Courage, Caring, Laughter, Love: A Remarkable Journey
Amy Nadel Romanczuk
I am a stowaway on a remarkable journey. The main traveller is my mother, Ruthe Nadel, born 87 years ago on New York's East Side. In her four score and seven years, she has done both remarkable and ordinary things. But she did them all with true joy and immersed in love for the world. Whether it was being teaching assistant to Abraham Maslow (yep, the fellow of the Hierarchy of Needs theory in Psych 101) or discussing Jane Austen, she has a style all her own. She’s loved one man, raised 3 children (10 dogs, 5 birds, a few dozen guinea pigs and a assorted other critters), adored her grandchildren and great-grands. She has won hearts around the world with her spirit, courage and humor. She did all this while almost completely deaf from young adulthood, and while living with Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 50 years. For the past year, breast cancer has also been in the health mix.
Our "Bumma" (the nickname given to her by our son) sailed through initial treatment and surgery under the wonderful care of MUSC’s Breast Cancer team. In March, Bumma had a sudden, vicious recurrence. Because of the extensive scope of the disease, she opted for palliative treatment. She told me she'd had a good life, but that she had only one regret: “When the inevitable comes, I am sorry I will not be around to read the letters people send you about me.”
I looked at this tiny woman with the enormous heart, and thought “I can do that for you. And you don't have to be gone for me to do it. It can happen now.” With the help of my brothers, we have reached out to people she has known over her lifetime, inviting them to send a thought, wish, memory or whatever, to her now, before she's gone from us. What started out as a whim has turned into a life affirming, joyful celebration for and of our mother.
Emails started coming in immediately, followed by cards and letters. Friends worldwide sent care packages, stuffed animals, handmade gifts, photographs, drawings, poems, musical recordings. She received a beautiful comfort afghan from the nonprofit HeartMade Blessings. There is even a site online where a candle can be lit for her. As people shared their hearts with her, she shared their responses with us.
Our childhood friends recalled coming to our house just to look at her, because she was both beautiful and she talked to them, never down to them. Or how she demonstrated making a french twist, then shook her hair down like the proverbial librarian throwing off her bun and glasses and letting her inner tigress loose.
She showed one child to do wheelies in his wheelchair by demonstrating in hers. A busy executive remembered she helped him learn to take time from his urgent work priorities to cherish the here and now. Jazz greats at the Stanford Jazz Workshop would tumble like puppies in their eagerness to be in her company. The image of her zipping around on her mobile scooter, orange flag waving on the back, is a memory for many.
She has a huge following of people online, especially at www.bookcrossing.com, a book-lover's website she joined at the young age of 82. Her candor and unique style are adored around the world. She is a sweetheart: strong willed, outspoken, loving and generous. A true “oner”.
Our family is a family of storytellers. We thought we knew our history pretty well, but have been astonished to find so many acts of kindness attributed to Bumma. This experience has opened avenues to explore and learn, new stories for the grandchildren to pass on to their children, someday, about a remarkable woman. Our days are extra poignant as we learn more about this woman we love through the lives she's touched. And it has meant an enormous amount to her, to see that she has indeed helped lives and made a difference in this world. She and I made a pact in March: we would face this with Courage, Caring, Laughter and Love. She's kept her part of the bargain. I’m trying but am sometimes blinded by bittersweet tears.
I encourage others to do this same project with your own loved one, should the opportunity arise. Help show the wonder of how they have made a difference on this planet. One need not be famous to be extraordinary. I have learned that, and so much more, from one little woman I am honored to have as my mother.
|Ruthe Nadel,on the way back from first Radiation Therapy 2009|
Amy Romanczuk is a retired pediatric nurse, active BookCrosser , blogger and pysanky artist here in Charleston, SC. She, her husband and son, have shared a home with their beloved Bumma for the past 20 years.