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January Reflections: The Cruelest Month

January Reflections: The Cruelest Month

January is almost over.

I can’t really bring myself to write about resumes and LinkedIn profiles today. Don’t get me wrong: Over the past few weeks, The Essay Expert has written many career documents. I have personally edited multiple drafts and updated several resumes we’ve written for past clients. I was even on WBBM radio talking about college application essays. I’m proud of that work and of the results our clients are getting.

But today, sitting down to write my blog, my thoughts are elsewhere.

I’m thinking of my dad, who died on January 31st 21 years ago—the last day of the month well-known to be the deadliest one of the year.

And my thoughts are also with a friend whose mom died unexpectedly last week. An avid union organizer her entire life and up to her last hours, she encouraged the woman taking her food order at the hospital to take advantage of the opportunities of the 1109 Union advancement program.

My thoughts are also with my 83-year-old uncle, who fell last week and broke his shoulder. As I write, I’m in his home “on call” for the night in case his health care worker needs a family member’s presence. Being here for him helps me feel like I’m being useful, as difficult as it is to see him in pain.

This time of year can be a trying one for anyone who has family facing health issues. Perhaps you are one of those who is caring for a loved one now, or who just lost someone dear to you. I think it’s so important to take some time to take care of yourself as we face these challenges.

When my dad died after a week in the hospital with pneumonia, I was 27 and in my second year of law school. Every day, unfailingly, I would go swimming or get exercise of some kind. Thankfully my family understood my compulsion. That’s how I kept my equilibrium through the most painful experience of my life.

We need time to reflect and to feel.

My friend who just lost his mom is a yoga teacher. After losing his mom, he didn’t do yoga for a week. Getting back to his practice made him feel more in touch with himself.

I’ve been looking at old pictures of my dad and feeling for myself how much I miss him. Even after so many years, it’s important for me to remember.

It’s uplifting to be in the presence of children, too. On my trip to NYC last week, I spent time with an 8- and a 5-year-old who were full of love and laughter (with a few lively tantrums thrown in for good balance!). And just last night, I was watching videos of my cousin’s adorably toddling 2-year-old in Israel. It’s good to be reminded that life, joy and silliness continue on.

It’s Sunday night as I write, and tomorrow I will get back to scheduling resume review and LinkedIn profile review sessions and matching up new clients with writers. It will be more or less business as usual. But I’ll also be thinking of those who have passed, and of the people who care for them, and of the never-ending cycles of life.

11 COMMENTS

  1. sbwillson
    Jan 30, 2018 at 10:15 am

    January IS a hard month. Lots of heavy thoughts. Your picture with your father reminds me of going to Fanuiel Hall with my own father.

  2. Jon Schneider
    Jan 30, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for sharing a part of yourself, and ways to take care of ourselves and others, Brenda.

  3. Stephen Kunzer
    Jan 30, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Thanks for writing this Brenda, it can be a difficult month for many people, even those who don’t lose loved ones, due to the dark and cold. Many people tend to “huddle in” to themselves as they conserve money after the gift giving (and often excesses) of the season, and re-adjust to the realities of their everyday lives after the hope of the new year and making resolutions.
    It’s at this time we should reach out to friends and colleagues, not to “work on our networks” (though simple acts of friendship often help), but to show empathy, friendship and companionship. I’ve appreciated your blogs and advice in the time I’ve followed you, and I want you to know that there are probably a lot of people like me, who value your time and effort, but don’t comment and say thanks. So, thanks.

    • Brenda Bernstein
      Jan 30, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      Thank you for your thoughts, Steve, and for saying thank you! From what I understand, the letdown after the holidays is one of the contributors to a higher death rate. It can seem as if there’s not as much to look forward to. Being supportive and taking in support from our communities are so important year-round, and especially in this first month of the year!

  4. Jan 30, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    The two of you are wearing the same expression, seemingly sharing the identical experience of happiness in the picture, Brenda — and you look exactly like your dad! I agree, it’s good to remember, to feel whatever it is when these days arrive . . . for you it’s Jan 31. Tomorrow would be my dad’s 91st birthday but instead he’s been gone for nearly 35 years. I recently turned the age he was when he died and oh did that unexpectedly kick me upside my very being. As a result I’m making a huge change in my life, which is to sell the place where I’ve lived for nearly 25 years, and leave the area where I’ve lived for nearly 30 years — 30 years! What was I thinking? That I’d be here for a few years. Well, bye-bye here. More life out there! I guess I can thank my dad for this, an experience I’d never anticipated. If I could choose I’d rather know the man who’s been gone for more than half my life. Well listen to me go on … I am glad for you that you wrote this, for yourself and for everyone who has the chance to read it and perhaps think of whomever it is in their own life to remember, the where and the when and the what of that person, and themselves. I’m always glad when you reveal a little bit more about yourself, Brenda, since you’re such a pro’s pro — I’m like, get down on the ground with the rest of us. (Smiley emoticon) Wishing you the best, as always.

    • Brenda Bernstein
      Jan 30, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Stacey. You brought tears to my eyes. I love that you’re creating your life the way you want it – staying alive! Honestly, I most enjoy the blogs where I reveal pieces of myself. The response to today’s post has been overwhelming, which could be a sign I should do this more often.

  5. Jan 30, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    It is so surprising to me that an experience so utterly painful as the loss of a loved one is something we all experience during life.
    When my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor at a relatively young age, I spent 14 weeks with her while she prepared herself to die. By contrast, my brother was only able to spend a week visiting with her before she died. Almost 15 years later he said “I still can’t believe that Mom is gone”. I realized that we approach loss at different levels of immersion, acuity and speed.
    Brenda, I love the way you are taking time out to actively experience your reflections and help others around you who are experiencing loss. I believe that your active reflection will ultimately allow you to more easily move through your Januarys. I’m thinking of you as you work through this time.
    I encourage you to read Mary Cook’s essay; The Hardest Work You Will Ever Do, in which she describes the body of work that we all move through as we grieve for people we love. I’ll send a link separately. Please continue to take good care of yourself Brenda!

    • Brenda Bernstein
      Jan 31, 2018 at 8:27 am

      Thanks so much for your thoughts Julie, and for sending the essay. I will share it with the people around me who are experiencing loss. I was reminded yesterday to keep my grief separate from that of others, which is tricky to do. I’m home this morning but woke up oriented to “What does my uncle need?”

  6. Jan 31, 2018 at 3:24 am

    Very touching, Brenda! Your picture tells the story – you were very close to your dad. Cheer up and look forward to the rest of the wonderful year 2018 in the making!

  7. Feb 01, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks, Brenda. I am luckier than many others in that I had my mom until she was 90. But her passing last July was no less painful and I still find myself thinking I should call and tell her about something. I just started a new job and would love to talk with her about it.

    I find comfort in the community of sharing that you invited into being through your blog post. If I were with you, I would give you a hug (and accept one in return). Happy February – but I won’t forget your January.

    • Brenda Bernstein
      Feb 01, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Thank you for your kind words and sentiment, Damian. I understand that instinct to call a parent for advice even after they’re gone – I still have those impulses after 21 years. I have been touched by the outpouring of support. So many people are identifying with this universal experience. What a great way to enter the month of love!

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