Grieving

Yes to Life

Books of Comfort and Consolation after Living Through 2020

The year 2020 needs no introduction. Many people will agree it was the year from hell. Job losses, schools going remote, and worst of all, losing loved ones. My father passed away in June (non-COVID related) and my mother passed in December (COVID-related). This has put me in a new cold stark reality along with the hassles of wearing a mask every time I go out, continually washing my hands, and coping with an extremely restricted social life. I know countless other people have their stories as well.

But there were a few bright spots: I wrote and published my second novel, I took online courses in copyediting, proofreading and SEO copywriting. I also took on a few projects in these areas. And I read some books that helped me stay sane and grateful. I would like to share my list of books that gave me comfort and consolation during 2020.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

An elderly artist who once enjoyed a prominent career now lives as a recluse. When he leaves his personal journal behind in a cafe, Monica, the café owner, finds it and adds her own innermost thoughts. Other characters find it and add their own entries. They meet the artist, who ends up teaching art lessons in the café where the characters bond as they learn how to draw.  

The Authenticity Project is the perfect book to read when you are forced to stay at home and need some cheering up. It can also restore your faith in the goodness of special people.

The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Two lifelong friends find they are in a rut and dare each other to try new things and actually learn to live. One of the women is 34-year-old Ellen Fox, who accidentally became pregnant at 17 and was abandoned by her boyfriend before the baby’s birth. She has been raising her son and supporting him while never venturing back into the dating world. Her friend, Unity Leandre, also 34, married her husband at 18 and became a widow at 31. She is still keeping vigil for her late husband and has never dated since. These ladies make a pact: Each writes a list of things she wants to do and whoever actually accomplishes the most on her list will pay for the two of them to go to a luxury spa for a weekend. A few of their goals include having a serious relationship with a man, getting a tattoo, and skydiving.

The Friendship List is about overcoming challenges and the highs and lows of taking chances in the quest to live a full, satisfying life. 

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas

Joseph, an English graduate student at Berkeley, receives the news that his father in Egypt has passed away. He lives with his mother and stepfather and has only visited his father a few times. Joseph has a Jewish mother and a Muslim father and has never felt particularly connected to either group, yet when he receives a mysterious package that his father directed to be sent to him, it propels Joseph to travel to Cairo, Egypt. There he learns about his father and his dedication to being the last in his family’s line to serve as watchman of the Ibn Ezra Synagogue, a job that has been in the family for over a thousand years. After his journey Joseph not only understand his father but also finds himself.

Losing my own father and mother, I was able to relate to Joseph’s sadness, introspection, and the realization of how special my parents were.

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything by Victor Frankl

The Austrian Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl was the author of the classic Man’s Search for Meaning. Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything is from the author’s series of lectures he gave almost a year after the holocaust. His message still resonates today: it is essential to find purpose even after experiencing setbacks and tragedies. Having a purpose in everyday living sustains a person and allows them to be productive and happy so as not to give in to despair. This is coming from a survivor of the holocaust who  lost his wife and unborn child in the death camps.

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything gives the reader a newfound appreciation of life and strength to carry on.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui

In the early years of Syria’s civil war, the Assad regime bombed the town of Daraya daily and cut off basic supplies in order to force out the inhabitants. A group of young Syrian men resisted and hid in a library. They read books such as Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, discuss their ideas and beliefs, and talk and communicate with a journalist via the computer about their plight. The journalist then wrote this book to capture their spirit and strength while their lives were at risk on a daily basis.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War was a reminder that although we are suffering from the COVID lockdown, there are people in the world who are enduring even worse trials.

The Book of Revelations by Idelle Kursman

This is my own women’s fiction book that I wrote and published this year. It is a story about self-acceptance. After going through much upheaval earlier in her life, Christine Goldberg is married and works as a representative for a modeling agency. Her husband adopted her twins, a boy and a girl who want to learn about their biological father, but Christine refuses to divulge his identity. But her past catches up with her and she is forced to not only deal with the challenges she has worked so hard to escape but also deal with new ones. Christine must face her old demons now, including her estrangement from her parents and her children’s questions about the mystery of their biological father.

For those who feel like they failed to live up to their life-long dreams and goals, this story is about being easier on yourself and looking at all you did accomplish.

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My Beautiful Mother

Arlene Kaplan, My Beautiful Mother

KAPLAN, ARLENE, 87, passed away Saturday, December 5, 2020 with her daughter Hillary by her side and holding her hand. She was the beloved wife of the late Stanley S. Kaplan, who passed away just 5 months ago. Born in Providence, she was the daughter of the late Harold and Sadie Rosen and the sister of the late Simon Rosen. Arlene was a lifelong resident of the city.

She was a high school graduate, but should have been awarded a doctorate in common sense. Everyone appreciated her wisdom, wit, and keen observations of life. She was a quiet person but those who knew her felt her kindness and love. Arlene was truly the cornerstone of her family by her dedication to her loved ones. She enjoyed cooking, reading, and spending time with her grandchildren.

She, Stanley and Hillary shared weekly breakfasts and dinners and every Sunday made Kosher chicken together. The time spent with the three of them was very much loved and will be greatly missed.

Some of my mother’s favorite sayings:

It is better to leave the table a little hungry than to overeat.

If men were the ones who had the babies, abortion would be legal and every family would have only one child.

Thoughts have wings.

You never know what other people are going through–people don’t wear signs.

Some people are book smart, but when have to deal with life, they fumble around.

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Back in Newport

Clear blue skies. Rippling ocean waves. Cool summer breezes. Relaxed people walking past small shops; others riding boats and taking tours.

I have been dreaming of Newport, Rhode Island for months. I find the summer heat oppressive and draining, so I yearn for cooler temperatures, which always brings my mind to Newport.

But a vacation in Newport was impossible for this year. My father passed away in June and I needed to visit my mother in Providence every chance I could get away. Besides, Newport is extremely expensive. In previous years my family and I took vacations to Newport, but we stayed in nearby Middletown because hotel rates were more reasonable. Of course, we were then forced to drive to Newport where parking on the narrow, congested streets proved difficult. Yet the ocean breezes and comfortable temperatures always beckoned us.

Fortunately, we were able to take the last Friday in July off and visit my mother for the weekend. We were planning to stay at the same Providence hotel but it was all booked. Not only that, but the only days we were able to visit my mother at the nursing home, which was on lockdown, were Friday and Sunday.  I began searching for an alternative hotel when my husband said, “Let’s spend a few nights in Newport.”

“No way!” I said. “Newport is too expensive.”

“Let’s look online to see if we can find a deal.”

The idea immediately took root in my mind and I logged onto the computer. We found a deal but it was still exorbitant compared to what we normally pay, so we continued looking for something better.

The other hotels charged even higher rates.

“Let’s stay in Providence,” I told him.

“No, this has been a tough year. We need to relax and enjoy ourselves.”

I shook my head. “It costs too much.”

“Let’s splurge for once. We need it,” my husband insisted.

I was unconvinced but went back to that original hotel deal by the water and booked it.

When we arrived in Newport, I looked at the water and the sights but could not appreciate them. My father loved Newport and now that he was gone, life seemed to lose all sweetness and excitement.

 But after the first night, we woke up to the shining sun, the people strolling, and the boats sailing. We walked outside and I realized we had made the right decision. Everyone around us was relaxed and in vacation mode.

As tough as this year has been, even though life will never be the same again without my father, the world still held promise and hope.

 Newport brought me back.

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