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Paula Kaplan-Reiss


Outstretched hand reaching toward clouds

“I’m so sorry” and “You’re a miracle!”

These are the two phrases I have heard most often in the past six months, after I fell 75 feet off a cliff just one week after my 89-year-old mother passed away from pneumonia. I sustained many broken bones and a concussion, but I survived and made a complete recovery. Five months later, we buried my mother-in-law, who died of dementia.

Having turned 60 in September, these losses were hardly my first experiences with death or crises. Eight years ago, I endured a year and a half of treatment for breast cancer and, ultimately, thrived....

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Hand of a young women holding the hand of a young woman as if in a hospital

When I was a little girl, some evenings I had trouble falling asleep for fear that one day my mother would die.

As the daughter of an English teacher during the late 1960s, I struggled with separation anxiety and resented having a working mother who was not waiting for me when I came home from school. When I tearfully called my mom to my bed, she explained that I was having my “bad feelings” and reassured me that when I was older, I, too, would have a family and would not be as traumatized by her death as I would be now, when she was very unlikely to die.

I found her words...

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Hand of an elderly person held by the hand of a younger person

I think I have the only mother who is going into assisted living without complaining.

Yes, she’s sad. She will desperately miss her three close friends, with whom she grew up in Albany, N.Y., and who all moved down to her town in south Florida. She questions whether she will see her brother and sister-in-law again. While she will only be moving three hours north, this will be too long a drive for her elderly friends and relatives. She will mourn the beautiful view of the ducks on the pond, right outside her patio window. And she will loathe giving up her privacy and quiet.


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Individuals dressed in all black costumes acting out the Purim story on a small stage

My synagogue is my stage, and I am the leading player. I am not referring to the bimah or the pulpit, although I do enjoy giving a meaningful d’var Torah. Rather, I mean the actual stage in our amphitheater and the makeshift stage in our social hall. Under the bright lights, accompanied by music from our temple band, and often with mic in hand, I get to be a star.

During the day, I am a contented psychologist in private practice and an instructor in the Doctor of Ministry program at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. I am an average tennis player...

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