The Layers Project Magazine

Insights Into The Lives of Jewish Women

Kerry’s Story: I Choose Joy

Shira Lankin Sheps | Categories: Profiles

(1/6) “Twisted”

“I had a terrible blinding pain in my abdomen, which passed an hour or two later. I thought I had a stomach bug and went along with my business. It happened again a month later, the morning of a concert that I was supposed to be giving here in Israel. I called the organizer telling her that I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, spent the morning throwing up and then eventually felt well enough to put my wig on and perform in the concert.

A couple months later it was Tisha B’av, and everyone in the house was getting ready for the fast. They were getting dressed and brushing their teeth, and all of a sudden I couldn’t talk, I felt like I was in, ‘Zombie mode.’ I applied hot water to my stomach, lying in the bathtub wondering if I was dying. The hours kept passing with the pain not relieving as it had before, and I realized I needed to go to the doctor.

The next morning the doctor suggested that I had a ‘Twisted Ovary’ and they immediately did an ultrasound and sent me to the hospital. I right away went into emergency surgery.

Before they put me under, they made me sign a form that said that I would allow them to take my ovaries out if need be, and at 37 years old, I was hysterical. I already had four sons, but I wanted to have more children and it was all happening so fast. I was freaking out while being whisked away. I was afraid I was going to die.

When I woke up from the anesthesia, the pain was gone. I was alive, and they left my ovaries. I was so happy that it was over. Over time I healed, and I didn’t feel like a trauma while healing from it. It felt like God was good. I had experienced pain, and He fixed me. And now my life could go on.

Yet, there was a lingering feeling that there was something not 100% with my body.

Soon enough, I had my first miscarriage.”

 

 

 

(2/6) “Broken”

“I was teaching tap one day, and I was around two months pregnant. I knew I was expecting but it was still early.

Before class, I got up to go to the bathroom and the fetus just fell out of me. That loss didn’t crush me, because I knew that people had miscarriages, and it was early on in the pregnancy. I just told myself, ‘Ok, I guess you are not going to have this baby.’

The next time around, it took longer to get pregnant, but I did. After four months, I was starting to show, and I told people that I wouldn’t be teaching tap that semester.

I knew already that I was having a boy. I knew I might never have a girl, but I was comforted because for the first time I had men who had died that I wanted to name after, so we had a name all picked out.

One day, I was lying in bed and my water broke. All my births began  with water breaking and I thought to myself, “I’m going to lose this baby.” We called the ambulance and as they loaded me in they assured me that I was going to be ok. I told them, ‘It’s not ok. I’m losing this baby.’ They said, ‘Well, you don’t know that for sure.’ and I said, ‘Yes I do, my water broke, this is it.’

I felt that my first miscarriage was a prep for this significant loss.

They confirmed at the hospital that the baby had no heartbeat. I then waited to give birth. I was shaking and shaking and shaking and the nurse threw water all over me and shook me out of the trance I was in. The baby came out of me in the bathroom, the nurse cut the cord, and I never saw that baby at all.

When I got home, I sunk into depression. I didn’t know what depression was, and when I awoke in the mornings, for the first time in my life, I felt like I could not get out of bed. Time went on and I told myself, ‘OK Kerry, you are going to mourn for six weeks, you are going to visit your mother, and then you are going to move on.’ I went to Florida and my mom took care of me. She made me food, we went to the movies, she nurtured me. And then the time had passed and I went home and resolved to be ok.

I started spinning, and jogging and different forms of exercise and I told myself that I was strong and I was healthy, and that I would be ok. But really, I felt broken, body and soul.”

 

 

 

(3/6) “The Continuum of Mothers”

“I felt like something was physically wrong with me, between the twisted ovary and two miscarriages. I still wanted more children, but I felt that my body had changed, my fertility had changed, and I mourned for those things.

My husband and I decided that it was more important for me to stay healthy. I try to put that ‘what could have been’ feeling away. I didn’t feel healthy physically and I had to make the decision that this stage had to come to a close.

It was a huge loss.

I knew my fertility was over. I never had a daughter. I never had the opportunity to name for the men in my family who had recently passed away. I lost the image of the large family that I wanted.

I practiced a lot of gratitude because living in gratitude is healing. I appreciated that Hashem gave me the sons that I do have. I decided that these children that I have are enough. My boys are enough. I don’t need more to be happy.

I was in the hospital three times over a year and a half, and I felt that something was wrong with my body. I had accepted that my fertility was over, but I had to remind myself that I was strong and healthy.

I got in my mind that this 3-kilometer loop in my neighborhood was the amount that a ‘healthy person’ could jog. So I started, even though I wasn’t in good enough shape yet to do it. But I kept going, through every breath telling myself, ‘You are strong and healthy, You can do this, You are going to enter your 40’s, and you are doing this.’ I would secretly tell myself that I was training for a marathon.

Time pushed on, and when my mother had back surgery and I went back to Florida to help her.

I am so connected to my mother. We take care of each other, and I believe the idea that my life and my mother’s life are on a continuum. I believe I am living the continuation of her life, and she is so proud of me for living opportunities she never had.

So it was devastating to me when, after the surgery,  she was in agony and screaming in pain, even though it was considered a successful surgery.

A week after surgery she was in a rehab, and she developed a blood clot. She said she wasn’t feeling well and she had her blood drawn. I left for Shabbos dinner and when I returned there was an ambulance outside the facility. It was my mom being taken to the hospital. Her numbers were so low, and on the way to the hospital she said, “There is something wrong with me,’ and I told her, ‘No, you are going to be fine.’ She responded, ‘Kerry, I can’t feel my legs anymore.’

The feeling in her legs never came back.”

 

(4/6) “Caregiver”

“She thought she would be able to take care of herself in Florida. We had a helper, but it wasn’t enough. She was not OK there by herself. So we made plans for her to come live with me in Israel.

The first three months we had no help, so my husband and I were in charge of everything for her care. Every three hours she has to be moved from one side to the other. Her sanitation needs have to be taken care of. We have to feed her, make food for her, change the TV channel. She is paralyzed from the waist down. We needed to redo our basement and make sure we had everything she needed; bed, lift, shower chair… it was huge.

Now we have a helper, but it’s still a tremendous amount of work. I am not the most patient person. But she is counting on me to make her life good. I feel like I make it good. If I invested more it would be better. But I invest as much as I can, and that is how I live with myself.

I used to have a wall of guilt. But now I try and contain it because she would be happy if I spent all day every day with her. And I never can give her as much as she would want. When you are the number one joy in someone else’s life, and they can’t have a full life of their own, you can never give enough. If she gets all of me, I lose the life I have made for myself.

But my mother gets so much joy out of me having a fabulous life. She enjoys everything I became; a doctor, performer, having friends- she loves it. It makes her happy to see that I can do things that she couldn’t. She is proud of me and wants me to live my life, and be with her a lot. So I try to balance it all.

Shortly after my mom got sick, my dad had heart surgery, and then had dialysis and then had a stroke. After the stroke, he stopped talking. Both of these events happened to my parents within a year and a half span. Then I turned 40, and I began to understand the full measure of what was behind me and what was ahead of me. It made me reckon with what I wanted to do with my life.

I think there is a deep psychological connection between what happens our parents biologically and our psyches. Mine were experiencing paralysis, stroke, diabetes, heart diseases and more and it felt like it was a part of my genetic makeup too. I started wondering if the ages they got sick would be the ages that I would get sick. Would what happened to them, happen to me? I was afraid that it would be my destiny, too.

Part of me was already there because I felt so physically broken. I was trying to pick myself up, but engaging with the reality of all the illness that was present in my life made me feel so sad and heavy.”

 

 

 

 

(5/6) “The Running Release”

“I used to see the frum women jogging in my neighborhood, and I would say to myself, ‘I don’t want to feel the way I feel inside. I want to feel the way they feel when they are moving.’

It was a commitment that I made to start running. When I run, it doesn’t even matter how I feel when I start. It was a health imperative. I just couldn’t be the person that I was. I didn’t want to be my parents. I felt sluggish, I felt nothing, I didn’t feel good. But I didn’t care. I wanted to be a person who runs.

I self-identified as strong and determined. So I was going to do it. And I would set new goals for myself till I was doing long-distance running. I would start, and feel sluggish, and motivate myself. And after an hour, I was just done.

Then, I wouldn’t even see it coming, I would have the deepest cry, a full body emptiness. Because just then my physical being would match my emotional being. I was depleted of energy, finished, couldn’t take anymore. I would cry and cry, about my mother, father, my miscarriages, my body not working, life being so hard and everything I’ve had to deal with. All the sadness and challenges in the world. And how it was too heavy for me to hold.

On top of that hill, I would rally, and tell myself that I could do this. Slowly I would keep going, and adrenaline kicked back in, an energy wave comes by. Then I would feel good. My body was moving well. I was strong. Life was good. At the end, I would be so exhausted, but it didn’t even matter. I had proven that I was strong and determined. That I was healthy. That I would be ok.

Sometimes I lie in bed exhausted at the of the day, and I let my body sink into the mattress. I begin my mantras of relaxation, trying to calm my body to sleep. My brain immediately goes to my legs and imagining them being paralyzed.

So, I run cause I can. I run because my mother can’t. I train for marathons because I am strong and healthy and my mother is paralyzed. I have to remind myself that my legs work, and I am not my mother. That she wants me to be healthy. That my destiny can be different.”

 

(6/6) “Choosing Joy”

“I think a lot of people think that if you choose to live joyfully, that somehow that invalidates or belittles your pain. I spent such a huge percentage of my life in the midst of trauma, and if I didn’t choose joy, I would have been miserable half my life. For me, I’m a naturally joyous person with a bubbly personality. I’m always inclined to be joyful- it is who I am at my core.

I compartmentalize. I take the pain and sometimes I put in on the shelf. Then I grab what I call, ‘Simcha Moments,’ if I come across of moment of joy, I immerse myself in it. In those moments I can put aside what happened to my mother, what happened to me, and I can get lost in the happiness I enhance for myself. I spend a lot of time developing my joy.

I am Rebbetzin Tap. I am a cheerful children’s performer, always encouraging both kids and adults to find their joyful creative spaces. I started a Facebook group called, Kol Isha, where women post videos of themselves performing for other women to enjoy. A women’s only performance space online. And I don’t see a conflict between the happy playful character, and having challenges in your life.

I feel like I am just choosing life, and it doesn’t belittle my trauma or struggles by allowing myself to be happy and fulfilled. Making that choice allows me to heal myself. It doesn’t help my parents, or anyone struggling if I feel only sad. It might make me feel like I was honoring that person or loss by staying in a sad place. But it doesn’t truly help them, and I would rather choose action.

I am also a chiropractor and certified life coach, and all day long I speak to women about their health issues and emotional pain. There are certain emotions we get comfortable with and ascribe meaning to.

I know for myself, I would always come back to feeling lonely or not included. It was a safe space that was predictable, and I used to return there often. Then I would stop and realize that feeling didn’t serve me. I did not live a lonely life, as my life is very full. I had to ask myself- was that feeling true? Did it help anybody? Did it serve me? Do I need that feeling in my life? Maybe I could choose to feel a similar emotion like thoughtfulness, or caring, which would serve everyone much more, instead of victimhood. Pity doesn’t serve anyone, including me.

Just like my mom wants me to be happy, I also think Hashem wants me to feel happiness too. So I have decided that I too want that for myself.

In the end, my core is joy. I think my mission in this world is to bring others joy, too. I want to be a role model in that way. I want to show people that what joy means is the commitment to being loving every day, and do chesed for others. It means that when there is anything that I can find that can make me laugh or bring me to a bubbly place, I grab it right then.

I am going to make the most of the best moments even through the pain.

Pain is so easy to find. It lies right at the surface of our consciousnesses. So, we sometimes have to make joy for ourselves. And when we find it, we must foster it, and develop it like a muscle. Because choosing that kind of life, is a much better way to live. ”

 

About Shira Lankin Sheps

Shira Lankin Sheps graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work with an MSW in clinical social work. After working in the clinical field, marketing and photojournalism, she decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community. She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience. Shira is the founder, Publisher and CEO of The Layers Project Magazine.

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