For the first time in twelve years, November will be void of the Celebration of Sisters skating event to honor the lives and memories of my beloved sisters Margie and Jane. The month of their birthdays and the anniversary of Jane’s death. How do I feel this month? Good question. The answer is I don’t know.
I fear I have been so busy as no time to think or allow myself which may be good or fall back into the old pattern of suppressing my emotions. Because of a broken foot, grandchildren, speaking engagements, I would not have had the time required to produce Celebration of Sisters. Thankfully, the event had mushroomed into something that required a year’s work of preparation. I am grateful for the beautiful memories and am thinking of bringing back in a few years to celebrate my seventieth birthday.
To channel my focus, I am attending skating camp the first few days of November. I think inwardly my body is feeling the emotions. I am tired and my stomach is telling me I am missing Margie and Jane. I am being pulled in too many directions to have time to remember the birthdays that are around the corner.
In some ways I can’t wrap my head around the years. Jane will be gone for forty-two years on November seventh. She lived for twenty-two years. Next year the two will celebrate milestone birthdays–sixty-five and seventy. I am getting ahead of myself.
As I look at my grandchildren, I see pieces of Margie and Jane. What they are missing watching these three dolls and my lack of sharing them with my sisters. Writing this, the tears are streaming down my cheeks.
Jane and I shared a room until I was fourteen. I wish we didn’t move and went into our own silos. The closeness I felt knowing she was sleeping in the bed next to me always comforting, and I took the role of big sister seriously. Our relationship faltered because of our opposite personalities, but the immense sisterly love shone through. Unfortunately, we never had the chance to develop a bond as adults. Jane would have been a great nursery schoolteacher. I wish she believed in herself.
Margie suffered with her demons but had immense courage. Despite it all she could always read me and knew me better than I knew myself. Smart as a whip she could have done anything she wanted to, but the illness robbed her of the opportunities. We had our moments too, as sisters do, but always came back to one another closer than ever.
I remember the three of us getting dressed up to go into downtown Boston into Stella’s an Italian restaurant in North End. Looking at the pictures, I must laugh. They bundled us up with puffy winter coats, not wearing tights, but lacey white ankle socks and black patent leather shoes. Weren’t our legs freezing? I don’t recall.
Our birthday parties celebrated in our basement with a long, rectangular table. The birthday girl at the head of the table, eating cake and the Hoodsie with the small wooden spoon all smiles surrounded by friends. On November sixth and November eighth to wish Jane and Margie a Happy Birthday, I will eat a cupcake and Hoodsie, and look at the old photos. There will be a hole in my heart, but know my sisters are forever beside me.
“I am an author.”
I hear myself utter the words and still cannot fathom this is a reality. In my sixties to be given a new career, an opportunity to express on paper what sometimes I cannot articulate or communicate because of an introvert character, is an incredible gift.
When I went to a support group after I lost my father in 2011, the leader of the group encouraged me to share my story and write an article for The Centering Corporation. For decades I kept emotions and feelings dormant. The death of my father forced me to grieve for my beloved sisters Margie and Jane, feelings I suppressed now bubbled to the surface. This mushroomed to being a contributor for The Open To Hope Foundation.
Am I talented at the craft of writing? The answer is no. As a friend who is an esteemed author uses the term, pedestrian. I pursued writing classes and workshops. Urged by many to write a book, I took the plunge in 2018, left employment and devoted time to write. I suffered a concussion and through podcasts located a memoir coach. With the coach, and many editors, as they say a village, many drafts, I secured a wonderful hybrid publisher, WriteLife Publishing, and the rest they say is history.
Countless hours spent reliving the deaths of my sisters, redrafting the arc of the memoir, learning to show not tell, being able to accept criticism to grow, and not take rejection personally and produced Celebration of Sisters: It Is Never Too Late To Grieve which I hope with help others in their grief.
I think of writing as a second passion, my first being skating. When I tackle a new element in skating, it requires patience, practice, and time, not unlike writing. If I waver in my confidence, a wise coach asked, “Why do you skate?” The answer, “For the joy.” The same analogy to writing. To expand, I write to share a story to give back and help others.
I am writing a second book. Originally a memoir, I did not have the emotional capacity to write about a sister with a mental illness so out of a suggestion of a writer friend. I am writing fiction. The transition from memoir to fiction is challenging, and taking yourself out of the equation, specifically out of the character. We write what we know which is the motto for memoir, and somewhat true in fiction, however, to write an interesting fiction story, I had to learn the character is not me, although may have pieces of me.
The process is a learning curve, have shed some tears, and shifted the story from four siblings down to three. I know in my heart it is an important story that must be told. Like my memoir, I have no expectations, but feel it is an important story to be told.
I have found writing is now part of my life, much like skating. If I do not write, I feel like part of me is missing. To write, like skating, is to have discipline, to practice, and do regularly. There are obstacles and life that can interfere, and I am trying to focus on carving out time every day to write to complete the manuscript. I know it will take a village to complete and grateful for all the support and kindness to individuals who are joining me on the journey.
The fall ushers in the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, the holiday that celebrates the creation of the world, reflected in the name, head of the year in Hebrew. Traditional greetings on Rosh Hashanah include, L’Shana Tova tikatevu, which means, may you be inscribed for a good year, or “Shana Tova,” which means a good year.
A new year, a time to pause, reflect, and reset. I reflect on the past year, beaming with all that transpired–the birth of two new grandchildren, honored to be selected as a keynote speaker, settling into a new life south of Boston, and the many opportunities to share Celebration of Sisters, and in doing so, the wonderful people who have entered my life.
This year feels strange not feverously preparing and rehearsing my performance for the Celebration of Sisters annual skating fundraiser. I am filled with gratitude and memories. The publication of the memoir bearing its name provided the right time to move onto the next chapter. The Judy who founded the event in 2011 is not the same Judy of 2023. Twelve years older, wiser, a few more wrinkles, and more to accomplish on herself, in helping others, and honor the memories of Margie and Jane.
Forever will my heart feel a loss, miss my beloved sisters Margie and Jane, wish they were here to witness their sister Judy of today, the evolution, the work, and share the precious grandchildren. Is this really Judy? Is this a dream or real life? Margie and Jane are the anchors that provide me the courage and resilience to be where I am today.
A tradition for Rosh Hashanah and celebrate a sweet New Year comprises dipping an apple into honey. This will be a sweet year. I am now a grandmother of three beautiful grandchildren under four, each special in their own way, two spectacular daughters and son in laws who are growing into wonderful individuals and family units.
The future is bright. With all that I have lost, where there is grief there is love, where there is joy there is love.
My goals for the New Year are for health, happiness, peace, and joy for all. For me relish every moment with family, resume figure skating with vigor now that the broken foot healed, settled down to a regular writing schedule on book number two, engage speaking opportunities to tell my story, an important message so no one is alone with their grief.
A butterfly symbolizes transformation, beauty, hope, and love. For my college graduation I received a butterfly necklace I wore every day until I lost the special momentum in 2013 and could never replicate the unique design. My search will continue to find a replacement.
Honored to be the keynote speaker at the Bereaved Parents USA National Conference to represent the bereaved siblings, I felt like a butterfly, transformed from the shy, middle introverted sister, having the courage to present and speak in front of a crowd. The experience was more than that. Sharing my grief journey and having the validation of the loss of my beloved sisters Margie and Jane after decades with individuals who understood and spoke the same language, overwhelming, and grateful. I shed many tears throughout the weekend, my heart full, and memories and friendships to last a lifetime.
Prior to the day of the talk, my nerves escalated. The run through provided by the technical crew and encouragement dissipated after a few seconds when I began with, “I am the middle of three. Sadly, I lost both my sisters.” Looking out to the room of warm faces the words flowed knowing Margie and Jane were on my shoulders cheering me on, not unlike the feeling I have when I skate.
To my surprise, I told the group, I never imagined myself standing in front of them speaking, publishing a memoir, or skating my first solo in front of a crowd. I must pinch myself to ensure this is not a dream. After decades of being alone in grief, to have others to talk is a genuine gift. If another person can relate to a piece of my journey and not be alone in their grief, I will be eternally grateful.
The journey to DC brought me back to childhood memories. Due to tunnel construction in Boston, I flew out of Providence. Our small aircraft settled out on the tarmac. Not seen since I was a teenager when I flew on an airplane, wore white gloves and a dressed up to fly, did we walk out of the terminal to the plane? Thankfully travel in both directions seamless and flights were both on time.
At the conference, I hugged fellow bereaved siblings in person whom I met on Zoom and podcasts. The connection face to face only solidified our bond. We laughed and the funny comments, “I thought you were taller,” as they looked down on my stature of five feet.
Because of the size of the conference, many conversations ensued with attendees throughout the county, each with a story. Astounded by the courage and resilience of many whom suffered multiple loses, children and siblings, came together in love, conversation, and music.
The closing ceremony released butterflies, a symbol of hope and comfort.
Our grief comes is waves, like the ocean, hitting the sand in varying degrees of harshness and softer as the last of the wave’s foamy white water hits the edge showing the tide is over. Grief hits us like a wave, sometimes soft, sometimes loud, perhaps out of the blue, often at a family gathering, and harsh on the anniversaries, birthdays, milestones, and the lists goes on. Year to year, day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute the sound is different.
I am experiencing a new level of my grief journey and how to process the emotions dormant for years, still unable to have the time for me to sort out where I go from here, and grateful today I have other bereaved siblings who understand and speak my language.
The birth of three grandchildren, two in the past six months has been a whirlwind, coupled with publishing my memoir and repeatedly sharing my story and retelling the story of the deaths of Margie and Jane, the path I took to grieve for Margie and after thirty years, founding of the Celebration of Sisters fundraiser, and the regrets I still hold.
Despite losing my sisters in 1981 and 1990, in some respects, I feel I am a newly bereaved sibling, navigating two separate grieving parallel universes. When my sisters died, grief was a foreign concept, and not having anyone to talk to, I took the role of caregiver and not allowing myself time to think about the losses of Margie and Jane. Sadness, confusion, and loneliness took over, and I kept pushing down the feelings and kept busy raising two daughters as a single mother, taking care of my parents, working full time, yet knew not a recipe for the mourning process.
The other day I went through some photographs, and reread cards and letters from Margie and Jane. I discovered a poem written by Margie entitled, “The Library.” My heart skipped a beat. The connection to my sisters clear not solely in skating. I received a degree in Library Science shortly after Margie died. At the hospital library, Margie read newspapers, periodicals, and wrote. We shared the love of reading and apparently writing too. Jane and I shared our work in retail.
There are gaps that are now being filled. Why did I wait three decades? Would I be where I am today? Bottom line is the love of my sisters. I need to unleash more memories and realize how deeply my sisters define me, how deeply I miss them, and for them to be part of my life, talked about and shared for the beautiful, special sisters they were, complicated, but my Margie and Jane.
Today I have support of other bereaved siblings and continue to work with a therapist. I may explore other options on the grief journey. I am upset that people look at me and think that the grief defines me; it is part of me, and I have moved forward. I hope to help others in their grief, but there is always work to be done on me, and to advocate for others in their grief.
The birth of a grandchild brings new love, life, and joy. With each grandchild, my heart bursts with love from the moment I hold them in my arms, and beam as I witness my two daughters as mothers holding their newborn child.
My first grandchild Benji, named for my beloved father enlisted unexpected emotions. After his birth, I returned to ice skating after an eight-day hiatus. I stepped onto the ice and shook knowing the onset of a tsunami of tears. Skating is my passion and solace, and on this day baffled by my body’s reaction. Attempting to skate for a short while, I knew I had to exit the ice and remove my skates. At home, after I calmed down and gave thought to the experience, I realized the emotions not unlike when I lost my beloved sisters Margie and Jane. The death of my sisters changed my life, the birth of Benji changed my life, both sparking extreme antithesis of emotions. Where there is deep grief there is love, where there is deep joy there is love.
Jake, my second grandchild was born five weeks prematurely. Filled with worry for him and his parents, Jake spent twenty-two days in the NICU and is thriving. He is a sweet little boy who constantly smiles and giggles. His bris, the Jewish ceremony in which a baby boy is circumcised was postponed. The beautiful ceremony marked with the Jewish heritage from both parents, deepened by the gift of Jake’s good health, and immense love from family and a few close friends. I looked around and witnessed the gift of four generations of our family present. I came home and cried for two days: the emotions overwhelming. Jake and Benji will grow up as cousins, and my daughters Janie and Amy have each other as sisters. My heart hurt from missing my cherished sisters Margie and Jane.
We welcomed Madelyn, my third grandchild on June ninth, a beautiful girl named for my sister Margie. I have shed many tears and touched Margie will now be remembered for all her good, smiles, laughter, and spark and not the challenges she suffered. I look forward to sharing stories about Margie with Madelyn. My heart is full. Both my beloved sisters now have a legacy to be remembered.
Benji named me “Nini,” and I love he chose my grandmother title. With each grandchild, there is a new love, life, and joy. Every moment spent with them is a precious gift. I do not take photos, every memory imprinted in my heart.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers.
I want to acknowledge and show compassion to those who have lost a child, grandchild, or mother. My wish for you is to find some peace on the day, take some time for you, and know you are not alone. Perhaps there are memories to recall, navigate a new tradition, or find a space that works for you. My go to place is ice skating, my mediation. I glide across the ice and troublesome thoughts melt away.
I want to share some thoughts with you on how I feel about Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day is present on the calendar the second Sunday of May year after year. A date to celebrate mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers. Retailers have captured the opportunity to promote and increase sales with advertisements beginning months prior to May. No one can forget Mother’s Day.
Why do we need to focus and emphasize attention on one day? If you are a mother, you are a mother three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. If you have lost a child, a grandchild, are experiencing challenges conceiving a child, or your desire to be a mother is not happening, Mother’s Day is a date you want to erase off the calendar.
For me, many mixed emotions flutter for Mother’s Day and anxiety looming up to the date. I am a mother, grandmother, and a surviving sibling of two lost siblings. I have a pit in my stomach knowing what the day means for my mother, try to be there for her, overshadowing what I feel as a mother. I cannot imagine how horrible the day represents to my mother having lost two daughters. Children and grandchildren are a diversion, but the underlying sadness prevails. Somehow, we muddle through the day. At the completion of the day, we heave a sigh of relief it’s over, exhausted from the emotional upheaval.
My wise grown children suggested we have another day to celebrate Mother’s Day to take some of the pressure off. I appreciate their love and caring. I do not need to celebrate Mother’s Day. I am grateful to be a mother and a grandmother and cherish time with family.
I recall precious memories of celebrating Mother’s Day with my beloved sisters Margie and Jane dressing up in our party dresses going out to dinner or feeding the birds on The Boston Common with stale bread. Today, I hold on to the boxes of handmade cards from my two special daughters.
Motherhood is the greatest gift I acknowledge every day. I hope that anyone who has experienced losses will find some peace on Mother’s Day and know others share their compassion.
My late father Ben gave on me countless years of advice and wisdom. I hear his voice and the words allow my actions and decisions throughout my life.
The night before I left home to venture off to a new life and career to work for Bloomingdale’s in New York City as a member of their Executive Training Program, my father sat me down and gave me parting words of advice, “Judy, there will be days you will love it, and days that you will hate it, but you must roll with the punches.”
Young, naïve, and aspirations to set the world on fire, I heeded these words. Devastated when a promotion I was certain to receive did not materialize, or when offered the exciting opportunity to move to Washington, DC, and the time I wanted to throw in the towel and quit after the death of my sister Jane, I tried to hear Ben Lipson’s words.
My nature did not always allow me the freedom to roll with the punches. Too sensitive, I take things personally. Often emotional and crying, my father there, a phone call away, cheering me on.
I left Bloomingdale’s in New York, and an offer to return after fifteen years materialized. Do I return in a support position not an executive position? Torn with whether to return to the store I had fond memories, and my life at a different point, I discussed the options with my father.
“Judy, I’ve learned two things in business, go with your instinct, and take a risk.”
I listened and remained at Bloomingdale’s for ten years. The opportunity proved to be the perfect fit as a single mother raising two daughters.
Naturally, I’ve made mistakes throughout my life. We all have and that is how we grow and learn. Despite the best guidance, we can steer on the wrong path.
One of our favorite Ben Lipson sayings to comfort in many times of upset, “Let not your heart be troubled,” or “this too shall pass.” How many times do we repeat these words of wisdom of Ben Lipson? Words that comfort me, my daughters, my grandchildren and hopes to keep his legacy alive.
I am grateful for his words and miss his daily calls. When my daughters ask my opinion, I can hear my father’s voice in my head and I often say, “this is what your Papa would say.” I will never be as wise or own such coin phrases of wisdom. I am left with the gift of the special man, my father.
After four months of recovering from a broken foot, I have returned to ice skating, to a sport that is my passion, joy, peace, and connection to my beloved sisters. Elated to be back on the ice with my skating pals and teammates, I know the process will be slow. Per advice of my coach, I wore my skates around the house and got used to the feeling of the skating boot. My foot and legs are weak after months of low activity and will need to build up my strength.
I stepped on the ice, huge smile, pushed one foot, then the other, glided on the beautiful slick surface, felt the breeze through my hair, and off I went. Surprised by my agility albeit slow, I stayed a short time. Encouraged by my fellow adult skaters, I was back home on the ice. Not wanting to leave, I knew it wise and take the process step by step. The uplifting feeling cemented back in my soul!
Four months is not long, but for me, skating is such an important part of my life on so many levels. Ice skating provided the piece to share my sisters with others that forbade me to do for so many years. Celebration of Sisters, the ice-skating fundraiser, offered the backdrop to envelop my sisters back into my life, complete and continue my journey of comfort, continue my circles of comfort.
The skating arena opened many doors to me with introductions to people from all over the country and world. The lessons learned from skaters of all ages pushed me to do things I never though or believed myself capable of. I skate for me, Margie and Jane, and the crucial centrifugal force skating ignites.
When I skate, my head needs to be clear of all my old insecurities. My head must be clear of questions of doubt. How do I look out there? What do others think? Another piece is letting go of judgement I felt whole life transferred to my skating ability. I need to focus on how I feel. That is the moment I skate with freedom, fun, and confidence.
From the moment I carry my skates out of my home, into the car, the feeling of serenity and excitement surrounds me knowing I am going to any rink to ice skate. As I place my feet into my white boots with the shiny blades and lace up my skates the calm, and tranquility continues. Sometimes I am alone or often with fellow skaters chatting about a sport with shared passion and support. As the Zamboni clears the ice to make the smooth surface for our session to begin.
As I step onto the ice, it is life a magic like the song from Aladdin, “A Whole New World,” shared by my sisters and me. My happy place, my sanctuary, my safe place.
Ice skating afforded a theme throughout my life. Wherever I seemed to be in my life, ice-skating fed the central line to my comfort, my identity, and my peace. Ice skating is the connection, the chord, and the strings that bind me to my sisters. The smooth, shining ice is a mirror to look in and vividly see my sisters and me.
This is the month of hearts and love, we mark February fourteenth with Valentine’s Day. It is my hope that everyone feels loved by someone in your life – a family member, a friend, or a coworker.
Love can be expressed in multiple ways - by a box of chocolates or flowers, phone call, a visit, a special memento, or a hand written note. Love does not need to expressed on February fourteenth but any other day or whatever feels right for you.
This year, I have a new love to send a Valentine card. A new addition to our family, a new grandson. I had fun selecting special cards for my children and grandchildren. I recall eating red hots and sweet hearts with my beloved sisters. We carefully chose the specific color or message and had many laughs eating too much candy!
When I think of love I think of hearts and remember my beloved sister Margie. She loved all things hearts. Red hot candies, assorted heart necklaces, heart decorative pieces, and she signed every letter and card with her signature colorful hearts. Most importantly was her heart – loving, generous, and large.
I treasure the hearts that once belonged to Margie. Thanks to Margie and my daughters, my home is surrounded my hearts and love, constant daily reminders that despite what I have lost I forever have love. I treasure Margie’s Limoge hearts and the ceramic hearts crafted by my daughters at camp with the inscription, “Love you.”
Another piece of love is music. For my first performance in Celebration of Sisters, I selected Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” I chose music that reminds me of my beloved sisters Margie and Jane, and resonates our deep love. When the music hits the deep beat of I Will Always Love You, I jumped onto my partner’s knee, outstretched my arm sharing my love with my sisters and all bereaved and lost siblings.
For those of us who have lost loved ones our hearts are filled with love and many other emotions. Where there is grief there is love. Where there is pain there is love. Where there is joy there is love.
What does love mean to you? Who are the loves in your life? How will you share love with your special person or people? We would love to know and hope whatever you do, you feel special too.
Judy Lipson, is the Founder of Celebration of Sisters, an ice skating fundraiser established in 2011 to commemorate the memories of her beloved sisters to benefit Massachusetts General Hospital. Judy has published articles for The Open to Hope Foundation and The Centering Organization. Massachusetts General Hospital and SKATING Magazine featured numerous pieces on Judy’s philanthropic work. Judy appeared as a guest on The Open To Hope and The Morning Glory Podcasts. Her passion for figure skating secured the recipient of U.S. Figure Skating Association 2020 Get Up Award. Judy’s memoir, Celebration of Sisters: It Is Never Too Late To Grieve, released December 2021 by WriteLife Publishing.