Category Archives: Death of a parent

Suicide is not the answer. Celia’s story.

When failure is a good thing.

Celia, Cindy & SarahWhen failure's a good thing.

This story has been over a year in the making. I first drafted it on December 25, 2009.

That Christmas eve, my beloved mother Celia tried to take her own life. This story is about what lead up to her decision and what has transpired since she failed.

Failed. Had she succeeded, she would be dead.

Her failure wasn’t due to her lack of trying. She was quite methodical. Was it luck or fate that she had chosen to take some 60 pills but not the ones that would have killed her or that her niece made a routine wellness call just as she was overdosing.

At 87, Celia wasn’t doing well physicallly or emotionally. She was having chronic pain in her shoulder. She had reflex. She was basically miserable and didn’t want to be a burden on the family.

Lee and I were worried when her sister Sarah moved into a senior facility. While, we thought that it was good for Sarah and we were happy that Celia wouldn’t have to schlep her places. In a sense, the responsibility of worrying about Sarah, gave Celia purpose. Without that purpose, we were concerned that she’d lose her will.

She had become increasingly reclusive. It was a gradual process since giving up driving about a year earlier. She no longer wanted to go on weekly outings with her nephews.

It’s really hard being an absentee daughter. I moved from Pittsburgh after I was graduated from high school. My relationship with Celia had always been long distance. But we are kindred spirits. I can hear pain in her voice, see joy in her eyes, feel love in the air that surrounds her. She could never con me into believing that she was ok if she wasn’t. But I wasn’t there.

There was a lot that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that she was giving away her treasured possessions. Had I known, it would have been a red flag. In the weeks or months that lead up to December 24, she had unloaded her jewelry, her grandmothers samovar, and family photos. I can’t help but wonder what the people to whom she bequeathed the gifts were thinking?

She also gave her niece a key to her apartment, “just in case” something happens.

No one seemed to notice that Celia wasn’t her perky self. And if they did, they chalked it up to age. She was never a complainer. So when she did complain about her shoulder hurting, we were quick to recommend that see see her doctor.

Celia had seen Dr. W for years. He was like family. She loved and trusted him. I wasn’t so sure.

He ordered tests and prescribed drugs. Heavy duty drugs including Vicodin. He was treating her for reflux and a number of other typical senior ailments. More drugs. She was popping pills to kill the pain, stop the nausea, aid with sleeping, and help the depression. She could barely keep her eyes open. The pills didn’t help with the pain and her depression worsened.

Usually the upbeat life of the party, Celia had changed. This is her story.

I was concerned that she wasn’t eating.

She also was shaking a lot and her doctor said she had Parkinson’s and prescribed more drugs. (She actually didn’t have Parkinson’s; it was a misdiagnoses).

Celia continued to complain about her stomach, shoulder and exhaustion. She couldn’t stay awake.

I was usually able to cheer her up. I know that she looked forward to our weekly calls. I started to call daily and it didn’t help. Her goodbyes sounded final. “You two take care of each other.” It wasn’t right. She was saying goodbye.

I didn’t like that Celia was taking so many drugs. I called Dr. W to complain. I wanted Celia to see a psychiatric social worker. I asked her niece to throw out the Vicoden. Celia weighed 110 pounds. The pills were’t helping  anyhow and I thought they were contributing to her depression and excessive sleeping. They were probably the cause of her stomach issues too. No one listened.

However, God was on our side that fateful December day. Celia was rushed to the hospital. They didn’t pump her stomach because it would have been too hard on her heart. They monitored her for 24-hours. The triage doctors recommended that Celia be committed for psychiatric help. They said there was no alternative. She couldn’t go home.

The program at Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric was amazing. We found a new medical team consisting of geriatric specialists, an internist, psychiatrist, gastroenteritis, etc.

Lee and I spent New Years by her bedside. She wasn’t particularly happy that she survived, but we were working on that.

The counselors highly recommended that Celia move into a senior facility. Being alone was not acceptable. Celia was sad but not resistant. She understood that she needed to get better and that living alone was too isolating.

We researched the alternatives and found a lovely senior complex that she could afford not far from her apartment. Schenley Gardens had full services including PT and medical care on-site. The apartments are small but functional and the community space offered everything that you could want. The food even seemed good!

Celia spent several weeks at Western Psych and moved into the new apartment once discharged. The care there has been fantastic. And now, a year later, she is pain free, has new friends and enjoys an active social life. Her Joie de Vie is back.

She goes on outings, enjoys on-site entertainment, movie nights, concerts, book clubs, and most importantly, loves the caring staff that looks after her every need. She feels a little like a princess. She is safe and comfortable. And, while she still doesn’t want to be a burden (she never has been), she is enjoying her life and family as much as we are enjoying her.

Celia is a fabulous mother and aunt; an incredible person. She is important and vital, caring and compassionate, a love who is loved by so many.

Suicide was not the answer. I am so thankful as is she, that she had a second chance.

For anyone who has contemplated suicide, please think of Celia and don’t succeed. Choose life. Tomorrow will seem so much brighter.


Filed under Aging Parents, Baby Boomer, Death, Death of a parent, early parent loss, Mommy Blog, Senior Lifestyle, Suicide

How well do we know each other?


Miriam’s Story.

We picked up two large plastic bags of clothes, a box of photos and my baby portrait from Weinberg Village,

Miriam Kurmen

Miriam’s home for the past 10 years.  She lived in lock down on the fourth floor dementia ward. Don’t get me wrong. Weinberg Village is a lovely place and the care given is top-notch. It couldn’t have been better. I stopped in to express my long overdue gratitude to the angels of mercy who cared for my aunt in my absence and for all the others whose care they are entrusted. Their job is truly thankless. They are the lifeblood to so many, and for Miriam, her savior. She would have been long dead if it were not for them.

Miriam passed away on March 7. She was 91. Single, never married and my father’s only living sibling.

But, how well did I really know her? As I gazed at the bags, I couldn’t help but wonder. It this the sum total of what was left? Two bags and a box. What could it tell about my aunt who lived most of her life in a self-imposed solitude.

While her death certificate read March 7, she really died 10 years ago when dementia took over her mind. It was a gradual process. The defining moment was when her car was stolen from in front of her house. She reported it daily for a month. As her only living niece, I was the only person who could help which is kind of ironic because I was always her least favorite. I was, however, the closest living survivor.

I’d like to think that I imagined it…her distaste for me. But even my aunt Sarah recounted a memory of when I was only three and Miriam was arguing with me about something. She couldn’t understand why Miriam was picking on a three-year old. Sarah said that even then, I ignored her.

Now years later, picking up her remains, I have to ask:  how well did I know her? I knew that she was an “old maid.” Not something that I called her but often heard in whispers around the house. She was 37 when I was born. Hardly an old maid by today’s standards. But in the 60s, an unmarried woman of 37 was considered past her prime. Miriam seemed not to mind. She had a group of friends, all unmarried. All interesting, mostly educated and all attractive. She was perhaps the most intellectual. They traveled together and often talked of their escapades with men they had met at the Grossinger’s in the Catskills.

Today, we would question whether or not Miriam was a lesbian. She wasn’t. At least I don’t think so. She loved men. Her favorite was my brother Phil. And, while she loved to fight with my father Charlie, he was a close second.

She wasn’t, however, so crazy about women. At least, not my mother or me. She did seem to like the underdog though. She maintained a relationship with my father’s first wife Ann and my half-brother Marshall. It didn’t seem to bother my mother Ruth. She was always kind to Miriam and even took her in during her bout with bone cancer in the mid-60s.

I wasn’t alone in not really knowing Miriam. No one really knew why she never married. She didn’t talk about it.

I was four when my grandmother Dora passed. My brother and I were visiting Miriam. My father and mom were at my other grandmother’s house across the street. I remember the phone argument like it was yesterday. Miriam was yelling at my dad about the funeral plans. It was when I learned that my dad was adopted and not “really” Dora’s son. It turns out that my grandfather Isadore arrived in Pittsburgh in the early 1900s, young “Saulie” in tow. A single man with a son.  He married Dora Mervis and they had two children together, Miriam and Maury. My father was their older half-brother.

As the telephone fight ensued, I couldn’t stand listening to Miriam’s maligning my dad. I left and walked across the street to join my parents. Phil stayed.

Miriam always found something wrong. She didn’t like my bangs, the way I wore my hair, or the clothes that I had on. She wasn’t crazy about my friends and she thought my parents loved me more than they loved my brother. She loved to criticize everything about me.

When it came time for Valentine’s day, she’d send my brother a large box of chocolate. Me, a small one. My mother was furious. She returned it telling Miriam to treat us equally or not at all. Miriam just grunted and mumbled, she’s just a little girl.

My feelings were always hurt and for whatever reason, I knew that Miriam just didn’t like me. I didn’t know why. It was just the way it was.

If Miriam were alive today. I don’t think that she’d disagree. She once told Stefanie, her social worker, that she didn’t know why I treated her so well. She had treated me so poorly.

Well, Miriam, you have my dad to thank for that. He never held a grudge, no matter what someone said or

Miriam and Cindy this past January after Miriam's stroke.

did to him. Aside from being a good role model, he also made sure that I always visited and called Miriam. I can still hear him ask: “did you call Miriam?”

It made me crazy but dutifully I called. And long after he was gone, I continued, making sure to visit, call and ultimately taking over…the bills, the care, the advocacy… everything to make sure she was comfortable and well care for.

As difficult as she was in her youth, she seemed to mellow in her senility. While others around her were loud and argumentative, Miriam was kind and gentle. Polite and appreciative. Something that she had in common with my father. In the end, they both knew how to make others feel good about themselves and in return, they were treated well by caregivers.

I watched in amazement. When my dad was sick and in the hospital, every doctor and staff person would stop by to ask “Mr. Kurman, how are you today.” He introduce the nurse like this: Cindy, this is nurse Mary, isn’t she beautiful? Or Cindy, this is Dr. Jones, such a handsome man and great doc too!

Wouldn’t you stop by to say hello and be complimented? They all did faithfully.

In many respects, Miriam turned out the same. The staff at Weinberg remembers her as a kind, quite woman. Never a problem. Always nice. And she genuinely always seemed happy to see me. Luckily, she always remembered me and was eager to introduce me to the other people sharing her Weinberg space.

But who was she? While she couldn’t remember what happened five minutes before, she could remember what happened 30 years ago. But she was never a big talker. And, rarely talked about herself or about her life.

I was surprised to learn that she saved every canceled check that she had ever written. Her attic was full of them. And reviewing them gave me insight to who she was. She made a lot of small donations $10 here and $20 there. Dozens of charities, mostly Jewish ones, and ones for animals.

She also saved ever letter that my dad sent to her and my grandmother during the war. Details from every port. Discussions about their living situation. The sales receipt for the home he bought them on Mellon St.

I was surprised at how eloquently my dad wrote. I knew that my mother was a writer. She made a living at it. I had no idea that my dad was equally talented.

What I didn’t find was equally telling. No hidden boxes of love letters. No personal memorabilia. Really not much more than some knitting needles, embroidery hoops, plastic jewelry and tchotchkes from exotic trips and the synagogue.

The most that Miriam ever talked about herself was at my 50th birthday. She was over medicated and giddy like I had never seen. I actually hired a private nurse to help manager her for the affair.

We had a large group of friends and relatives. Since Miriam was so talkative, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask the burning question.

Did you ever have a boyfriend and why did you never get married? The answer was sad and perhaps helps me to understand Miriam better.

She said: “I was in love once. He was a boy. He wasn’t Jewish. My mother told me that he was anti-semitic and that I couldn’t marry him. I told her that if we couldn’t marry, I will never marry. And I never did.”

That had to have been more than 70 years but at that moment, for Miriam, it seemed like yesterday.

I’m guessing that every family has a Miriam. In the end, I don’t really believe that Miriam didn’t love me. She just thought that I was loved too much by others and didn’t think that I needed any more. I’m not sure if this makes sense or not, but I think this is how she felt. I do know that she appreciated all of the things that I did in the end. She permitted me to provide for her and whether or not she felt deserving, she was comfortable. My father would have been proud.

I’d love to hear your own story. Tell me about the Miriam in your life.


Filed under Aging Parents, Baby Boomer, Death of a parent, Mommy Blog, Senior Lifestyle

Sunday Supper with Grandma

I don’t know what it was like for you, but in my family, Sunday’s were relegated to family time. It meant a weekly trip toNorman Rockwell, "Freedom from Want" Pittsburgh to have dinner with my grandparents and whatever family could join in. I spent my first 13 years at Mellon Street in East Liberty, every Sunday. It was the ritual.

The routine included my attending Sunday school, picking up awesome Italian lunch meats from DeLallo’s in Jeannette, and fighting over the Pittsburgh jaunt. It really wasn’t my father’s favorite thing to do. Although, the trip often included stops at local jobbers where he could pick up stock to supplement his stores inventory. Dad owned a mens and boys clothing store in downtown Jeannette. After lunch, we all packed into the car and made the 28 miles drive.

The visit was for my mother. And whatever Ruthie wanted, Charlie was ultimately happy to oblige.

I remember those days fondly. After my mother died, I did everything I could to continue the tradition. Stepping into her shoes, I needed to make keep that the family connection. And, like my mother before, my dad was happy to reluctantly go along.

The aunts, uncles and cousins weren’t as eager to join. My mother, it seems, was the glue that kept us together. Without her, they didn’t see the need to keep the ritual. They had their own families and they were making new traditions of their own.

Since it was important to me, I made the calls, made sure that we were invited to family functions, and basically kept the ball rolling. While I had some resentment, I thought that being with us was too difficult for them. My father was depressed. I looked and acted like my mother. And we were a constant reminder of everyone’s lose. Right of wrong, it was the way things were to be.

What’s your experience?

Henceforth, I’d like Sunday’s to be “Family Supper Day” on my Mom and I Blog. I’m looking for guest posts. I hope that you’ll share your stories with us.  You can send your post to MomandIBlog(at) Every Sunday, I’ll tell your story.  You can always add a comment. I appreciate all of the input that I’ve gotten so far. Keep it coming.


Filed under Aging Parents, Baby Boomer, Death, Death of a parent, early parent loss, Mommy Blog, Senior Lifestyle