Lossy Lossowitz

Mid May to Mid June is my loss trigger crunch time. I write about it every year because it’s a thing.  Mothers Day: May 12. Mom’s B-day: May 24th. Mom’s Deathiversary: June 6. Miles’s Birthday: June 8. Grads/dads, and end of the year events like karate belt tests and tween Instagram posts exacerbate the nostalgia and the milestones that matter to like 3 people in my life, one of whom is gone.

I miss my mom, but she drives me forward, always.

The investigation I’m doing with MILK Podcast: The Loss Season, is fueling me. I’ve done 8 interviews so far this season and have more episodes to come, every other week. I have so many questions about loss to ask.

My sister Lanie Kasdan Francis in one recording studio, and me in another

My sister Lanie Kasdan Francis in one recording studio, and me in another

I was able to interview my middle sister Lanie about her work as an oncologist and about how her life changed when my mom had cancer. Like MILK Caroline Schrank of Down to Earth Funerals, Lanie is able to discuss end of life with knowledge and compassion because she is not afraid to confront it. She has contributed so much to conversations around integrative oncology, patient and nurse advocacy, as well as writing her own rules in the medical world. She is an inspiring doctor, person, and sister, and I am super excited to share this interview soon. I’m thinking about how much our mom would appreciate us talking about how we parent and what we learned from her example. 

I love what I’m making right now, how I’m connecting with my communities, and how being a parent is challenging in a new way. The kids are more complex emotionally then ever, and there is that that loss of the mom I was — to babies, toddlers, elementary schoolers. I’m loving and treasuring my female friends, and finding ways to feel joy and pleasure despite the calamitous state of the world. 

I’m also thinking about success, and what that means to me in these times, at this age, with these concepts of loss in mind. I’m making this show, this season, the way I want to make it because I’m on a mission to understand how loss shapes this half of life as a parent. But I’m also trying to make a living, as my industries are changing and I’m here with the skills I’ve honed, wanting to create and earn. Especially with my kids having needs in new and surprising ways, that are different from the early, messy, desperate years of baby and toddlerhood. So I’m trying to grow this and make it better and collaborate and make a living doing it. Its a new challenge. I’m having to pivot and learn new skills.

I am aware of my talent and experience. Hungry for meaning and for some wins.    

I’m thinking about how I want to set examples for my children, teach them how to show up for people, to connect, to use their empathy and creativity to help and support.  I’m thinking about amplifying people where I can and watching them shine. Because my mom did this.

Brazitte Poole, JD, Duquesne Law School class of 2019

Brazitte Poole, JD, Duquesne Law School class of 2019

I’m thinking about Brazitte Poole, a wonderful woman from my hometown of Pittsburgh, that our family met three years ago when she applied for a scholarship we set up in my mom’s name. Brazitte graduated from Duquesne Law School last week on my mom’s birthday, and we can’t wait to see the good work she will do in this troubled world. Judi’s legacy lives on through women like Brazitte.

Heather laughing at me. I miss her laugh.

Heather laughing at me. I miss her laugh.

And of course, I’m thinking about Heather as we roll into summer, her favorite season. I miss her. It is so weird, and so confusing that she is not here. So I’ll keep trying to understand and appreciate what it really means to be here one minute and then gone the next. I’ll dance to Prince and other dumb songs with the other mom friends and laugh and cry and talk and remember. I will be there for her family and for my own.

Stay with me on the loss thing. It’s real.

 

 

May Day

May and June are major months for parents of the school-age. There are class trips and gifts for everyone, dads, grads, end of year concerts and performances for every damn activity. As the mom (usually), you gotta show up, be celebratory, organized and sociable. It’s all so intense and condensed that you actually have to laugh at the absurdity à la Kimberly Harrington. (Her book is amazing and you should get it).

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Since I lost my mom, the period between Mother’s Day, her birthday (May 24), her deathiversary, (June 6), my son’s birthday (June 8), Father’s Day (June 15), and the end of school (June 20 something), shines a light on how surreal grief can be, about rituals and niceties versus how you, me, (everyone!) really feel. The seasonal calendar just does its thing -- flowers bloom and the sun finally shines after a seven month winter, and all I can remember is the anxiety, this time 5 years ago, of knowing that she was at the end.

And as we are often reminded, grief is not linear, and it is not clearly demarcated as to when it will flare. I’ve been good lately, trying to focus on my own family, to be more honest and explicit about my needs, less angry and more positive. I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my personal and professional goals. I’ve been trying to contribute and to not be devastated by the direction our country is taking.   

Still, I was anticipating this would be a tough Mother’s Day. I’m deep in the mommy content biz now because of MILK, and on May 1st it was like a Mom Bomb went off: MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER. Not quite in the same way I believe I have been exploring the nuances of motherhood through art, kvetching, honesty, and the comedy of it, but rather through any product or company that can corral the concept of birthing children into an excuse to buy this thing. Mother’s Day (and motherhood) always comes with a side of marketing, but especially now that I’m tuned in to those channels, those books, those movies, and especially those emails about how to make Mother’s Day perfect if you just buy that thing, contribute to this charity, read this book. Dude.

But, I made it. I am a mother and I don’t have a mother but I’m here today, at my desk. I feel relief that I am back to a normal day with no pressure on it to be anything, except Monday. It’s all just a little much, right?

if you knew suzy katie rosman.jpg

Speaking of moms, (yeah I know) I read The NY Times Styles reporter Katie Rosman’s memoir-ish about her mom, “If You Knew Suzy,” maybe a year ago, after I tried to get Katie interested in writing about my children’s book, ELLA for the paper. I realized she had also lost her young, healthy mother to cancer, and had written an investigation into her mother’s life, to try and gain some peace about her untimely death. I relate so much to the desire to uncover the how of someone’s life, there are no good answers to the why. Her book is wonderful, and I was so excited to have her in the studio. Her episode will be posted next week.

Reading Katie’s book inspired the current MILK episode interview with Roslyn (Roz) Neiman. I’ve talked to Roz and my mother’s other dear friends many times about Judi, my mom, in person when I go to Pittsburgh, on the phone, and on Facebook, but the formality of having Roz in the podcast studio felt like a new frame, to go back and try to fill in certain gaps about my mom’s life the way Katie did with her reporting.

Roz Neiman MILK Podcast Mallory Kasdan Mothers Day Episode 2018.jpg

I love this episode with Roz, because it is my childhood. I get to re-hear a lot of the stories I know, and then hear for the first time some things I did not know about my mom as a friend, a support, an adult person and not just a mother I took for granted. Roz reminds me in the interview, how, at 14 years old, I was dumb enough to wear my mom’s brand new, super 1980’s mother of pearl hoop earrings (that she told me not to touch) into the store she owned at the time. She wrestled me to the ground to take them off of my ears. What an ass I was, but how funny that my mom pulled a professional wrestling move on me!

To paraphrase Katie, “you need to embody and remember the life, not only the circumstances of the death.” That’s what Roz’s interview feels like to me – an opportunity to embody and celebrate the life of my mom. It prepped me for that sad, incomplete feeling of Mother’s Day,  but connected me to the mom figures I still have, like Roz and my cousin Phyllis, and others from their community. It helped me focus and not be too sad, to think about Judi’s terrific life, how many Mother’s Days we had together, or random, regular days when I could call her and bullshit with her about things my kids did and think nothing of it.

Also, I bought a dress and some sunglasses for myself on Mother’s Day, which is shallow and right in the pocket of the marketing that told me I’m worth spending money on. But I think Judi would have approved, as would Roz. I’ll wear them to the last day of Hebrew school event or the karate belt test or the class trip to Coney Island, which I need to put in my calendar ASAP before I forget.   

Totems

I see my tween daughter from down the street, long hair flying, giant backpack hoisted, sheathed in my mom’s dark brown hooded winter puffer -- size XS. It always makes me catch my breath for a moment – seeing Z in that jacket.

When we divided Mom’s closet between the three sisters, there was plenty to go around. Our mom loved clothes. My middle sister took the full length fur coat, which was weird but made sort of sense. My youngest sister took the loud blazers and some of the evening wear. I’m the oldest. I took the nightgowns and some purses. We divided the charms on the necklace she wore everyday.

Some of Judi’s more flamboyant pieces I gave right away to Zoe, who was seven at the time, for dress up: like the light pink cardigan with a pink fur collar and rhinestone buttons, white jazz shoes (?) and plenty of high-heeled boots to totter around in when friends came over. 

parenting through grief Mallory Kasdan.jpg

I hung other things in Zoe’s closet gradually as she grew, mostly sweaters and long sleeve t-shirts.  Such happy/sad, private moments I have with myself every time Zoe walks out of her room in something of Judi’s. A lavender cashmere cardigan, a pair of dangling silver earrings, or a purse I had forgotten about that Zoe now sports so proudly.

In June it will be five years.

The nightgowns are what are most important to me, still. I slip on my mom's nightgowns and I feel …  like a mom. Zoe and her brother snuggle with me in our king sized bed, under the covers, propped up on pillows. We watch “This Is Us,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” shows with a nostalgia component. I wish I could talk to my mom about these shows, or watch with her. But me and the kids, we’re cozy. I like holding them next to me, in her nightgowns.

Anyone who has lost a person has had to contend with the stillness of things left behind. Recently, though, I feel strongly that given time, these items can have a rich and almost kinetic power. They have waited, patiently, and respectfully, and now they are ready to live again.

My sisters and I can refer to the clothes and know exactly what the other is trying to convey. I wore the red shiny trenchcoat to vote for Hillary in the primary. Youngest will wear a loud blazer, with gold buttons, uncharacteristic of her regular style, to lead a conference. Middle will wear pantyhose under her doctor dresses, which is weird but we get it.

We are all moving forward in our adult lives now without my mom, and we manifest her, every day. My younger sister is an advocate and policy maker for under served communities, just like my mom. My middle sister is an oncologist and forward thinker about alternative cancer care, inspired by our mom’s disease and her shortened life.

mothering after loss mallory kasdan.jpg

I take notice of the memories and the stories, and document how the clothes connect us. Since Zoe is the sole female grandchild, or the one most interested in fashion, she is the one to embody most of these totems, at least for now. She understands this inherently, and it squeezes at my heart that she does. She gets it. 

Zoe shines bright. She can argue like no one I’ve ever seen, except for Judi. Like her grandma, Zoe has charisma. She also has many pairs of size 5, brightly colored, slightly worn flats, which she will be wearing all spring long.

parenthood

The anniversary of my mom’s death is tomorrow. I’m approaching the date with sadness obviously, but nowhere near the numbed out pain I felt saying good-bye 2 years ago. Nor is this moment as hard as waiting for the milestones of that first year to pass.

But I suspect the spring weeks between Mother’s Day – June 6th will always be raw. I will always remember the last time we spoke on the phone, and the stupid cheery orange pashmina I bought her for her birthday on May 24th that I took back several weeks later. The anxious plane ride from NYC to Pittsburgh I took with my younger sister when we knew it was the very end. Celebrating my son’s birthday while sitting shiva.

Though I’m doing fine — trying to be present and feel grateful for my husband and children and other blessings, there is still a major Judi shaped hole in my life. Her loss forced an adjustment and a rebuilding that is ongoing. As Oprah-ish as it sounds, I’ve drawn strength from myself since she died. But erasing her from the picture has had a major impact on how things look and feel in our family.

That context set the stage for my recent epic partaking of “Parenthood.” While recovering from a surgery last month, I surrendered to my bed for a week or so of pure Netflixism. I was secretly thrilled to have the excuse to watch TV all day without feeling guilty – even if I had to sacrifice a body part in order to enjoy that freedom.

I really had no idea of the emotional assault that was “Parenthood,” a familiar seeming primetime NBC drama that looked and smelled like the “Thirty-something” of my youth smushed together with “Friday Night Lights.” Lots of familiar, good-looking television actors and a Bob Dylan theme song to boot. How had I missed this?

Jesus “Parenthood,” you had me at the opening shot of Adam Braverman (NATE FISHER!) taking a jog, and subsequent scenes in the pilot of Max, his son, struggling to be like the other kids while not fitting in at Little League and at school. Duh. I pretty much started crying right there and never once looked back as I went deep into Braverman country.

The show is basically Family Porn. Watching is a form of fantasy, because as difficult the issues they present are (autism, cheating, stay at home dad/mom boredom, black mold, infertility, adoption, PTSD, addiction, cancer, aging parents), everyone faces their problems with so much grace, self-knowledge and skill at solving things in 44 minutes that you can relax and enjoy the emotional ride.

Sure, Sarah is flaky and charming and talks over Adam until Adam reassuringly tells her how it’s going to go down. Crosby is hilarious but screws up again! OMG Julia is so controlling in her pencil skirts. But they talk things out in person and don’t get resentful. They bring each other lattes like that’s a normal thing to do and the lattes don’t get cold in traffic from Berkeley to San Francisco. They get together ALL THE TIME and Camille never seems bitter about all the dishes. The couples have amazing marriages mostly. The siblings don’t seem to judge each other. The children all brush their teeth when asked. Most of the men can fix things (despite the last name they are obviously not Jewish). The women have great hair and nice selections of layered necklaces.

As I obsessively watched the show, condensing 6 seasons into six weeks, it felt like my job. I literally could not stop pressing “Next Episode” and felt like a sneaky junkie at times watching during the day when I should have been doing important things. I cried, on average like 4 times an episode. I laughed when Adam got “The Fever” and felt so frustrated for Kristina because of Max and his Aspberger’s, but was also annoyed that she never seemed to get a babysitter that wasn’t family. I wondered if Kristina was a robot. I wished Mr. Cyr, the high school English teacher had been my boyfriend. I loved the Max/Hank storyline even though it was hard to watch.

Of course I knew it was manipulative to play sad music while someone was going through chemo and I knew it was manipulative to play sad music when someone was being mean to a kid with Asbergers but I cried my heart out anyway. I cried for all of the baseball games my mom wouldn’t attend (not that either of my kids play baseball) and I cried that my relationship with my dad wasn’t as easy as Sarah and Julia’s with Zeek, and that my marriage didn’t feature the same obvious gloss and excellent communication that these couples had.

But I got over it. Because it’s TV and is supposed to elicit these feelings – that’s kind of the whole point. As a viewer you’re supposed to project your deficits onto a fictional family that seriously has it together. It can be cathartic to go on that kind of journey and to binge on something this obvious, but at the end of the day The Bravermans aren’t real and I can’t really hug or squeeze any of them or have them bring me a latte. Whether or not I have similar issues in my own life, they will never be written as concisely or acted as well as these professionals can convey them. The characters can feel real and I can feel connected to their joys and struggles, but at the end of the binge, they are still crafted by a pen and shaped by a director.

I thought I would be devastated when I finished watching last week, but I was satisfied with their treatment of the aging parents storyline and how the finale tied things up with a lovely flash forward montage to a sad song.

No spoilers, but The Bravermans are going to be ok, and so am I. It makes sense why watching this particular show during this period of time felt so compulsively important. I was clearly getting something under my belt before this two-year anniversary tomorrow, trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense once more, processing.

I loved my time with the Bravermans but I’m feeling free now to read books again, do some writing, or hang out with my own perfect/imperfect family.