A Letter to Harper

It is October 10, 2020 and in tomorrow you will be 16 months old.  Your Mommy got sick and had to leave us just months ago.  I have been helping to take care of you and now Daddy is back at work and we have been together 5 days a week from 7am until 5pm.  These are the most precious hours of every day for me.  I love you so much.

We are having a lot of fun together – we laugh a lot, hug a lot and there are a lot of kisses!!  Yummmm!!  We often take a car ride to parks and sometimes take a social distance walk with friends.  

This week you learned to smell – your favourite book is Pat the Bunny and you like to smell the flowers on one of the pages.   You can read this book on your own because you know it so well.  Pat the bunny, peek a boo, smell the flowers, look in the mirror and read the book.  We found a candle that I gave your Mommy on a shelf behind a picture and you loved the smell so much, you licked it.  It’s Spartaberry from Sparta Candles and I absolutely love the scent too.  At the park you were picking and smelling flowers.You love Peek-a-boo.  It’s sure to make you smile and laugh.  You have a few other favourites and these past few days you really want to read a lot.

You learned to colour this week.  I have started a craft basket for you.  You like to hold a few crayons at time after you empty out the whole the box, colour a bit  while watching me closely and then you start putting the crayons back in the box.  I think you are learning some tidying up tricks from your Bubby because you like to take things out of their storage box and then put them back.  You are learning early that Bubby doesn’t like clutter.  Your favourite things are your musical instruments, your Lego Duplo blocks, your crayons and sketch pad, books, your toy kitty that meows and walks,  and that Bunny that sings “Do Your Ears Hang Low”.  You like to help me fold the laundry and put clothes in your dresser drawers.  Yesterday you took the laundry basket and started up the stairs with it.  You are my best Helper!! 

Auntie Paula went to the Rosetta McLean park with you and I this week.  When we got home there were 2 parcels at the door and Auntie Paula asked you if you could pick them up for Bubby.  You bent down, picked them up and carried them into the house and then passed them to me. You are so clever my little bunny.  You understand everything.  When I ask if you are hungry, you head to your high chair.  Is your diaper wet? You head to your change table. Ready to go out? Off you go the door?  Want to play downstairs? You go to the basement door.  Outdoor shoes? Indoor shoes? You sit down to get them on.  Well you usually start putting them on yourself.  Want to watch cartoons? You sit in your arm chair and get comfortable.  I am so proud of you as you learn and learn and learn!!

We had our first music class this season with Josie from “Music Together”.  Thanks Josie so much for gifting us this session.  When you were a teeny baby Mommy took you to their Sticks program and this time we are in the Bongo one. Fun!!!  You love to dance and now are learning to sing too,  In the tub you line your little fish up and then get them to dance and you sing do, do, do (Baby Shark).  Unfortunately Auntie Raya says Bubby does not have the correct melody or beat down but we don’t care and Auntie is promising to buy us the CD!  Your Mommy loved to dance to all kinds of music.  Auntie Raya remembers her always dancing and singing.  Leanne remembers Mommy dancing as she got ready to go out and then when she arrived at the party.  Jasmin told Bubby “YES she loved to dance!!! Whether it was being silly and singing in the kitchen, lip syncing in the car, or dancing while laying in bed with her legs in the air! Also had so much fun getting all dressed up and dancing at night clubs (back in the day! Ha!). So many memories dancing together.” One New Year’s Eve Mommy’s wish for everyone was Health,Happiness and Dancing.  She’d be very happy to see you dancing and singing.  We will do more and more. There are so many videos of Mommy dancing for us to watch together.

You are getting a new molar this week and you weren’t feeling 100 percent yesterday.  When you woke from your nap you cried out but when I came into your room, you wanted a bit more lounging time so I sat in the big rocking lounger and we chatted. You had rosie cheeks.  You have a mouthful of teeth and a couple of molars already but there are more to come.  We had a lot of extra snuggles and cuddles and a more subdued chat with Auntie Raya.  One of your favourite things is a video chat with Auntie Raya.  It is guaranteed to bring on big smiles and lots of kisses to the screen.

Last week you peed on the potty.  Bubby was so excited that I told everyone and even made a Facebook post.  We sing “Openings” the new release by our friend Shoshanah Jedwab and “Pee Pee on the Potty” which may be a Bubby original but probably not.  Shoshana even mentioned us at her launch party on zoom. You peed on the potty again this week as well as once on the playroom floor. That’s okay -we have plenty of cloths, water and soap for cleaning it up.

You love your food – your Mommy loved good food and so does your Bubby.  Since Daddy went back to work, he has been making a big container of berries and grapes.  If you see the container, you want some.  It’s your favourite.  You love FRESH fruit and vegetables the most. We went apple picking with Auntie Raya, Uncle Ben and Oscar and you LOVE apples a lot.  If you have one – you eat it all up non stop!!  Probably sweet potatoes are your most favourite vegetable and this month you have had cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, celery, red peppers, mushrooms, and spaghetti squash.  You like peanut butter toast a lot, oatmeal with blueberries, oatmeal pancakes, cottage cheese, plain yogurt, eggs ( egg salad, hard boiled, fried, scrambled with cheese).  You love muffins – even the almond ones I overcooked and you love the cornbread muffins from Aunt Paula and the banana blueberry ones from Gramma.  When we visited Auntie Raya for Rosh Hashana you had so many delicious foods that she made for you and you loved it all. 

Daddy and I are determined to teach you what we mean when we say NO but you are pretty strong willed so we have our work cut out for us.  We don’t want you climbing up the stairs on your own or going on to the road when we are walking even though that gravel is soooooooo tempting.  You are strong willed like your Mommy.  At the same time you have her sweet, loving and kind ways.  You have her quick and beautiful smile and your eyes light up and sparkle like hers did.  You are so clever and show us you have a mind of your own.  We will all teach you that you can do anything you set your mind to.  

Harper Rose Vered – I love you soooooooooooooooo much.

My Tovah Project: Coping with Grief

I’m grieving. I judge my grieving. Is it enough? Is too much? Will I spin out and lose control? For the first few weeks after my precious daughter died of cancer, I could only tell people, “I am broken”. I felt disbelief, loss, confusion and I was just so, so, so sad. Just sad and lost. I have been trying to find my way out – who will I be? How will I be? What will help to heal my heart? Who do I need? What do I need? What can hold my attention?

I never had a long attention span but since she died, it is even shorter. What can I do to honour Tovah’s memory?I created a memory wall in my home. It is here that I stand each day recite the Mourners Kaddish (prayer).I planted 18 olive trees in Palestine in Tovah’s name. You can do that too https://zatoun.com/trees-for-life/

Tovah’s Memory Wall

Tovah and I had so much faith that she was not going to die. We believed that a miracle would come. She told me every day that she felt her soul was in her body and that she didn’t feel like she was dying. I believed her with all my heart. We prayed every day. We wrote out our gratitudes every day. I wrote sigils on her that symbolizes healing.

Sigil for Refuah Shlemah, a complete healing

I understood we would have a long recovery ahead and that her health would be precarious but I believed that she would live. This was not how it was supposed to be. Tovah lived only 4 months after her cancer diagnosis. I’ve lost my baby girl and I miss her so much.

Tovah had a generous heart. She loved helping people and we know this for sure from the stories her friends continue to share with us. Tovah gave money to causes and she would often come to me to help her with a friend in need.

Recently an old friend contacted me and explained that he doesn’t have the money to send his daughter to university. We met 15 years ago in Jericho and have remained good friends ever since.My first time in Jericho spring 2005.

Jericho spring 2005

His daughter, Alaa, has dreamed of becoming a doctor for as long as she can remember. She and I had a video chat last week and I immediately knew that I wanted to help her. I felt a deep internal call to do this – I know Tovah would get behind me.

Alaa’s graduation 2020

I am calling it my Tovah Project. I want to raise money to send Alaa to university. She graduated with a 94 % average. She’ s sweet and shy and smart!I set up a new bank account and I named it Tovah’s Project. I will send the money directly to the university in East Jerusalem. Alaa will live at home and commute. She lives in a refugee camp near Jericho. She needs $4000 USD immediately for the first 4 month semester.

I lived in Haifa from 2004-2006. The situation in Palestine was very bad then and has only gotten worse over the past 14 years. So much worse and the opportunities for young people are very, very limited. The Occupation crushes the hopes and dreams of Palestinian youth.

I remember the day Tovah and I talked about the situation one day in late 2004 and I explained what I was learning about the situation of the Occupation and the brutal actions of the Israeli government to the Palestinian people. I told her about the organizations I was now working with. A few months later, I told both Raya and Tovah that I was called to stay and that I wanted to continue working to end the Occupation and to help the Palestinian people. I remember how supportive they both were..

I hope you will help me to help Alaa. She will make a difference and so can you. No donation is too small. $5, $10, $100. A share is as good as a donation so please repost the link on your social media. GoFundMe Help to Send Alaa to Al Quds University

Mom, you’ve got this: Words from beyond.

I miss Tovah so much.  I love hearing her friends tell stories about her.  I love talking about her with her sister and with anyone who knew her.  I love the stories and I love the pictures and I love the memories.  There are so many things I want to write about and so much I need to excavate for myself and it fills me up to get such wonderful feedback from those who knew her and from those who knew her from my stories.

I met with a medium last week.  She was recommended to me by a womyn I have known for many years and who is a member of the London Spiritualist Church.    I love visiting that church and have attended services from time to time over the past 20 years. I had a deep longing to connect with Tovah.

Lorraine is the spiritualist I worked with. We spoke by phone. She started telling me that she saw someone in ministerial garb around me – someone from way back – dressed in a brown tunic -like a monk.  His hands are in prayer and his head is bowed. He is praying over me.  She then said there is a woman around me with grandmother energy from my mother’s side.  My grandmother is telling me that things are happening but I shouldn’t let them bother me and to think of things happening as a puzzle and take a piece away to see the whole.  She told me that there are 2 younger people and 1 older person around me that are causing me trouble right now.  She told me that I am good at getting people to do things but I’m very good at just doing things for myself. She told me that these current problems are someone else’s responsibility and not mine.  She reminded me that we teach people how to treat us by how we treat them.

I then interrupted Lorraine to say I want to make contact with someone who had recently passed.  Lorraine then said she is smiling and she is standing behind your grandmother.  She has a healing process to go through.  She is so thankful to have had you as a friend.  I felt annoyed and said I was her mother.  Lorraine said but it seems she considered you a best friend.  She says that she is sorry she didn’t listen to you more. She wishes she had been a little smarter and that we didn’t always agree.  She heard everything you have said and says,  “Right back at you, Mom.”  I liked that because all I have been saying is Tovah, I miss you so much and wish you were here to raise your baby and to be with us.

Lorraine continued to talk about Tovah.  She says that Tovah was very clever and she achieved quite a lot.  She doesn’t have any regrets.  It was all part of her life lessons.  The monk is bringing her serenity.

Lorraine then asks me if Tovah was creative.  Lorraine said Tovah is showing her some of her artwork and that she is wanting me to look at it.  I assumed it was the pottery that she made in school and the painting of the butterfly that Raya has in her home.  Yesterday Raya and I went through a large container and in it we found a bag that neither of us knew about  with a sticker on it, “Artwork Do Not Bend”.  It must be from her studies at Beal Secondary school.  I went through the work and found a cloth with a woman on it that I have to assume is a self portrait.  Beautiful! I also found an old ring of mine that I must have given to Tovah.

self portrait
Tovah’s artwork

Lorraine now tells me that Tovah loved music and she wants me to listen to music.  She wants me to know that there are a lot of songs especially country music that resonated with her and that would be good for me.  Lorraine tells me there is a song by John Montgomery about a little girl hiding behind the couch and that her father killed her mother.  (I grew up in a violent home and this frightened little girl speaks to me.)  Tovah wants me to know that we are never alone.

Tovah has 3 ancestors around her right now and 3 angels.  Lorraine was clear about one being my grandmother and then described a man that I am certain is my father.  She said he has dark brown hair (not black) that is greying around a bit but he cuts it really short so you don’t really notice it.  He used a product called Vitalis and I think it made his brown hair appear much darker. I asked if there is another man there.  Remember she is doing this reading from me and she says that I have 14 ancestors with me.  She says there is and that he is 6 foot 3 or 4.  She says he is showing her 3 and then 4 fingers.  I never knew Hassan, my second husband, exact height.  I always say he was 6”3 or 4.  I know he is there.

Lorraine says that Tovah felt she was well looked after and was ready to go.  She decided that she had had enough.

She asked if Tovah had a sister.  She said she is holding a lot in and that I should encourage her to talk.  She said she has some concern that this will happen to her as well.  At this point Lorraine, while talking about Tovah’s sister, said she herself was having an overwhelming feeling of wanting to cry and told me that she had lost 2 younger sisters.

Tovah wanted me to know that she married Wesley because she really loved him. She said that I (SandraLaya) am following my heart and I am doing what she asked me to do.  She’s very pleased that I am determined to have things go as she wanted them to go.  She is confident that she asked the right person.

Lorraine now asks if there is a baby.  She says the sister (Raya) will be very instrumental in influencing the baby (Harper).  She told me to watch the baby and when she looks up and starts jabbering, she is talking to her Mom.  The hardest part for Tovah was leaving the baby.  She stayed longer and endured more for that reason.  She wanted to stay and love her as long as she could.  She realizes now she can still watch over her. My grandmother said that she is teaching her to do what she did when she crossed over.

Lorraine then asked if someone has lost a baby.  I told her that Raya had.  Raya’s son Henry Oliver was still born almost 9 years ago. She tells me that the baby is with Tovah.  He’s going to be close to Harper.

Finally she told me to watch for hummingbirds.  Tovah said, “Mom you’ve got this”. Thanks, Baby girl.

Our Life in our Magickal Cottage

Raya, Tovah and I lived in a little white cottage in London, Ontario for 10 years. It was not fancy.  I couldn’t afford any upgrades but I also didn’t want any.  I adored our wee bathroom with the wood paneling that resembled a sauna and our tiny clawfoot tub that I could comfortably soak in because I’m only 5 foot 2. I loved our country style kitchen with no counter space and no fan above the stove.  Tovah was constantly annoyed with me for broiling chicken without closing her bedroom door making her room and her clothes smell of chicken.  It still makes me smile.

Early in 1990 I sold our 3 story duplex.  I couldn’t afford the repairs and upkeep on the house.  We rented a lovely 3 bedroom home in the neighbourhood. With the sale of the house, I paid off all our debts, bought a new (to us) car and we spent the whole summer in Norway.  That is another story for another time.  We were in the rental only a year when the owner put the house up for sale and the next year was spent with real estate agents looking at our home, open houses and all that entails.  A whole year of it!!

One day I was sitting in my taxi – yup, I was driving a taxi full time that year.  I just didn’t have the capacity to work in a normal workplace environment.  I needed a break from bosses, corporate culture and all the BS that came with it.  So I’m in my taxi and I say a prayer.  “God, I need a house that my girls and I can live in until they graduate high school.  It has to be in the South Secondary School district.”  South had a great reputation as one of the best high schools in the city with about 95% of the graduates going on to post secondary schools.  That was my goal for my daughters.  I opened up the newspaper (that’s what we did in 1994) and there was a little ad “Rent to Own”, 3 bedrooms, Old South.  I called immediately.  Where is the house located?  It was exactly where I needed it – within the school district parameter. I’ll take it, I said.  The owner asked if I had seen it yet.  Nope.  He insisted that I go and look first and call him back.  I was annoyed since it meant checking out of work to go look and losing money that we desperately needed.  

I drove across town to find this adorable little white cottage.  I walked through to find 3 bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and a bathroom.  The basement was dry and clean and completely unfinished.  The backyard was ginormous!!! There was a long driveway and an old wooden garage.  Perfection!!!!!!!  I called him back and we arranged to meet at 4pm.  He told me the monthly mortgage amount – same as I was paying at the other house.  He said if I paid on time every month, he would get me a bank mortgage.  I found that very unlikely but a year later his wife cosigned for a mortgage and the house was really mine.  We lived there for 10 years. 

Our magical cottage

 The other miraculous thing he mentioned was that he knew we would want to paint and fix the house up so he would give me the keys right then and there.  We weren’t supposed to start paying for 2 months.  He said he didn’t live in town and he only asked if I was going to be there often to switch the utilities to my name!!  Later that day I called our landlord and gave notice asking if we could move in 1 month.  I had not put up a security deposit and there was no last month rent paid.  They called me back an hour later and asked if I would consider moving out earlier.  The end of the month was a week away.  I quickly agreed.  2 months without paying rent gave me the down payment I needed.  The next week was a whirlwind of cleaning and painting our new house, moving everything and cleaning up the old house.  I was working 12 hour shifts six days a week at the time.  My best friend Alice, Raya, Tovah and I became painters.  I bought our paint on the backroom shelf at the paint store for $5 a gallon.  Raya was about 14 years old and Tovah was 11.  We had our house and I had my miracle.  I chose fun colours – forest green for the living room, yellow for the kitchen, a green for my bedroom,  yellow in Raya’s and turquoise in Tovah’s.  A few years later it was evident that the colours were bothering Tovah and we painted her room and the living room white.  It was an instant attitude change for her.  

It’s a rainy summer afternoon today and it just reminded of similar hot and muggy days in our cottage home where I would sit out on the porch under the aluminum awning (listening to the sound of rain) stretched out on a papasan chair that I probably scavenged from the street. I loved finding things out on the street and bringing them home –  I still love a good find.  “Is that garbage?” brought a smile to all of us.  I once embarrassed Tovah because I took old railway ties that were out in front of the home of one of her friends.  They were there to be taken but Tovah was having none of it. Mom, how could you do that??  I found a child’s swimming pool and dug out a pond using the railway ties as a little walkway to it.  Hmmmm, wish I had a photo of that. Eventually I spent money on a pond liner.  I put in some goldfish and just loved this space.  I also had a hammock.  Memories that I am recreating on my little balcony here in Toronto.  Memories that bring Tovah into my space and hold her in my memory.

I can feel her here today as I can feel the humid summer air on my skin.  I have chicken cooking on a little indoor grill.  I would often grill chicken on an old gas barbecue that I inherited but I would fill it with charcoal because I also have a fear (like my fear of birds) of propane tanks.  I love summer so much and I hate using air conditioning after spending most of the year being cold.  This was an ongoing argument in our little house.  One day I came home to find an air conditioner in the kitchen window.  My girls had asked their father for one and he had come over and installed it for them.  Both their bedrooms opened onto the kitchen and this gave them the cool air they wanted.  I closed the door between the kitchen and living room where my bedroom door was.  Open windows and a fan!!! Summer breeze!  Summer bliss!

One summer I bought an above ground pool that was on sale at Canadian tire.  The upper rim was inflatable and you only needed to fill the pool from the outdoor hose and it took shape and we had a nice sized 3 foot pool.  At night the girls and I would wrap ourselves in sarongs and go out into the backyard – no lights on – and slip into the pool completely nude.  We’d swim around, talk, laugh and cool off.  Then into the house for a comfortable night’s sleep.  The girls with a bit of air conditioning and me with fresh air from my window.  

I remember one day I smudged the house with sage to clear the energy.  I don’t remember what was going on at the time but it felt like something that needed to be done.  I learned smudging when I had a contract facilitating a women’s group at the Oneida Community.  I have adopted it as part of my own practice since then.  Tovah came home from high school – the house was sparkling clean because that’s what I had been doing all afternoon.  Tovah was furious because she was certain that I had been smoking marijuana.  She wouldn’t believe that it was sage.  It’s funny because I don’t like marijuana (it makes me paranoid and is not fun).  There was no changing her mind or convincing her.  Tovah could have some very strong opinions.  For instance she was also absolutely certain that I ate raw ground beef. She swore she saw me do it!!   I never did but I did marinate steak and would eat it raw while putting it on the skewers to grill.  Just last year she was still convinced that I ate raw ground beef.  

At one point Raya lost her wallet.  She looked everywhere.  We all looked for it but we couldn’t find it.  One early evening Raya came into the living room and asked if I would use my pendulum and see if we could locate the missing wallet.  I felt it was worth a try but didn’t have much faith in the process.  I spun the pendulum – clearing the energy and asking for guidance.  All of a sudden Tovah comes barreling out of her bedroom and runs into Raya’s room.  We here some crashing and banging and then Tovah yelling, “I found it!”.  She had the wallet in her hand.  She said that she was sitting on her bed and out of nowhere she could see the missing wallet in her mind.  It was in Raya’s room tucked back behind a solid wood bookshelf.  That was my magickal daughter.

I asked Raya today what Tovah would have been doing in her room.  I realized that kids didn’t have the electronics they have today.  Raya said Tovah would try on clothes, play around with make up, do her hair and that she was always listening to music and both singing and dancing.  That’s my Tovah.  Raya asked Tovah’s friend Heather the same question and she said that Tovah talked on the phone ( we had a portable one).  She remembered Tovah’s comforter – white with jelly beans on it.  She didn’t think Tovah spent a lot of time in her room.  We often watched television together.  We ate dinner together almost every day.  Raya, Tovah and Mom – we were invincible, inseparable and we always had each other’s back.

Raya, Tovah and Mom in our little white cottage home

Visit From the Other Side

I have an irrational fear of birds.  I’ve had it as long as I can remember.  I have never seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”.  I’ve just always been afraid. It’s silly and irrational but it is what it is.  I especially think they are going to attack my head and ears!! That will explain my plan to solve this dilemna. 

My daughter Tovah was with me in October, 2006 when I found my apartment.  She looked out the window and said that it was perfect for me since the balcony was completely netted and would keep out the birds.  We always joked that her eyes were like x-ray eyes – nothing got past her.  This sealed the deal and I signed the contract.  I love it here.  Eventually Tovah met Wesley and moved near me which was an added blessing.  She loved this Beach neighbourhood as much as I did.

After Tovah died, people including her sister Raya, said that she was visiting them as a Robin.  A robin came up to Raya and sat at her feet squawking loudly at her.  I have never heard of a squawking Robin.  I said she wouldn’t come to me as a bird because she knows how irrationally afraid I am.  Raya said that she thought she would anyway.

Just a week ago, I met with a spiritualist.  I truly believe that she made contact with Tovah.  I will write more about it soon.  She told me that Tovah wanted me to watch for hummingbirds  – especially the way they flap their wings wildly and don’t move.  There is a message there for me.  I have visited a butterfly conservatory and they also had hummingbirds.  At first I didn’t think I could go in but in the end I did and found that the hummingbirds didn’t frighten me. I was sure that this was the bird that my girl would visit me as.  I was wrong.

This morning I found a robin on my 100 square foot balcony.  Inside!!! Pacing on the railing.  Sitting on my hammock! Flying around!!  Trapped!!! I didn’t know what to think or what to do!!!  I texted Raya and my brother Peter.  Help!  What should I do???

A few days after Tovah died, I woke at 2am and felt an incredible urge to sit on my balcony.  I felt compelled  to sit there day after day bundled up in blankets with warm furry slippers that both Tovah and I loved.  I started making my balcony my haven and I have spent hours there.  One of Tovah’s friends gave me a gift card and I used it to buy a hammock.  I bundled up and laid and rocked in it since late in April.  I often nap in it or sleep a few hours in the night.  I feel closest to my baby girl when I am on my balcony.  

This morning I found that robin – trapped and afraid.  My anxiety was over the top!! What should I do?  I wanted to do this on my own.  Face my fears.  Be brave.  My brother suggested a broom to gently nudge the bird up to rip in the netting.  Raya suggested getting someone to help or to contact my building manager.  She reminded me that the wee bird was also very afraid.  A good friend then  called me out of the blue and agreed that she could come around noon to help.  That was 3 hours away.  So what should I do?

I decided to try.  First –  a hat to protect my head.  I had a large floppy brimmed hat that belonged to Tovah. 

The floppy brimmed protection hat

I then took out my Priestess Pom Poms that had been given to each womyn in my cohort at our ordination last summer. 

Then I prayed.  I stepped out on the balcony waving my Pom Poms and she flapped her wings.  I moved toward the end where the opening was and waved upwards and out she flew!!!!!!!!!  The whole thing was less than 30 seconds.

Warrior Priestess

I miss you Baby Girl.  I love you.