Since he and I are not full blood siblings, I explained that sometimes sibling matches can come up as a first cousin. It comes down to how the DNA matches according to the centimorgans in the DNA. Honestly, it is super scientific and I'm more artsy. So basically, I needed him to keep an eye out for sibling and first cousin. Fast forward to January 1, 2022, I still had not found my sister. I had the day off from work for the holiday, so I was being lazy lounging in bed. It was about 6:15p.m. when I got a message from my cousin on my mother's side about a DNA match from her account on 23andMe.com. She messaged me that someone was trying to find their birth mother and she figured that I could help. When I read the words “She was born in 1992 in Florida.” I lost my breath for a moment. I immediately began to cry. I couldn't find my breath or my voice. I texted my husband who was in the other room and he came into the bedroom and said, “Are you serious?” We were both in shock. Fifteen years or so of researching, joining groups on social media, registered with multiple adoption reunion groups, interviewed for a TV show, DNA testing and I still couldn't find her. She found me. Our first texts to each other were very guarded. I didn't know what she knew or didn't know, and I wasn't sure how much of my information was 100% accurate. Within a few hours, we were sharing pictures and a list of our favorites. We met at an airport in Pensacola, FL where she picked me and my daughter up for a trip to the beach. Meeting her and her family has been so rewarding. I cannot believe how similar we are in the most unusual ways. About six months later, we are so close. We talk multiple times a week and cannot wait to share things with each other. We are not afraid to have the hard conversations, but we are always transparent. Over the years I have read so many articles and blogs about the emotional toll that finding an adopted sibling can take on a person's mental health. There are so many things that can happen or go wrong. I was prepared for anything. I was prepared to hear the words, “I don't want anything to do with you." I was also prepared to cry if I heard those answers. It has been an emotional roller coaster for sure, but I have been waiting to get on this ride for a long time.
As the pandemic's shroud fell over the U.S. in mid-March 2020, my wife just fortuitously enough happened to have started a new exercise program online – something called “Peloton”. With the “stay at home” orders and much more coming into effect, and a lot of our work/school immediately going virtual, working out at home all of a sudden became a real family activity. The pandemic accelerated our entire family participating in these Peloton online workouts, with all of us regularly doing yoga – driving a significant interest in health & wellness from our 11 year old boy/girl twins. We exercised so frequently that my children started clamoring to purchase the Peloton Bike – with its rather massive cost, my wife suggested that the children put together a Powerpoint presentation/business case, outlining the ROI of purchasing such an item. Unbeknownst to them, we had already purchased one – but their presentation sealed the deal! The skill of performing online research, putting together slides and (most terrifyingly for my daughter) having to present to her father made for a great experience for all. Much of our kids' research was conducted on laptops that they had to purchase as virtual schooling started. In the early days of the pandemic, I decided that the family would need a non-stop stream of entertainment, and moreover found that there was a treasure trove of items online, so quickly became my family's “Arts & Culture” Department. I scoured the Net for activities that the family could partake in, while exposing them to the performing arts. We started with a screening of the original Broadway musical “CATS” (Andrew Lloyd Webber version) which my kids weren't too fond of. I then found a performance of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, as my kids had never seen/heard a classical music concert before. Our daughter is fond of singing, so we enrolled her in a virtual Met Opera camp - and wound up watching 1 or 2 Met Opera performances. In-general, I did anything to expose the kids to various forms of the arts, while also being somewhat entertaining and rather different from the usual “NetFlix/movie night” that many fell into. This worked for quite some time – though not without consternation from my kids, who began to tire of the random series of events I'd have planned for us to experience (all of which I would then donate to online – as these artists would be posting their work online gratis since all live performances were cancelled). My wife played along to my whole shtick and served as a cheerleader. We also realized that technology had changed the paradigm for summer camps– we had no need to only look at Dallas-based camps for our kids, my wife told me. And that's all she needed to say. Beyond the Met Opera camp (which was based out of NYC), our son participated in a basketball camp with the NBA's Orlando Magic, having assistant coaches in Florida berate him over Zoom as he did pushups in our driveway at 6am! My daughter learned all types of arts & crafts from curio store vendors in San Francisco. My niece started a virtual cooking class from her home in New Jersey that our kids participated in. The highlight for me personally was when my wife & I joined a group of folks on Facebook Live to follow a Parisian baker – on Bastille Day – as she (and we) made corn brioche. As all this was occurring, I remained locked-down in our closet – literally! My days of travelling around the U.S. for work had stopped, and our master bath closet was the only place I could work where I wouldn't disrupt my virtual schooling kids, or my physician wife (who was now big into telemed in the home office). I realized the power of the Internet when I posted a picture on LinkedIn of working from my closet (using our ironing table as a desk and my sock drawer as my laptop area) which elicited over 10,000 views. Plato famously stated that “Necessity is the mother of invention” – and since we had to stay indoors, we worked to dramatically reinvent ourselves – with technology. From virtual exercising to arts & culture to global experiences to working from the closet – the pandemic for us has led to a greater familial happiness and togetherness that we didn't have pre-COVID. To underline this, our daughter told us her birthday (in Apr 2020) was the “best birthday ever”. How did we accomplish this, you ask, in the midst of a global pandemic and pre-vaccine availability? With technology! Sure, my wife & I had decorated the house – but we also coordinated 3 Zoom meetings with family, that totaled nearly 200 attendees from 5 countries. She also spent her birthday on rotating FaceTime/Houseparty calls with a series of friends, getting 1:1 time with each. So much has been written about the negative impacts of technology (especially over the past 12-18 months) – but as you can see from our family's experiences, there are a myriad of ways that technology can bring happiness, even in such an uncertain time.
When my son reached his 17th birthday, he was diagnosed with ulcerated colitis. By the time he was 19, he was rushed to the hospital with severe anemia. His colitis began to cause bleeding ulcers. His hemoglobin count was down to five when it should have been 13. Two pints of blood later and a seven day stay in the hospital, l he was released with a hemoglobin count of 11. At the beginning of 2011, the colitis took control, and the decision was made. My son would have a colostomy. He wasn't happy. After all, he was only 45 years old. A colostomy bag was the last thing he wanted. Yet, on June 1st of that year, that's what happened. He had a full ileostomy. However, that wasn't the end of the problems - only the beginning. For the next three years he was in and out of the hospital with one procedure, or surgery, or infection after another. Finally, his health began to stabilize, and he seemed to be getting better but still hated that colostomy bag. In December of 2011, my mom had an accident which forced her to reassess her living conditions. She realized that she could no longer live alone, and in January of 2012, she packed her things and moved in with me. After we cleared out her house, we put it on the market. Mom was recovering nicely from her accident but still needed the use of a walker to get around. My son's house is about 3 hours away from mine which enabled us to visit often It didn't matter that I am his mother and my mother his grandmother. He was mortified every time the colostomy bag began to fill. He would leave the room and hide in his bedroom until the sound and odor dissipated - which often was about 30 minutes While we were busy socializing with his wife and children, we were unaware of the colostomy bag. Unfortunately, he was, and it made him extremely uncomfortable. Early in 2013 a friend began doing research on colostomy bags and found a doctor who specialized in a different kind of procedure. it's called the Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir Koch Pouch – or B.C.I.R. At that time there was only one doctor in Florida who could do this surgery. My son made the appointment, and it was determined that surgery would be scheduled for August of 2013. The procedure is a reconstruction of the small intestine using about two feet at the end to create a small internal pouch. The stoma is no wider than a #2 pencil which enables the pouch to get emptied a few times a day using a catheter. No noise, no smell, no mess! My son was thrilled. His stay in the hospital was about seven days but he insisted during that time we bring his grandmother for a visit. “Mom, I want grandma to see that I'm OK. After all I've been through and all her prayers, she deserved to spend some time with me, and I really want to see her.” I loaded mom's walker in the car and help her climb in the front seat. The hospital was only two hours from my house, and mom and I passed that time easily since she had many questions about his surgery. Once in the hospital, we pulled a chair closer to his bed and while holding his hand, grandmother and grandson spent the next hour gloriously talking about health and family. The nurse came in a few minutes later and reminded my son he needed to get out of bed and walk. Lying in bed wasn't good for anyone so I encouraged him to follow the nurse's orders. He was still hooked up to an IV, the urinal bag, and a heart monitor. Anytime he left the bed, the pole with all the bags went with him. Looking at the pole my son spoke up. “Hey Grandma, since I have to walk for exercise why don't you come with me? I have my pole; you have your walker. we could race up and down the hallway.” My mom laughed. “I don't know about racing, but I'll take a walk with you.” For the next 15 minutes grandma and grandson walked the halls of the hospital, chatting and enjoying each other's company. Once back in his room, he lay in bed, my mom sat in the chair, and they talked and laughed about how they must have looked with him pushing his pole and mom pushing her walker. Our visit lasted another 30 minutes and my son looked as though he was about to fall asleep. I suggested we leave since mom also looked tired and I had to make sure she had the strength to withstand the ride down the elevator and the walk to the car. We still had a two-hour drive home. We left the hospital and walked slowly, stopping periodically for mom to regain her strength and her breath. After all, mom was 92 years old, and her stamina wasn't what it used to be. As soon as we got in the car, she perked up and said, “Can we stop at McDonald's? I'd love a cheeseburger!” That's mom! My son was released a few days later and the first thing mom wanted to do is visit him at his home. Mom may be gone now, and my son is healed, but I'll never forget that day in the hospital when grandson and grandmother had their Walker Derby. It definitely was a sight to behold and one I'll cherish forever.
Caught in the Pandemic The life struggles of families caught in the pandemic are beyond words. CVID-19, the virus may be invisible, but the pains are real. While parents, guardians, and children share the roof, getting the requirements and other daily life essentials are like time bombs waiting within the stressed caretakers. There is the tension is of catching the virus and possible death. Then money is needed, and every payday comes with a warning bell: how long will the job run with financial crisis hitting the world and the vast layoffs coming with it? Worries hover over the family and the basic needs as parents face a possible lack of funds to pay rents and the utilities. Flashes of homeless people on the streets of one's home town scare the wits out of the caretakers of the young and the elderly ones. At times, questions come like wildfire and burns through the day's energy; what if I could not take care? What if I catch the virus?" Disturbed and feeling lost, one might want to run in the fresh air or hang out with friends to share those doubts and worries. But there are the unlikely chances of doing any of those things, for the virus has us in quarantine. And worse, there is a variant out now; even with a vaccine, rescue is still far away. Then, when the father walks into his master bedroom, worries fill the air above like the dark clouds of a storm. The scenario before him real and yet feels unrealistic. It's like stuck in a cage of uncertain times. There are four PCs plugged in, and family members are busy working and learning on the online system has taken over life day in and day out. The son and the daughter have classes running on Google classroom, have their headphones on. From time to time, they consult each other about lessons they do not understand. The mother is a data analyst and is busy with her work, silent and clicking away on the keyboard. The master bedroom has the best connection to the server, and the Internet has smooth speed. Thanks to the Internet, life is still moving with keeping many alive. The thought of lives lost in the pandemic brings sighs. Thought-clouds hover around nooks and corners of the home, and the rest of the world caught in the pandemic. When shall the world be free of the COVID-19? God, please help us! The End
“Layla got admitted to a mental facility. She's been self-harming and she tried to kill herself.” Did I fail as a sister? Did society fail her? I thought I should feel upset or sad or worried for her, right? I'm supposed to be more concerned that she tried to take away her life and ask her how she's doing. But this wasn't how I felt. I was pissed. Your life isn't your own, you hurt people by making the choice to take your own life. I was so angry that she tried to go without some sort of goodbye or note. I was infuriated that she didn't try to fix the problem or get help. But I knew that if she was successful in her attempt, I would be having a different conversation. The successful cases always start out with people who were unhappy and struggled to reach out for help, and the only difference between them and Layla was that she failed. I thought I was heartless for my lack of empathy until I heard what my mom had to say about the next day: “Go to school tomorrow. Get the homework for your sister. If people ask where your sister is, just tell them that she got sick. You aren't lying to them. Don't tell your cousins, just keep this to yourself.” Our dirty little secret was swiftly swept under the rug and we were still the picture-perfect family that she imagined in her head. Do the work, get through the day, go home. It went like this for some weeks as Layla was in and out of that haunted building. That nightmare that put bars on an already trapped mind. She laughs about stories of "butt juice" and funny nurses, but I knew when she told me those stories that every night she cried herself to sleep on that firm mat, in a room of people she never knew before. Girls shared anecdotes that made Layla's story seem like a lullaby. I knew the cage that she had to suffer in for what must have felt like ages with only minutes of communication with friends and family on a daily basis. I walked around school pretending that everything was okay; all I had to do was say “my sister isn't feeling well” and smile. I know the frustration that my mother had to endure with Layla's situation, so I took care of myself. I was one less child to worry about. I didn't have time to be sad. Every day, after eight hours of pretending that everything was fine, I walked myself to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner, and when I got home, I would begin the process of feeding five mouths- one less than “normal”. I would clean up everything and get to work or bed. I didn't have time to be sad. That one weekend was supposed to be like rain in the desert. I was finally going out for the first time since the storm struck. I was out with a friend when I got the call. Words that would echo in my mind forever as I answered the phone to a furious mother: “I'm done. If Layla wants to kill herself, then fine, let her do it. I don't care anymore. I just want her gone and out of the house. I don't ever want to see her after she graduates high school” In the span of one month, I became a mom, a therapist, and alone. Part of me was furious that she couldn't maintain her composure and have the patience to attend to her mentally ill child after all the hours I spent to make sure she had little housework to do. But I knew when I heard those words that my mother wasn't trying to be difficult, it was her cry for help. “Hey, mom, you don't mean that. I know that she's frustrating at times, but she is your daughter and you love her. She is trying her best to get better, but it's a long process.” Who did I have to bring peace to my chaos? I grew even madder at no one. I took on extra responsibilities, I did what I was told to protect the perfect dollhouse image of our family, but in the process, I lost myself. I did nothing for myself and I stopped talking to the people that were knights in protecting my mental health when hell went loose. I found a safe haven in the one place I have never enjoyed since the third grade: math class. Anyone that tells you that math teachers are terrible people either (1) failed math or (2) never took a single good math course in their entire life. My math teacher let me rant to him about completely irrelevant details like the perks of being a Disney princess or the lack of warm bagels in the cafeteria on a daily basis. He was the only person to point out tendencies in Layla that kids my age have never recognized. He knew about the responsibilities that I had going on at home and it felt nice to be seen. I felt like I was sacrificing my time for people that didn't even notice me, but someone was looking in from the outside and he knew the pain I was putting myself through. He knew the fake smile that I put on and the fire that I couldn't seem to put out no matter how hard I tried. I didn't blame people around me for not seeing me clearly, I was simply grateful for finding a space where I could relax my shoulders and stop holding my breath.
When my son reached his 17th birthday, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The doctor put him on a diet, and we hoped for the best. By the time he was 19, he was rushed to the hospital with severe anemia. His colitis began to cause bleeding ulcers. His hemoglobin was down to a count of 7 when it should have been 13. Two pints of blood later and a seven-day stay in the hospital, he was released with a hemoglobin count of 11. The rest was up to us. He had been placed on one medication after another to keep the colitis under control. For a while, everything was working, not great but at least tolerably. At the beginning of 2011, the colitis took control and the decision was made. My son would have a colostomy. He wasn't happy. After all, he was only 45-years old. A colostomy bag was the last thing he wanted. Yet, on June 1 of that year, that's what happened. He had a full ileostomy. However, that wasn't the end of the problems – only the beginning. For the next three years, he was in and out of the hospital with one procedure, or surgery, or infection after another. Finally, his health began to stabilize and he seemed to be getting better but still hated that colostomy bag. In December of 2011, my mom had an accident which forced her to reassess her living conditions. She realized that she could no longer live alone, so in January of 2012, she packed her things and moved in with me. After we cleared out her house, we put it on the market. Mom was recovering nicely from her accident but still needed a walker to get around. My son's house was about three hours away from mine, so we were able to visit often. It didn't matter that I am his mother and my mother, his grandmother. He was mortified every time the colostomy bag began to fill. He would leave the room and hide in his bedroom until the sound and odor dissipated – which often was about 30-minutes. Early in 2013, a friend began doing research on colostomy bags and found a doctor who specialized in a different kind of procedure. It's called the Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir Koch Pouch – or B.C.I.R. At that time, there was one doctor in Florida who could do this surgery. My son made the appointment and it was determined that surgery would be scheduled for August of 2013. The procedure is a reconstruction of the small intestine using about two feet at the end to create a small internal pouch. The stoma is no wider than a #2 pencil which enables the pouch to get emptied a few times a day using a catheter. No noise, no smell, no mess. My son was thrilled. His stay in the hospital was about seven days but he insisted during that time we bring his grandmother for a visit. “Mom, I want grandma to see that I'm ok. After all I've been through and all her prayers, she deserves to spend some time with me, and I really want to see her.” I loaded mom's walker in the car and helped mom climb in the front seat. The hospital was two hours from my house and mom and I past that time easily since she had many questions about his surgery. Once in the hospital, we pulled a chair closer to his bed and while holding hands, grandmother and grandson spent the next hour, gloriously talking about health and family. The nurse came in a few minutes later and reminded my son he needed to get out of bed and walk. Lying in bed wasn't good for anyone so I encouraged him do follow the nurse's orders. He was still hooked up to an IV, the urinal bag, and a heart monitor. Anytime he left the bed, the pole with all the bags went with him. Looking at the pole, my son spoke up. “Hey Grandma, since I have to walk for exercise, why don't you come with me? I have my pole; you have your walker. We could race up and down the hallway.” My mom laughed. “I don't know about racing, but I'll take a walk with you.” For the next fifteen minutes, grandma and grandson walked the halls of the hospital, chatting, and enjoying each other's company. Once back in his room, he sat in bed, my mom sat in a chair and they talked and laughed about how they must have looked, with him pushing his pole and mom pushing her walker. Our visit lasted another 30 minutes and my son looked as though he was about to fall asleep. I suggested we leave since mom also looked tired and I had to make sure she had the strength to withstand the ride down the elevator and the walk to the car. We still had a two-hour drive home. We left the hospital and walked slowly, stopping periodically for mom to regain her strength and her breath. After all, mom was 92 years old and her stamina wasn't what it used to be. As soon as we got in the car, she perked up and said, “Can we stop at McDonald's? I'd love a cheeseburger!”. That's mom! My son was released a few days later and the first thing mom wanted to do was visit him at his home. They walked around his house for exercise and while she still used her walker, he no longer had a pole to push around.
You never know how things will turn out or how they might affect your life when they do. My husband was one of nine children. While growing up, they were a very close-knit group of siblings. Once marriage and children began taking each away from the group, the relationships became somewhat distant. Several moved to other states, some were too busy raising their own children. Others, like my husband, were not telephone people. If someone called him, that would be fine, but he was not the kind to make the call. He still is not. All too often, one sibling would call the rest and relay any news but often, just to keep us all in touch. Through the years, as life demands, we all aged and, the siblings began to succumb to illness: one was by heart attack, another by complication of rheumatoid arthritis, still there was that dreaded cancer. Jerry left us a few years ago leaving behind two sisters and two brothers, one of which is my husband, Richard. When I married into the family, I was never treated as an in-law. I was treated with the same love, warmth, and respect as they treated each other but then, none of the in-laws were treated as outsiders. The family was always that close, even as the miles pushed us apart. As I said, Jerry left us a few years ago. When I met him, he was tall, husky (not fat just, well, husky), jovial, and loving. He lived in New York; we were and still are in Florida. While we did not see each other often, there were the monthly phone calls. Then the calls began to change. Jerry was diagnosed with cancer and it did not look good. His doctor said he might live six years, six months, six days. His cancer was aggressive. Jerry lived fourteen months. His son called a few days before he died, and I advised my husband to fly to New York. I was taking care of my invalid mom who lived with us and could not make the trip with him. Jerry died while my husband was there. It was almost as if he waited for his brother for a final goodbye. A few days later, my husband called and said he was on his way home and gave me his flight information. When I picked him up at the airport, he was toting a very, large box – one he did not have when he left. Jerry's urn? It was one of Jerry's requests that he be buried in the Gulf of Mexico, a place he dearly loved to visit, which he did as often as possible. The following day, Rich called his friend who had a gulf-worthy boat; ours was only for shallow water. John was eager to volunteer his assistance in this sad undertaking and said he would be honored to take my husband to bury his brother. The sea-burial was set for the following day. When Rich arrived at John's house with Jerry's ashes, John handed Rich a dozen long-stemmed, white roses. “You can't send him off with nothing. Hope these'll do,” John said. They were better than, “they'll do”. About two weeks later, we received a large package, delivered by UPS. It was a beautiful painting of a small row of houses set on the water. With it was a note from Jerry's children (all five adults) saying, “Dad never told anyone that his hobby was painting. He was always afraid of criticism. Going through his paintings, we found this one and we knew, since you live on the water and love to fish, he would want you to have it. Please accept this from dad and all of us in gratitude for everything you did for him and us while you were here. We all love you.” Each of his children signed the card. They could have kept the painting to remember their dad but chose, what, to others might have seemed a simple gesture of thanks, was, to my husband, a world of love. The painting hangs prominently on the wall in our dining room for everyone to see. It is just a simple reminder of the love between two brothers and the closeness they, with their other siblings shared throughout the years. While I was not able to attend the sea-burial, John was kind and compassionate enough to take a photograph for me. I did at the beginning of my marriage and probably will always feel, even after all this time, that being part of the Brennan family is something to be cherished, never taken for granted. We still have my husband, one brother, Bill, two sisters, Pat, and Joan. Phone calls are now more frequent and finally, finally after all this time, my husband (after slight encouragement from me) will pick up the phone and make those calls. We only live once and should vow to remain close to our siblings. You just never know how things might turn out and those we love will be taken from us affecting us in ways we cannot even at time imagine. So, my dear friend and brother, Jerry, until we meet again, even after these passing years, we still have your painting, the photograph, and loving memories of the wonderful person you were, a loving and caring man. Not a day passes that we do not think of you with love and affection.
What a bliss is this Quarantine! Where the days smoothly pass amidst the undecided culture of following a routine, where the bright and clear mornings no more invite a man's engine to hustle betwixt the race of transportation and time in order to reach his destined workplace; a quarantine, where there is a lessening worry for morrow and a diminished criteria to borrow what a man has been dwelling upon so far, an another man's company, assistance and bodily affection for now one has learned to welcome ‘social distancing' with open arms and dearly kissed his ‘self-isolation'. A tint of wonder reflects in those thirsty eyes when they instinctively gaze at the sky that has never been as pollution free as it seems during the current pandemic. Various planned and expensive attempts to procure the fresh water of river Ganges never succeeded inspite all possible human efforts, for all it silently asked the humans was to truly respect the aspect of their holy river; all it ever wanted was to replenish in its own natural way while humans were busy in decorating it with their religious and industrial activities. The undisturbed marine habitat has provided a perfect condition for olive ridley turtles to lay eggs in Odisha's beach. With the factories and industries being shut, with the large number of vehicles being parked outside the respective owner's home and with the minimal artificial interference in the nature, birds and animals are fortunately tasting the syrup of freedom. Sparrows have returned in the verandas, peacocks are again rejoicing with their wide feathers on a rainy day and a Malabar civet, which is a critically endangered animal, was spotted walking on the road in Kerala. Does it not feels like an unprescribed duration of undeserved holidays, where one can casually find their precious selves inclined towards the unread books, that they have always wanted to lay hands on, just to recite the favourite paragraphs to their parents before bed. Those awaited head-massage therapies in grandmother's lap, that never got fulfilled due to lack of time or the entire family playing the board games around the centre table now no more seem to be a mere dream. It is now, the time to unravel those folded sheets of paper in which the roughly crafted sketch of a ‘happy family' was swiftly drawn in order to someday be painted on the canvas. It is the hour to try the recipe of those favourite dishes that have always been tasted with friends in those hyped cafes of the city or treating the family with a handmade ‘blueberry cheesecake', until our dear siblings finally utter in disagreement complaining about its weird taste, suitable to but only your own self. It is that precious time in life when the family values are being rediscovered. Not only a sense of reconnection is overlapping the dead ideas confined to the separate rooms of family members but an essence of sharing the household tasks and a deeper level of discussions are taking place, that are playing a major role in enhancing the bond. Most of the time is being spent together by laying back comfortably on sofas, all the heads being turned in the same direction and keenly watching the most indulging series on Netflix or rediscovering the cultural values by watching Ramayana and Mahabharata episodes. It appears like all the so called ‘generation gap' imbibed within our minds, that has been pretended to exist since the day mobile phones took the place of a companion, never really subsisted in the real sense. A busy life it has been, has it not? All the chances that individuals have strived to grab on their professional sphere, the possibilities of aiming to reach infinite goals that have kept the souls awake during the endless nights and the unwanted stress that has always hung with pride on the exhausted shoulders, can humans dare to put it at halt, all at once? Maybe it would not cost a lifetime to once sit and appreciate the beauty of solitude and observe the clear skyline filled with stars instead of desperately aiming towards becoming one. Maybe it is recommendable to press that pause button imbibed on the body's functioning system and cease to treat life like a race and relationships, like they are losing the real trace. Therefore, so close lies this opportunity that one never imagined to be a part of but also the one you can make the most of, just by being who you have since a long time have ceased to be. Covid'19 has brought a serious thrill of insanity in human lives and nature in a form of role reversal, such that it has caged the rational beings, limiting them to their comfort zone, confined to the walls of their home. Nature has finally been granted a precious time to rejuvenate, which has brought animals back to their natural habitat and given them a chance to breathe.
“Oh my God, why aren't you wearing your gloves! You know you have to be careful at this time!” my mother's voice boomed in my ears as I entered my car. I did a little eye roll. “Relax, the virus hasn't reached my school yet. We're all fine,” I replied. She sighed and focused on the road ahead, her gloved hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel, her medical mask pulled down to her chin. She was so scared, so careful, unlike me. Hand sanitizer, I thought, was enough to keep that virus at bay. Today would be the last day of school for a very long time. The Corona virus had reached my city, Toronto, Canada just a few weeks ago. The number of those infected had been going up steadily for the past few days, and last night it was announced that schools would be shut down for the next three weeks. Of course, anyone with a brain knew that ‘three weeks' would turn into three months, or maybe years, but the government needed to tell us what they could to keep us from rebelling or panicking. Everyone was so scared. It seemed funny to me. How hard could it be to stay at home, to practice basic hygiene? Spending months at home would basically be a vacation for me. That's all I ever wanted. That was four months ago. Four months ago, when I was just a lonely freshman in highschool, stressed about schoolwork and still struggling to make friends. Every day at school felt like a walk through a fish market, one where I'd be carrying 30 pounds in my bags with no sleep and no companion to guide me through. Every second was lonesome and painful, my ears sore from my headphones to tune out the sound of my peers having fun with each other, the constant jealousy and bitterness swelling inside of me. Do you see why quarantine sounded so pleasant to me? How I managed to look past the thousands of deaths around the world and deal with it like it was doing me a favour? All this time at home has made me happier than I could ever be at that hellhole of place, school. However, I had plenty of time to think. And a tragedy in my family is what opened my eyes during this pandemic. There was a little while when my entire family thought my dad had the virus. I specifically remember us not daring to be in the same room as him, to keep our distance. It was the first time I feared the virus. My dad was in his office room, working as he always did, managing his business while staying in quarantine. That business was what my family lived on, and without my dad, it wouldn't exist. I had woken up that morning, fresh from the anxiety and desperate prayers asking God to make sure my dad was okay. I would never let those emotions show, though. I put on a tough exterior and calmly went to my brother, lightheartedly telling him, “We should get dad checked up.” “Yes, we should. But don't tell him how they do the testing. He'd never agree to have a stick up his nose,” he said, laughing it off. It seemed like he tried not to let his emotions show, either. I noticed that people control their stress by pretending. Acting a certain way does so much for you, more than you could ever imagine. Of course, this is a temporary solution to dealing with stress but, staying calm projects onto the people around you, making the situation more clear and easy to analyze. I also realized that so many things don't seem to bother me until I experience it. I thought I was different, but it was time to change. This is the case for many, many people around the world and it has always been a problem leading to disaster. Take racism, for instance. There are people dealing with racism every single day, and sure, most people will speak out against it once in a while, but do they care enough to do something about it? Rarely. Most people wouldn't take the necessary action, like reporting the case or attending protests until they've experienced racism first hand. I wish there was a way for us all to have a global or human perspective of issues like this. We can take action and care by doing research and simply believing in what's right instead of waiting for us to experience it ourselves. A few days passed and my dad stopped coughing and feeling sick. Were we worried for nothing? Was it a simple cold or did my dad defeat the virus that quickly? I guess we'll never find out, since we never tested him… The reality of this pandemic is that people will die and things will be hard. And that is the plain truth. The world is going through this together. Without the support of one and other, everything would be falling apart. But open your eyes. It's okay. Everything is working out when we follow rules and support one and other. We are all living, and to our brave hearts that have passed due to this virus, we will remember them for what they have left behind; a lesson to the world. To not think like a citizen of your country, but as a citizen of the world.
The immigration began years ago. It was 1990, I was 9 and the city was hot and humid. Odessa, the pearl of the Black Sea was always humid, even during the chilly September evenings of the 90's, before the USSR collapsed and blood flooded the streets. Momma picked me up from school and asked we hop all the way home. It was always her way to apologise to me after a screaming session, or do something fun together when she felt sad. We passed the statue of my beloved atlases holding the sky on their backs and I waved to them. At home Papa waited in the "room" which is both their bedroom and our living room and dining room. On the table was a jug of tea and Baba Fanya's oatmeal cookies. Momma sat down on my side of the table and asked Papa to start talking. He started from afar, from the history of mankind, through quotes from books we loved together, and then told me that we, the whole family, are Jews. I had no idea. So Momma got into the conversation and said that as Jews, we have the opportunity to fly on a plane to Israel and go on interesting adventures on another continent. I wanted to go pee and think about it. Just before I got up, Papa said he wanted to stay in Odessa, for a short time, because there are things he could only do here. It was the best lie they ever told us, me and my brother "Piglet". That Papa will only stay a little longer in Odessa and join us very soon. Their divorce happened above our heads, when the humid autumn turned into wet winter, with no ginger leaves on pavement to soften our hops. Nore did we hope anymore, as sadness took away the pep of my Momma's step. For one year in my life I was a ‘stinky Jew'. The spring of 1991 it was already Ukraine and I would never again have a homeland, just a hometown that was still hot and humid and no longer welcoming. A second before we left, Grandma asked us to sit for a moment. An old Russian superstition. You must sit for a moment before a journey, for lucky travels and a safe return. I got up excitedly and ran outside. Momma and Grandma took out the last bags and the big men loaded them quietly on the bus. I never saw a bus in the middle of the night, let alone on Grandma's little street. Momma asked that both me and Piglet go to the bathroom before setting out, because the road is going to be long. I grabbed Piglet's warm hand, and we ran upstairs to pee. When we returned, more families were standing around the bus, and the big men were working in complete silence loading the bags. There were far more bags, suitcases, sacks, boxes and bags than there were people. There was very little light, and I was sure this is a sign of a great adventure, not of a quiet disappearance of my childhood. Except for me and Piglet, I only saw one more child. He cried and insisted not to get on the bus. Piglet and I got on quickly to grab the best spot, the first row on the right, just behind the driver. It is possible in this row to push with your feet and it does not hurt anyone, because the driver is behind a small wall. I was sitting by the window because I wanted to see and remember everything, especially the plane! After we sat down, me by the window and a Piglet next to me, they loaded more bags and boxes next to us. It was already a little less comfortable and fun, but at least the whining kid was sitting far away from us. I have not sat by the window since. Piglet fell asleep, and I missed the few pee stations that the stone-faced guards reluctantly offered us. 24 hours restraint. Papa drove in a car with a friend to the border with Moldova. The last time I hugged him I told him he had a year to come, after that I have no dad. He swore he would come. After that there was another drive to Bucharest and a hotel. Green ice cream that I did not get to taste but only to watch the whining kid eat with a grin, spilling it from the corner of his mouth. The long journeys in elevators with mirrors. Huge beds and hot tap water. First time in my life the water remained hot. As we approached our final destination, I was peeling off layer after layer of all the clothes they had me wear through customs, and Momma kept hissing that nice girls don't walk around in tank tops. Then the entrance to the huge hall at the Airport and the bag of sweets I have never seen before. The following years I was a ‘stinky Russian'. During the first week in Israel, I woke up crying every night because I dreamed that I was forced to call my Momma - Ima. I hated this stupid language so much that I had to learn it. I chose to keep calling her Momma. I chose to speak with my rolling Russian R's. I chose to ignore the advice to think in Hebrew to delete the Russian. I made a lot of choices at age 10, for me and for the adults who were supposed to be in charge of me. I met my father again at the age of 22. I dreamed he was going to die and decided to fly to meet him. I told him that I forgive him. He died six months later. My child started talking recently. He calls me Momma.
Coronavirus - this tiny cell, invisible even to our eyes, has changed the whole world. In the last days of 2019, an unknown disease that spread in the chinese city of Wuhan shook the world. Scientists named the illness, which soon covered the earth, Covid - 19. A new sort belonging to the family of coronaviruses are still harming humans. To date, many people have died from the new coronavirus. It's worth noting that the Virus is spreading rapidly among the poor and migrants, so they have a high mortality rate. The borders are closed to prevent the interstate spread of Covid - 19. Local and international flights, cars and trains are suspended. As a result, the tourism industry has suffered greatly. The activities of schools, universities and private business organisations have been stopped. The economy suffered and many factories go bankrupt. In many countries it is forbidden to go out on the streets without a purpose. Personally, I'm trying not to go outside, nevertheless, once I had to go external. Of course, I went out wearing a mask, sanitary gloves and goggles. Life in a crowded and robustious city seemed to come to a standstill. There were almost no people on the street which were going anywhere in a hurry. That day, as I walked the empty streets, I felt that time I miss which the crowded streets, the noises of cars, the smell of delicious meals, and, of course , my beloved place - the clothing store. In my opinion, the Covid - 19 has its advantages, namely it brings us not only illness but also solidarity and patience. As we are struggling with the virus, I see people getting spiritually closer to each other. It's a great life lesson for me. In addition, science and technology are evolving because of the coronavirus. I think everyone has come up with a cure for at least one virus and is able to use it in their lives. Virus experts are preparing vaccines against Covid - 19. I hope they will help us get rid of the virus. However, we mustn't rely on a vaccine that is unknown when it will be ready. I have to say that no matter how much we thank the doctors, it's not enough. Because they are caring for the sick, even if they are infected with the virus. We always pray for them. I know we conquer these days, and I'm sure we'll have some great days ahead of us. We need to unite and show that we are stronger than the virus. " I don't know medicine, how do I fight the it ? " you may be said. Nonetheless, don't rush, as it is up to you get rid of the virus. This is the simple. You conform to rules of quarantine, don't forget the mask when you go out and the most significant rule STAY HOME. This is the simple things the most profitable method for the virus spreading. We should not be afraid to infect the virus, but we mustn't fear to infect our loved ones. Don't let our friends get in trouble due to us. It'sno exaggeration to say that Covid - 19 is a mirror for us. I think everyone, a representative of every industry, has seen their shortcomings and will try to correct them and be better than before in the future. I want to tell you which is about what I'm doing during the quarantine. I think this is interesting to you. I use my free time to take online Ielts classes. I'm studying at home and making friends with humans from different countries. I will take the Ielts exam soon , you wish me and my friends the best of luck. In addition, I'm reading a lot of fiction books because of quarantine. I comprehend how precious my family is to me on account of the coronavirus. I really enjoy talking to them. I love them. Take care of your loved ones because they like you more than you can imagine. 😘😘😘
LION OF THE PEN When it rains, it pours!! These last few days epitomized this, with no less than four family members being rushed to hospital, two requiring urgent operations! The usually effervescent energy of the family chat group quickly shifted to a somberness that weighed heavily on the chest, often causing laboured breathing! The lighthearted posts were replaced with constant updates from the hospitals, messages of mutual support, and prayers ... lots of prayers... Then.. this afternoon, the dreaded news... I remembered that Saturday morning when he had called, requesting that I attend the Maritzburg unveiling of his book, "Mandela In Focus" at the Nizamia Hall. I remembered being in awe as he addressed the audience. I had attended primary school at Nizamia, as did my parents, uncles, aunts and many cousins. And so did he, as I surprisingly learnt from his speech! But never before had I encountered the history of the school as he told it! Even the school governing body later commented on the need to document it! After his speech, he made a bee line towards me, with the visible joy of one reconnecting with a long lost relative. He even stated that he now "recognized the family forehead"! He then quickly rearranged the row of chairs where we sat, into a circle and promptly summoned and introduced me to two other relatives, who had accompanied him to the unveiling. The last we had met was when I was a little girl, on holiday, at my uncle and aunt's home in Durban, where he was a frequent guest, up until my uncle's passing. Our paths never crossed again until January this year, when he had approached me with an invite, to be a guest on his talk show. It was only after providing a short bio for the show, did he make the connection and delightedly stated, "We're family!" Even after the unveiling event, the handful of us stood out on the school grounds as he continued exuberantly chatting, clearly explaining exactly how my grandfather was his uncle, and my mother his cousin. He pointed across the field to the house in which my grandfather once lived, next to the mosque. He said he had spent a lot of time there and could still clearly remember every detail of that house... every fruit tree in the garden... everyone who lived there... and everyone who visited... He spoke of how my grandfather "presided over the community" and how we needed to co-author a book about his life. His love for my late grandfather was visibly evident. By this time, Kevin Joseph, the photographer of "Mandela in Focus", and the school principal had joined in the conversation. He introduced me as his niece, to which Kevin quickly inquired: "Another one?" "No! This one REALLY IS my niece!" he emphatically proclaimed. I later discovered that he habitually adopted people as family. All the cars in the parking lot had by now long dispersed, except for ours... Over the coming months, I received regular phone calls... a caring uncle watching over me... a seasoned mentor... I thoroughly enjoyed listening to tales about his friendship with Muhammad Ali and Barbra Streisand, the lavish dinners, the times when her home was filled with people, at the height of fame... and other things... He always ended his calls with a bit of parting wisdom... He also spoke about the book he was writing, documenting his experiences as a journalist and activist. He mentioned the title he was considering ... "The Man They Couldn't Gag" ... and asked me to write a short poem for the foreward. I obliged with "Lion of the Pen" Lion of the Pen He feared not the hunter's bullets in his quest to be heard And a deafening ROAR it was From his written word AdielaAkoo At the time of writing this poem, I never once thought that barely six months later, I would be writing this piece! It's only been a few hours since that dreaded news, and it still feels so surreal. The reality of lifelessness in one normally so full of life, is quite jarring! From the influx of messages being posted on social media, the positive impact that uncle Farook had on the lives of so many people, is clearly apparent. Combined with this, was his wonderful talent of making each person feel uniquely special! He will, undoubtedly, be sorely missed... Part of my own treasure trove of memories is this autographed copy of his book, "The Goodwill Lounge", in which he wrote this message in bold letters: "TO ADIELA, WHO OWNS THE SKY" And that is exactly how he made you feel! Like nothing was impossible! You could take on the world, like he did! They say that when an elder dies, a library burns down. These words have never rang truer than in the case of my uncle, Farook Khan. May you rest in peace, Lion of the Pen! (10 September 1944 – 3 October 2019) by Adiela Akoo
"When you truly reflect on life, you come up with such creations. I like the way Adiela has weaved simple poetic stories out of the complex strings of life in which humans remain entangled. From social to soul exploration, all has been done and depicted neatly in this poetic beauty. As a poet, I especially relate to the poetry style that is made very understandable, yet churned out of an ocean's depth." - Ruchika Pahwa Available here: https://adielaakoo.wixsite.com/writer/shop