Piece #21

Last Thursday my closest and dearest friend Harold was having a triple bypass operation at the Royal Victoria Hospital. I first met Harold on our first day at McGill University nearly half a century ago.

I was so anxious and so nervous about the outcome of such serious surgery that I spent the entire day at the hospital in the ICU waiting room to make sure he would be okay.

After seven hours that seemed like an eternity, Dr. Kevin Lachapelle, an amazingly gifted surgeon, came out of the operating room to tell me and Harold’s daughters that the surgery had been a success.

I went home exhausted but relieved. Before hitting the sack, I arranged for a ride back to the hospital the following morning at 7.

When I woke up the following morning, there was a message on the phone. I thought it was probably a confirmation from the driver who was coming to pick me up.

I was wrong. The message was not from the driver. The message was from the group home where my sweet kid sister Cindy had lived for many years.

I tapped the phone to play the message and heard the distraught voice of the woman who runs the place.

“Tommy, you have to come immediately. Cindy has passed away.”

The world stopped. My heart stopped.  It must be some mistake. I played the message again. It said the same thing.

“Tommy, you have to come over immediately. Cindy has passed away.

When I arrived at her place, I had a tough time getting to see her. I was told I could not see her right away. Police said there were papers that had to be filled out. They told me some people prefer to remember loved ones as they were at happier times.

She was my sister. I had to see her. And I did. As she lay on the bed, she looked beautiful and very much at peace.  She had died in her sleep and never come down for breakfast.

I just stood there at the side of her bed sobbing silently asking her forgiveness for anything I might have ever said or done that might have upset her in any way.

Cindy looked like she would wake up at any minute. There was no breeze, Nothing moved but I felt something. Nothing physical. It was just a sense that some part of her, one billionth of a billionth of a part of her knew that I was there.

And that meant the world to me.

It was not easy for me to see Cindy the day she died and I recalled that it was not easy for me see her the day she was born on a bitter cold November morning in 1964.

My mother had been pregnant with Cindy at my Bar-Mitzvah although we did not know it at the time.

Cindy, you see, was a surprise. My mother had been in hospital for a goiter operation on her neck when a resident came in to say that her operation would have to be postponed because she was pregnant.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I am not pregnant. I vant to see a real doctor and not a child like you,”

It took Mom’s gynecologist Dr. Morrie Gelfand who was the head of the department to convince her that she was indeed with child.

When she heard him say it, she fainted.

A few months later back in our apartment building, she screamed for my dad to call an ambulance quickly because her water had broken. The entire mattress was soaked with blood.

I was worried about my mom, She was worried that the ambulance attendants had dented the wall of the bedroom.

Cindy was born via caesarean section at the Jewish General Hospital. The operation took several hours. We were later told that people had rarely seen Dr Gelfand in such a sweat during a delivery.

Apparently whoever had delivered me via caesarean section back in Budapest had not put some of the parts back where Dr. Gelfand had expected them to be.

While all this was going on, my father was upstairs pacing back and forth worried about his wife. I was left to my own devices in the lobby because at the time children under 16 were not allowed to visit.

My father finally came downstairs at 3:40 in the morning to say that I had a beautiful baby sister. I did not believe him for a minute. I wanted to see for myself.

I went upstairs to the maternity floor.

“My mother just had a baby. Can I please see my sister?”

“Sorry. No visitors under 16.”

Damn.

The very same afternoon, just before visiting hours I concocted a plan.

I went into my parents’ bedroom and looked around. One of the first things I noticed was a wig stand.

I put on the wig and looked in the mirror. Hmmm. I looked like Mom but not as pretty. I would need makeup. I had seen Mom applying her makeup many times. It did not look all that difficult to do. A little foundation, some blush, a set of sticky false eyelashes and some red lipstick that she had bought the previous week at Eaton’s.

Now I needed a dress. I chose a yellow one hanging in the closet.  There was a black purse on the bureau. I took that as well.

Not bad I thought, but there was still something missing. Of course. Accessories. A string of pearls and some clip-on earrings et voila – I was ready to visit that lovely Mrs. Schnurmacher in the maternity ward.

I tried several pairs of shoes before I finally found a pair of black high heels that fit although they were a bit too tight.

I teetered down the hallway to the kitchen to tell Dad about my plan.

“Have you gone completely out of your mind? What are you doing?

“Do I look like a 14-year-old boy?

“No. You look like a 28-year-old hooker.”

“Exactly. I look 28 so now I can visit Mom and I can get to see my sister.’

“You are out of your mind. I will not be seen walking down the street with you looking like that.”

“You don’t have to be seen with me. I will walk behind you. It’s  not easy walking in these heels but I want to see my sister.”

We lived exactly two and half blocks from the hospital and my hapless Dad reluctantly went along with my plan.

I walked into the lobby of the JGH. Not a second glance from anybody except the burly driver of a delivery van parked outside.

I caught up with Dad at the elevators. We rode up together not exchanging a word.

The nurse who had told me that no one under 16 was allowed to visit did not bat an eyelash as I elegantly sauntered past the nurses’ station.

We walked into Mom’s room together. Speaking in Hungarian, she  said hello to my father and then she turned to me.

“Miss, I am so sorry but I don’t recognize you. Who do I have the honor of meeti…?

A split second of silence. Then all of sudden, a flash of recognition. and a wide smile..

The patient in the next bed said, “That lady looks like you. Are you related in some way?”

“Oh yes,” said Mom. “We are definitely related. She is my younger sister.”

And that is how I got to see Cindy on the day she was born.

When Mom came home from hospital, Dad helped her upstairs to our third floor apartment but I was the one entrusted with the important task of bringing the baby upstairs.

I would often take Cindy for a walk in the park. I would take her to the Jewish Public Library when it was on the second floor of a building on Decarie Blvd. She would look up at me for reassurance and grab my hand very tightly when the elevator started to move.

I was there when she took her first step. I was there when she called me Toto because she could not say Tommy.

I was there when she was almost 3 years old and rode on my hip to visit Expo 67. Often I was the one who could cheer her up when she was crying.

I was there when she was hospitalized at age 18 with the worst case of manic depression that the emergency room doctor had ever seen. I was there in that same emergency room a few years ago when she was found after having gone missing for 36 hours.

Back in 1984, I was working on a humor book called the Golddiggers: Guide; How to Marry Rich. I was reading her some of my first draft which included some material that was in bad taste. She was the one who was wise enough to tell me to leave it out. I am grateful to her that I did.

Looking through the book this week, on the acknowledgements page, I found this: “A hearty thank you to my stunning kid sister Cynthia, whose sparkling sense of humor kept me in stitches while she patiently relinquished many of our fun times together to give me time to write this book.”

I wish she had not been so patient. I wish she had not relinquished those times together.

I remember when we would go to a bookstore and she would suddenly turn to me and say she was worried.

“Why are you worried, Cindy? “

“I am worried about getting arrested for not looking good in the 90s.”

I was there when they gave her the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I was there when she would hallucinate after refusing to take her many medications.

I was there when she told me that her name was not Cindy and that her new name was Crystal Nacht.

I was there last year when she told me she was going to marry Bill Clinton and that she had 27 children. When I asked her to name them, she did. When I suggested I was upset that none of the 27 ever came to see their uncle, she laughed.

I was there a couple of weeks ago when we went for a walk and she bought me a bracelet for 25 cents.

Whatever time we spent together, it was certainly not enough. Not nearly enough.

I tried to take care of her as best I could. I fervently believe that  her sweet innocent soul is now in a place where she will do whatever she can to take care of me.

This Post Has 73 Comments

  1. Oh Tommy. What a sweet memorial to Cindy. I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I too remember that beautiful, incredibly bright girl with a wit comparable only to yours. I’m sure she is watching over you now ❤️❤️

  2. What a journey…..so sorry Tommy for your loss….Cindy eill surely be watching out for you and lending you her ear.❤

  3. BDE Tommy. What a wonderful tribute! I am certain she has seen it and is probably critiquing it for you!

  4. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

  5. so sorry for the loss of your baby sister..having lost my baby brother 11 years ago I can so understand your pain

  6. Holding you close in my heart during this terrifying time. <3

  7. If G-D ever shows up I will have a word with him or her. The timing of your sister’s death along with your friend’s bypass was enough to throw anybody over the edge. Cindy was a beautiful and bright woman despite all her challenges. True to you the humour through your tears was still alive and well. Cindy has a legacy and she contributed greatly to the “let’s talk movement. In quebec this gov’t doesn’t think emotional illnesses are sexy enough and put so few resources and little money. That needs to change. So your tribute and accolodes about Cindy is wonderful and funny as ever

  8. Oh my! How sad! I am sending you my most heartfelt deepest sympathy on the loss of your beloved sister Cindy! May you be spared any further sorrow! Cindy will be looking down upon you with smiles and be looking out for you!

  9. Beautiful, heartfelt words remembering your sweet sister. So sorry for your loss.

  10. May you be comforted to know,that in the world of truth,love binds us together.It is through this channel,she will be watching over you.Blessings of Peace.

  11. I am so aorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your sister.

  12. Dear Tommy, So sorry for your loss. You wrote a beautiful tribute to her! May you & your mother be spared from further sorrow. Sincerely, Judy Kornbluth

  13. My deepest sympathies to you- your sister seemed to have had a special place in your heart- Baruch Dayan Haemet

  14. Dear Tommy, I am so sorry for the tragic loss of your sister. Trite remarks cannot make up for the hurt you feel but just know that so many men and women hold loving thought of you in their hearts and minds. April Rosenfeld

    1. Thank you April.

  15. Mr. Tommy, I’m so sorry to hear about your beautiful sister Cindy.Tommy, I would have loved to be neighbors with your family.I don’t know if I have the words to describe what I come away with after reading your stories.I’m not an expert here, but I do believe that you are an amazing brilliant genius… Thank you..

    1. Thank you so much Roseleen for your very kind comments. They are much appreciated.

  16. Dear Tommy, no one can explain the emptiness in one’s heart when you lose someone so special. However, your relationship with your lovely Cindy was & always will be something to make your heart smile & at the same time weep inside. You’re something else, dressing up to see her when she was born. You must have been a sight!!! Please accept my heartfelt condolences on your loss & long life to you. Warmest regards, Judi.

    1. Thank you Judi

  17. Tommy,

    Our deepest condolences on the passing of your sister, Cindy. Our thoughts are with you and your Mother.

    Love Marty & Wendy

    1. Thank you very much Marty and Wendy. Great to hear from you.

  18. So sorry Timmy for the loss of your sister. Through thick and thin, you were there.

    1. Thanks Natalie

  19. My condolences. What a wonderful tribute to your sister.

    1. Thanks Leo

  20. I remember meeting your adorable sister and going for lunch with her, you, Max and some guy named Mark from the radio station who lusted after her, minor of 16 that she was and at least half his age at the time! 😉 What struck me was how protective you were of her, how proud of her you were, the tenderness you had for her … like a father, a brother and her bestie all rolled into one. I loved how tuned into each other you were, the quips flying as you finished each other’s sentences and the sense of fun you created all around you. I can’t begin to imagine how you feel but I know you are surrounded by love: Cindy’s and all of your friends’ and fans’. Hugs my friend, from me and all who love you.

    1. Wow Barbara!

      Thank you so much for bringing back those wonderful memories. Much appreciated.

  21. I am so sorry Tommy. How very sad and heartbreaking.
    My Condolences to. you….,May she be having a wonderful time where ever she is now.
    Arms around you Tommy…..annabelle💦

    1. Thank you Annabelle for your kind words

  22. Tommy, you were a cherished brother to Cindy. You were there when she needed you as much as you needed her. We are defined by our acts and you, Tommy, have a wonderful, generous, loving spirit. I know she will always have a very special place in your heart.

    1. Thank you Dr. Suissa

  23. Thanks for once again sharing your personal life. I share my condolences with you. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

    1. Thank you Cindy

  24. Tomika, thank you for sharing some of your memories of your sister. I am so sorry for your loss, but your memories of her will be with you forever.

    1. Thanks Claire

  25. Our siblings hold a special place in our hearts that can never be erased. I witness my 87 year old mom still reminiscing about her belated siblings with such tenderness that it seems they are always right beside her. With the love and compassion you had for Cindy, she will always continue to live in you. Corragio e amore.🙏❤️

    1. Thank you Nives

  26. Dear Tommy,
    I already wrote a condolence before…but I want to say again, how sorry and sad I am to have heard of the passing of your dear sister…heartbreaking, your
    special tribute made me cry… a poem for you in her honour…
    “Death means leaving behind,
    the winter of doubt,
    and stepping into the song…
    the color…
    the fragrance of eternity…
    Never again to be tired…
    or hurt or old.
    (by Dorothy Albaugh)
    much love Dana Bell

    1. Thank you Dana

  27. Dear Tommy, so very sorry for your loss. It is never easy to lose a loved one. We are thinking of you and share the sadness with you. Your tribute is poignant and very courageous. Try to stay strong. Sonja

    1. THANK YOU

  28. May you be spared further sorrows. Our hearts go out to you. Roza & Mike David.

  29. Tommy,
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful sister with us. I understand your pain. My Brother passed under similar circumstances. It’s not easy.

    Les.xxx

  30. Tommy, I met you many years ago at a morning show at my place ! I have enjoyed your writings ect . Now I am sending you my sincerest , deepest sympathy for the loss of your precious sister ! Take comfort in the knowledge that you were there for her ! You were a loving brother ! Hugs ! Sharon Elisabeth

    1. Thank you Sharon

  31. Dear Tommy, What wonderful memories you have and had created for your sister Cindy. How fortunate she was to have had a brother such as you! Losing a sibling is heart-wrenching….I still miss my larger than life brother and he passed away 17 years ago! Cindy was a special gift to you and your family, and while you cherish her memory, know she loved you as dearly as you loved her. My thoughts and love are with you. And I thank you for sharing such a remarkable family story with us.
    Joy Moos

    1. Thank you Joy. Great memories of you, Art Deco and the Miami Film Festival.

  32. I’m so sorry to hear that these last few weeks have been so traumatic for you. Having to stand by while your good friend went through a ” life or death” surgery must have made you feel so helpless; a feeling I’m sure you felt also when someone delivered the news to that your beloved baby sister passed away with no warning. Cindy’s departure from this world must have been a peaceful one which I’m sure does your heart good at least. Your presence in her life from the day she was born till now was truly felt. You were her rock!

    1. Thank you Lois. Your are most kind.

  33. My dear Tommy,
    G-d gives us the strength to cope with the curveballs tossed our way on our trek through this earthly terrain. Despite your heartbreak and tears, you manage to skilfully utilize the wonderful gifts you were blessed with . . . not merely to cope but to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and uplift others by sharing that vision.. HaMakom yenachem… (May “the Place” comfort you…) HaMakom, we know, refers to the Almighty (Who is everywhere, hence one of His names). HaMakom alludes also to the place – Gan Eden – where the special neshama of your dear sweet sister now resides. You’re doubly comforted. May you know of no more sorrow.
    Your cousin Rachel (hearts intertwined 💞)

  34. Oh, Tommy, what a lovely tribute to your sister. She was lucky to have you to care for her so well… You made me laugh about your disguise – when my brother was born, in 1964, I was 11 and too young to visit my mom. My cousin who was minding me during that time did exactly the same thing you did. Piled my long hair up to my head and tied it with a silk scarf, made me up to look like something of a tart with big clunky jewellery, loads of make-up, big Jackie O sunglasses and her bright pink woolen coat, Cuban-heeled shoes and a large purse with elbow-length gloves… my mom did not recognize me but the security guard at the door never batted an eye…

    1. Great story Johanne. Thank you for sharing it.

  35. Thank you cousin!

  36. Our deepest condolences and may she rest in peace

  37. Before reading this article I knew you a bit, now I know you a lot! Sweet memories summed up in the Quebec motto “je me souviens”!
    Life is for the living continue to write!

  38. Tommy!
    I have now read your piece 5 times, on the last occasion alone in my home. I not only shed tears but reconnected with thoughts of those people who have touched my soul. I never met Cynthia, unfortunately, but your words about her create a connection that is beyond words. How you dealt with that Friday the 6th I will never know. What I do know is that you shared with all of your readers the power of family. For this I can only say a heart-felt Koszonom.

  39. BTW, I need to ask.
    How is Harold?
    How is your anyuka?
    And, especially, how are you doing?

    1. Thank you Zsolt. We are all doing fine.

  40. My deepest condolences to you, Tommy. What a beautiful, loving tribute. Your sister was so fortunate to have you as a brother.

    1. Thank you Roz

  41. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know the deep sadness you must feel when you lose someone you deeply love. Keep writing it will help you.

    Barb

  42. Tommy , I was saddened to read your Post today and learn of the passing of your beloved Sister Cynthia. May G-D grant you the strength to endure your loss and to continue caring for Your Mother. May the good memories you have that you shared with your dear sister help you through this sad time. You were truly a Great Brother to her and that meant a lot to Cynthia May she rest in Peace Eddy

  43. Very sorry for your loss Tommy….your words of remembrance are beautiful
    May she rest in peace

    1. Thank you Colleen

  44. I am saddened to learn of the loss of your beloved Cindy, Tommy. You have opened up to your audience, over the last while, through your incredible writing. It has been since then that we all get a sense, through your amazing family, as to how you developed your humour… and your warmth.

    I hope that your family is spared further sorrow.

  45. Thank you for sharing this sad and emotional part of your life. I too am dealing with my own family matters and am truly able to feel how sad you must feel regarding the loss of your beloved sister. May you treasure the happy times that you both shared together. I hope that your friend Harold is recovering nicely from his surgery. Stay well and keep your stories coming. We in Montreal love you. BH.

    1. Thank you Ethel

  46. Please, in your sadness, hold your head up .high. You were an exemplary big brother. Yoir sister wsd blessed to have you
    No question that she will watch over you. Acknowledge the signs she sends you and accept them as loving gifts. Be for her

    1. Thank you Louise

  47. Tommy I had no no idea your sister had passed away. Blessed be her memory as she was blessed in her life to have you for a brother. ❤️

  48. Tommy

    My condolences to read about the loss of your beloved sister Cindy I remember meeting her and know the deep sadness pain losing a loved one I lost my brother too may she Rest In Peace.

    1. Thank you Christopher

  49. Wow, as I am reading your stories, I thought, you never mention your sister. Till now. I am reading them backwards starting from story 30. Your sister. You were both lucky to have eachother in your lives. Her love for you and your love for her are something special and unique between you both. Thank you for sharing.
    As immigrants, as children of holocaust survivors, as kids in grade 1 not speaking a word of English, as kids picking up spit out gum from the ground, as children of mothers with dementia, we now share something more. Your sister, my son. God, give me strength to love him for who he is outside of how he acts. You inspire me. I just have to love him and know it helps him to know I love him. Pure and simple. He is truly my blood.

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