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Holiday Wishes from Rabbi Rosove

Published November 27th, 2017 in Life Well Lived Blog | Comments Off on Holiday Wishes from Rabbi Rosove

“How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.”

-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Dear Friends:

ResoveAs we enter the holiday season, no sensitive human being can help but be aware of both the good and bad in our lives, in our country and around the world.

Rabbi Heschel reminds us, however, that it is “gratefulness which makes the soul great.” Our expression of gratitude for the gifts we enjoy, for family, friends, colleagues, community, and the people of Israel bond us together and offer a means to joy, fulfillment, and equanimity.

The author and mid-twentieth century Zionist activist, Ben Hecht, put it well with these words:

“Kindness, tolerance, integrity, modesty, generosity – these are attributes that events permit us. They are our holiday moods, and we are as proud of them as of the fine clothes we have hung away to wear on occasions.”

Each year, the holiday season returns us to family and friends to celebrate each other and our lives, and to remember. We rekindle gratitude for the good and we recall those we’ve loved and who loved us. It’s the season for us to restore the blessings of hope in their memory.

I wish for you and your dear ones a year-end holiday season of joy, generosity of heart, gratitude, hope, and peace.

I would wish, as well, that we take this holiday season as an opportunity to express our gratitude to our families, friends, and colleagues for being in our lives, to right the wrongs of its injustice, to soften hearts with compassion, and to restore the world through tikkun olam.

With peace and blessing,

John L Rosove

Senior Rabbi – Temple Israel of Hollywood

Los Angeles, CA

More Than a Memory

Published July 5th, 2017 in Life Well Lived Blog | Comments Off on More Than a Memory

Jackie Kossoff graduated from the University of Evansville in 2015 with a B.S. in Communication, and a B.F.A. in Creative Writing, which she put to use in writing this blog post.

Walking through Hillside Memorial Park park has become a weekly regimen of mine.  My usual route takes me past the lush, green hillside with the Jolson Memorial perched on top, where I watch the cars pass on the 405, wondering if they can see me or whether that would even be a good thing since the drivers’ focus should be on the road. I am constantly fascinated by the effect of the mausoleum’s stained glass windows from the outside, as they were meant to be viewed from the inside.

No matter where I go in the park, I am bound to run into visitors standing or sitting by their loved one’s resting place. The stories that are told just by the items left behind, whether a stone engraved with “Mom & Dad” or a teddy bear for one taken too soon, are powerful in their simplicity. I can sometimes imagine that I know a person’s whole life story.

Just over a month ago, I was walking through the park the week before Memorial Day. I was admiring the flags waving in the wind. A woman at the bottom of the hill approached me to ask for a flag for her husband, a Vietnam veteran. As flags had not yet been placed this far down the hill, I went to the Administration Building and brought one back to her. When I placed the flag at her husband’s grave, I noticed that he had passed away in 1978.

“Yes, it was a long time ago. He was only 30,” the woman said politely, no doubt recognizing the shock on my face.

I relayed my condolences to her with as much feeling as I deemed appropriate to a widow from a stranger. She thanked me and began to tell a little of her husband’s story.

They were married young and he had been drafted into the Army shortly after their wedding. He wasn’t gone long, but he had been exposed to high amounts of Agent Orange. Soon after returning to their newly purchased home, he was diagnosed with cancer. He died a few years later.

I’m just a few years younger than this woman was when she lost her husband, and I cannot even imagine the amount of grief she went through, losing the one with whom she had planned her entire future. I was extremely moved by her continued visits, despite the nearly four decades that have passed. I did not ask if she had ever remarried, started a family, or if she had already had children when her first husband died. All I know is that a wife who loves her husband still comes to visit him 40 years after his passing and wishes his memory to be distinguished with a flag for his service to his country, which cost him his life.

With Memorial Day and Hillside’s Father’s Day Remembrance Service just past, I have been thinking a lot about the notion that those who are gone only exist in memory. And I have to disagree. Those who are no longer with us in a physical sense will always be a part of our lives. Whether they live on through memory alone or through actions and deeds, such as placing a flag or treasured memento upon their grave, is up to those of us left behind.

The Truth About “Stages” of Grief

Published May 5th, 2017 in Life Well Lived Blog | Comments Off on The Truth About “Stages” of Grief

Holly Price received her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Hello and welcome, my name is Holly Price and  I am often asked about the different stages of grief.

The different stages of grief model was first introduced by the well-known psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and her 1969 book On Death and Dying, which was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients in Chicago, Illinois. Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief were adopted as a series of emotions experienced by those who lost a loved one. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Unfortunately, when a grieving person hears there are stages and we need to encounter each of the five stages, as this type of information may appear linear as if there are a set of guidelines in which one needs to follow. This type of misunderstanding may lead one to set unrealistic objectives in feeling better over time. In reality, however, healing from your loss does not have to be a linear process. Therefore, one of the most important things to remember is one person’s experience with grief and their healing journey is not the same as another’s.

While Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief are no longer viewed as a structural encyclopedia for the bereaved, we have learned a great deal about grief since On Death and Dying was first released. We have gained an understanding that grief is not in itself depression, as grief is a multifaceted response to loss that is felt physically, mentally, socially, and culturally. In other words, grief contains dimensions that are a unique set of feelings. Therefore, one of the best things you can do for the bereaved is to continue to reach out to them and remember: grief is not a set of stages to healing, but a journey that is a unique journey for each individual. Even Kubler-Ross noted later in life that the stages are non-linear and unpredictable progression one needs to go through in order to heal, rather, they are a collation of five common experiences the bereaved can experience in any order, if at all.

If you are currently going through the grieving and healing process and would like to join our Grief Support Group, please visit our Grief Support page to learn more.


A Phone Call to Mom by Michael Kass

Published February 22nd, 2017 in Life Well Lived Blog | Comments Off on A Phone Call to Mom by Michael Kass

Michael Kass is a facilitator, coach, award-winning storyteller and founder of The Center for Story and Spirit, a project dedicated to helping individuals, organizations (including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles), and communities to discover and harness the power of their stories to create change. Check out his Facebook and follow him on Twitter @michael_kass!

About a year ago, the staff at Hillside asked if I would share a story about my mother at their Mother’s Day Remembrance event.

This struck me as odd on a couple of levels. First, my mother was (and is) very much alive. Second, cemeteries had always seemed a bit solemn for the type of confessional, often humorous, stories I told. The thought that I might one day be asked to share a story about my living mother at a cemetery’s mother’s day remembrance ceremony had never come close to entering my mind.

The whole thing felt odd. Which is why I immediately agreed.

Over the next several weeks, I struggled with my story. My relationship with my mother is far from saccharine greeting card sentiments. It’s complex, conflicted, full of moments of pain and love, humor. . .you know, human. I did my best to capture that humanity in the story.

I submitted the story, fairly sure that my invitation to share it would be rescinded. To my surprise, it was accepted and even praised!

On the day of the event, I found myself nervous. Not because I’d be performing; I’ve shared hundreds of stories over the years. My nerves came from a deep fear of disrespecting the people who would be there to remember their loved ones who had passed on.

Who was I to tell a story about my mother in the face of their remembrance and grief?

When the moment came to share the story, I took a deep breath and stepped to the microphone. I looked out at the audience and did the only thing I know how to do: I told the truth.

As I spoke, I could feel the audience leaning in, laughing in recognition at some of what they heard, breathing as emotions stirred. And afterwards, a few people thanked me for my honesty and for honoring their memories. Speaking with them reminded me how powerful our stories can be.

I’ve included the story below.

Stories have the ability to capture humanity in all of its complexity, nuance, joy, grief, frustration, compassion, and wonder. When we share our stories, we keep our memories alive and reignite the memories, the spirits, of others.

My experience at last year’s Mother’s Day Remembrance inspired me to think about a few questions. Perhaps they will be as powerful for you as they have been for me:

What stories am I telling myself about my relationship with myself? With my family?

How do those stories empower me? How do they keep me small?

What deeper truths am I afraid to explore?

How can my story honor myself and others while embracing the ambiguity and complexity of humanity?

As a storyteller, I love hearing from others. If you feel inspired to do so, please feel free to reach out!


A Mother’s Day Remembrance

A couple years ago, my mother ended one of our rare phone calls by saying ‘I love you.’

For many, this would have been a completely regular occurrence. Almost a reflex, ending a conversation with an expression of affection. For my mother, not so much. This was the first time she’d ended a call like this.

My mother, and my relationship with her, is complicated.

She is a woman of powerful intelligence and drive. She spent her career helping women, minorities, and people with disabilities secure opportunities in science and technology, fields traditionally dominated by white men. Her dedication to equality and social justice runs deep. In the 1960s, she was deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement. She marched on Washington and attended rallies. Her involvement was more personal than most–she dated Reverend Bernard Lee, Dr. King’s confidante and close friend. Growing up, Bernard and other Civil Rights luminaries were regular dinner guests at my house. Only years later, when I studied the movement did I realize what a gift it had been to have these people be a part of my childhood, even if only in a small way.

A powerful presence with little tolerance for mollycoddling, she spoke truth to power. My junior year of high school, we had a ‘college preparation night.’ All of the parents and students assembled in the cafeteria to listen to our college counselor, Mr. Gage, talk about the college application process. Most of the other parents showed up in suits, dresses, or business casual-wear. My mother, for reasons that are this day beyond my understanding, appeared in a Chicago Bulls Warm Up uniform and hair freshly dyed a deep, resonant purple. As Mr. Gage intoned pompously that no one should be concerned about getting in to college, for, indeed, there is a college for everyone, my mother raised her hand and cleared her throat.

Caught off guard, Mr. Gage called on her. ‘When are you going to stop feeding these kids a line of BS? College just isn’t right for some people and that’s fine. You’re making some of these kids feel terrible.’ With that, she stood up and walked out, her nylon and polyester pants swishing with each step. My father and I looked at each other, shrugged and followed her out.

As we left, Tela, one of the coolest kids in the class, gave me a thumbs up and mouthed a few words at me: ‘Your mom is cool.’

It’s true. My mom was cool. She still is.

And there is another side to her.

My family ate dinner together almost every night when my mom wasn’t traveling for work. These dinners were far from the American idylls portrayed in Norman Rockwell paintings or on Leave it to Beaver. More often than not, my dad and I would heat up microwave meals while my mother abstained from eating more than a couple of peas. She’d light up a Benson Hedges Ultra Lights Regular and take long drags, a fan whirring overhead, spreading the smoke over walls yellowed with years of tar.

My parents would exchange terse pleasantries about their respective days. Slowly, the conversation turned sharper. It started as banter, almost like a 1940s screwball comedy, the two of them falling into an easy rhythm of verbal thrust and parry. Soon, however, the volleys would intensify, words becoming daggers. My mother would call my father fat (he wasn’t), he would call her smokestack, it would go on like this for a few minutes and finally my mother’s eyes would narrow and the corners of her mouth pull up in a tight smile. She’d point her cigarette and utter her favorite phrase: ‘You’re pathetic.’

It always ended the conversation. We’d clear the dishes and I’d go upstairs to do my homework.

That word, pathetic, haunted my childhood. There were times when I wanted nothing more than to ask my mother for a hug, to seek solace in a moment of adolescent heartbreak or insecurity. When I wanted to look into her eyes and see a bottomless well of unconditional love and acceptance. Or pride.

But I never did, the fear of showing vulnerability and being met with the tight smile and that epithet–’pathetic’–kept me silent. It repressed that instinct to seek and express affection. It worked itself so far into the fabric of my being that it became an unconscious part of how I related to the world.

And so when my mother ended our phone call with ‘I love you,’ it was more than a platitude or formality. In those three words, I heard a recognition that, at the age of 72, my mother wanted to change the frequency of our relationship. I heard that she understood that her relationship with me had fallen into the same pattern as her relationship with her parents–occasional phone calls punctuated by annual visits characterized by long periods of silence broken up by the odd outburst of angsty emotion–and that she wanted to end the pattern. Most of all, I heard that she wanted me to say ‘I love you’ back.

The words hung on the phone line between us. The silence gathered. Part of me wanted to say ‘I love you’ into the receiver, but the words got stuck in my throat. Old, long-forgotten wounds caught them in a web of fear and a desire for revenge. That young, wounded part of me wanted her to feel lost and small and inadequate and unseen. I started trembling. How dare she change the rules of our relationship?! I was supposed to just forget the years of passive aggressive oppression, the smoke blanketed childhood without so much as a discussion, much less an apology?

After a few more moments of silence, I said ‘Ok, talk to you later’ and hung up the phone with a mixture of childish triumph and a more pronounced sense of disgust with myself.

If the story ended there, this would be the strangest and possibly saddest mother’s day story ever. So there’s more.

That disgust sent me on a journey over the past three years that has taken me to South America and therapist’s couches. To the desert, into the darkest corner of my own heart, the places where that wounded kid who hung up the phone lived. And it took me to Puerto Vallarta last December to spend the holidays with my parents and their friends.

At one point, I found myself reading on a hammock swinging over a sun dappled deck. My mother came up to ask where I wanted to go for dinner. I looked up and saw her. Really saw her, perhaps for the first time. She looked younger than I remembered, a light twinkle in her eye. She’d quit smoking a few years earlier. She and my dad had spent the past couple of years enjoying retirement, traveling all over the world, having adventures. I saw all the compromises she had made over the years to provide for me, her battles against her own fears of experiencing and expressing emotion, a sense of curiosity in the world that had been rekindled by adventure after years of lying dormant.

I saw all this in a single sunlit moment. Before I could think about it, words slipped out: ‘You’re different. I’m proud of you.’

She looked at me for a moment. Then replied: ‘I feel different. Thank you.’

For us, this exchange went much deeper than ‘I love you.’ After all, that can be a reflex, almost a formality, and love is deeper and more complex than that. Real love, the kind of love I have found for my mother, is about acceptance and embracing complexity. My mother is fierce, wounded, passionate, sardonic, brilliant, funny, cutting, brave, terrified, cool and loving, sometimes all at the same time. She is a mother, my mother, and, even more importantly, she is deeply human, with all of the layers and beauty that that implies.

I am proud of her, proud to be her son, and proud that she, and our relationship, continues to grow, evolve, heal, and transcend the pain of the past to find new footing. And I’m grateful that she’s still here so we can find that footing together and carve a new path not just for ourselves, but for all of those who came before us.

This is my wish for my mother, and all mothers, both those with us and those who have passed on, on this Mother’s Day: that you be seen, acknowledged, heard, and celebrated in all of your multi-hued humanity. That you continue to grow and evolve, communicate and discover. That you are proud of what you have created as mothers, humans, and bringers of life into a sometimes confounding world. And, most of all, that you know that you are deeply, truly, and authentically loved. Thank you.

Make today the day to begin preparations for safeguarding your loved ones’ emotional and financial interests. Our dedicated Family Service Advisors are available to assist with Advance Planning—onsite or in the comfort of your home. Contact a Family Service Advisor today or call 800.576.1994 

The Best of Hands by Lauren LeRoy

Published February 22nd, 2017 in Life Well Lived Blog | Comments Off on The Best of Hands by Lauren LeRoy

Lauren LeRoy is a young funeral director in her mid-twenties who started the Little Miss Funeral blog several years ago to share her thoughts and ideas on the funeral industry. Check out her Facebook and follow her on Twitter @LttleMissFuneral!

I don’t really look the part.

That’s something that I’ve come to accept over the past few years. When I introduce myself to families as the funeral director, I see the confusion in their eyes as they look me up and down trying to calculate how I could possibly be the person who is going to be handling the arrangements for their loved one. It’s as if they’re trying to solve a mathematical equation and “young + female” just doesn’t add up to ​funeral director.

DSC_0404I honestly don’t blame them. If I were an outsider looking in I would be thinking the exact same thing. And yet, here I am.

Being young can be a disadvantage in many careers. I’ll be the first to admit that I would not want to be the first patient that a young doctor had to do surgery on. Give me someone with years of experience, right? Because of this, I have to work harder to gain the trust of those I serve.

Being female is only a disadvantage in the sense that it’s not the ‘norm’. History shows us that traditionally, funeral service has been a man’s field. So when I greet a family at the door of the funeral home and introduce myself, I can understand why they may be taken aback.

The thing of it is though, that when you have a passion for something, it does not matter your age, race or gender. I am a good funeral director and although it is safe to say that my skills do indeed improve the longer I practice, the passion that is in my heart to serve others has been there all along.

Many people say that being a funeral director is a calling. It is certainly a difficult career choice for many reasons. Long hours, unpredictability and constantly being surrounded by death does not always make for the easiest working environment. Those are just a few reasons why burn out rates are so high in the field. But the thing that keeps me going, is the satisfaction that I receive from helping people during a time when they could not help themselves. Funeral directors may work with families for a few short days, but those precious hours can seem like years to families who have just lost a loved one. The confusion and grief can be so overbearing at times that families have no idea what to do and that’s where the funeral professional comes in. I want to be the guide during such a dark time. I may not have as many years in the business as others, but I have the dedication, drive and compassion to work my hardest at making a death of a loved one a little bit easier.

I’ve had numerous families over the years confide in me and tell me how comforting it was to work with a female funeral director. Whatever the reasons may be, I am always happy to ease such a difficult time for others. Whether it be directing them on what to do next, sitting down and offering a listening ear, or just giving a hug, I honestly feel like I was born to be a funeral director. So maybe it is a calling after all. Regardless, helping people is something that makes me feel like my life has purpose. I receive questions about my career all the time, but more than anything else, I hear one statement being repeated over and over. Simply, it’s people just stating that they’re not sure how I do it.

But working in the death care industry is a gift. Although it does take a lot of hard work and dedication, if you let it, this industry can give you so much. I appreciate every second that I have with my own loved ones, because you never know what tomorrow holds. We all know that one day we will die. I think about my own death quite a bit, and although I hope that I will live a long and healthy life, I know that nothing is guaranteed. Because of this, I try to be the best person that I can be everyday. I don’t like to go to bed mad. I always say I love you to my family and friends and my husband is not allowed to leave the house without giving me a kiss goodbye.

Yes, being a funeral director is hard, but it’s a job that I am proud to do. Being able to serve my community and helping people during one of the darkest times of their lives has given me so much to be grateful for in my own life.

Being a young female funeral director is something that I am immensely proud of. I will take all of the weird looks and uncertainty from families, because I know that I will do the best job for them. And once the funeral service ends, they will be able to look back and know in their hearts that they were in the best of hands as well.

Make today the day to begin preparations for safeguarding your loved ones’ emotional and financial interests. Our dedicated Family Service Advisors are available to assist with Advance Planning—onsite or in the comfort of your home. Contact a Family Service Advisor today or call 800.576.1994