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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/12/11

After Plane Crash, Lynda Fishman Chose Life

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Repairing Rainbows -   a true story of family, tragedy and choices

My guest today is Lynda Fishman, owner and director of Adventure Valley Day Camp and author of   Repairing Rainbows - a true story of family, tragedy and choices.  Welcome to OpEdNews, Lynda. You were 13 years old when your life was turned upside down - your mother and two younger sisters were killed in a plane crash.  Why did you decide to write about such a painful experience, all these years later? 

photo credit: Jonathan Fishman

So. . . There are a few answers to this question. First of all, I had learned as a young teen, back in the early '70s and stricken with tragedy, that the topic of death and loss is not to be discussed. But as the years went on, I found myself writing my story over and over again, in my head. I always felt as if the story should be told, so that others could know what had happened, and could learn something from the opposing choices that were made by me and by my father. I "officially" started writing the book in November 2008, because I finally had some free time. For me, too much free time is dangerous. I am always looking for things to do that will keep me very busy and distracted -- and I try to make sure they are things I enjoy doing and find meaningful. Since I always have to be busy, I thought that writing a book would be a perfect project.

Throughout my adult life, there have been numerous people, continuously encouraging me to write a book, tell the world my story, and inspire others who are faced with tragedy. And then when they hear about [husband] Barry's childhood, they are further astonished. (Both Barry and I can attest to the fact that when a child loses a parent or a sibling, they also lose their childhood.) People are truly fascinated by our history, and curious about the details. How did you get through it? What was it like? How could you both be so normal?

Learning how to be positive and staying true to the goals you set for yourself are effective ways of working through tragedy and setbacks. It is my hope that there are important lessons in my journey that will provide others with hope and inspiration -- maybe even some tools to help them overcome struggles and obstacles, and fulfill their lives. By sharing some of our life lessons, our untiring search to bring positivity and meaning into our lives, and knowing that we always have choices, we think that our heartbreaking story is uplifting and hopeful at the same time.

Several years ago, I was tracked down by a successful author, living in California. At his request, we met to discuss his keen interest in writing a book about "my story." He was eager to write about it, because it was almost his story as well. Well, his father's anyways. He, his mother and siblings were booked on the same fatal airline flight as my family. At the last minute, they changed their flight to a day earlier. They were already in California when they heard about the Air Canada DC-8 flight 621 plane crash. Their relatives and friends didn't know about their change in plans, and until they heard otherwise, thought they were on that doomed flight. (Incredible luck. Fluke. Fate.) As tempting as it was to have a proven author write the book, with his vast writing experience and already established reputation and connections, I could not let him do it. It's my story to tell. The facts, the emotions, the choices, the way it all unfolded, all of that is in my head and in my heart. And there is way more to my story than the plane crash in 1970.

The other, perhaps most significant reason for me to have started writing this book is because in 2008, I was in a dark place in my life, having once again experienced profound loss. While the loss of my job was nothing compared to what I lost as a young teen, the familiar feelings that accompany any loss are the same -- heavy sadness, hopelessness, fear, and just an overall feeling of gloom and weakness. Those familiar painful feelings of loss and sadness brought back those horrible memories of my teen years - memories I had kept tightly bandaged for many years.

From the moment I sat down and started writing, I found myself instantly and completely immersed in the writing. All I could think about, every single day, was how I could best tell my story.

You had so much inside, waiting to be poured onto those pages. Was the process cathartic?  Were you sad to be done?

The whole experience of going back to times that were horribly painful has been both difficult as well as cathartic. Along with difficulties and challenges come important lessons. As I reflected back, it became obvious that the life lessons for me have been endless.

Repairing Rainbows reveals my positive and determined view of life with highlights of the insidious nature of its nemesis -- death -- in all its guises. There's a crucial difference between "truly living" and the existence that is so often mistaken for being alive. At every juncture, I had to decide whether to succumb to or overcome the sorrow. I chose LIFE.

I have to say that the most meaningful lesson I have learned through my life experiences has been the importance of focusing on the good, finding the rainbow in every storm. And in that rainbow, there is gratitude and appreciation. Making "thank you" a predominant thought and feeling was critical for me.

Even when my life completely collapsed around me, and hope seemed so far out of reach, I took baby steps. I believed that somehow things would get better. Instead of thinking, feeling and talking about all of the "bad" things that I had to endure - the hardships, tough times, difficulties and disappointments, I chose to look for and acknowledge the good or great things that I had, even when it felt like I was grasping at straws -- where and when I was lucky, blessed, fortunate, and joyful. I did my best to search for and find some form of peace and love in my life.

I never let go of my hope and faith in the future. Somehow I intuitively believed that despite the pain, I could make some good choices, write my own story, create my own journey.
My husband and children, my mother, my grandmother, Julie, Uncle Len, Angela and so many other wonderful people had been role models, angels disguised as people, who were there to carry me when I couldn't walk by myself, who taught me about giving to others, helping people, kindness, and accepting individuals for who they are rather than judging them.

I may have only had my mother with me until I was thirteen (in physical form, that is) but her impact on my life has been strong throughout my life. She showed me how to give, how to care, and how to trust. She taught me to find the strength and courage to soar like a bird above life's seemingly insurmountable obstacles and difficulties. She was a woman who left huge footprints for me to follow, a mentor, a guide. Her mother had shown her the path to living life with beautiful values and integrity.

I can only hope that these important lessons continue to be learned and appreciated for generations to follow.

Barry and I often talk about some of the other teachers we've had in our lives. Mitchell [Barry's developmentally-challenged brother] taught us so much - so many life lessons. He had a heart of gold, and despite all of his limitations and difficulties, if he could have, he would have done anything for anyone. I think he had more challenges in his life than anyone else I've ever known, yet he carried on with his life, doing the best that he could, constantly grasping at whatever he could find along the way to make his life, and [Mitchell's significant other] Tina's, more meaningful.

We've had other teachers disguised with frightening masks. People and situations that came into our lives and shook things up. Scared us. Tried to drag us down, grab our faith and run with it. Drained us of our energy. Knowing that adversity and hardship can be turned into an opportunity, and committed to choosing life, I found the strength to replace fear and panic with hope and dreams.

And then there was my poor, defeated father and my bullying stepmother. My grandmother was right. Sonia taught me so many life lessons. We can't always know what we want unless we have the chance to see what we don't want. She showed me with crystal clarity, what I don't want.  We have much more control over what we do want. And it feels so much better to think about that. To dream about it. To inch our way slowly in that direction, looking ahead, not behind.

Barry and I both agree about the importance of on-going learning from experience and from others. We constantly look for opportunities to grow and learn by actively listening and being genuinely and keenly interested in what others have to say. Learn from others. Be curious. Explore.
While we share so many of the same values, we do laugh about how different we are in so many ways. He is much more of a risk-taker than I am.  I choose to stay in my comfort zone, surrounded by familiarity, and he likes expansion and stepping out of his comfort zone always saying, "Just do it" -- don't be immobilized by the thought of how to do it. Take one step at a time, learn, listen, go with the flow, trust, do your best, don't give up.

The writing and publishing of the book is done, but this new journey related to Repairing Rainbows is far from done. In fact, Repairing Rainbows has opened many new doors for me, connecting me to many, many people who found hope and inspiration by reading the book. I am now doing speaking engagements on a regular basis, and providing help and advice to people dealing with grief. The most satisfying part of this whole journey is my new connection to organizations that help grieving children.

Almost a year after publishing the book, I know without any doubt, that my experiences have helped light the way for others, which makes me feel that the intensity of the writing was all worthwhile -- and that something good has finally come out of something tragic. 

cover by Jonathan Fishman

The Repairing Rainbows website says that your "whole family is heavily involved in supporting children dealing with tragedy, cancer or other life-threatening diseases."  That's admirable, of course. But, what does it mean exactly? How do you support these kids?

Volunteering our time to help others has been an on-going commitment for our family. Here are just a few of the things we do . . .

Barry sits on the Board of Directors for the Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Rebecca volunteers for the Starlight Foundation, granting wishes; she volunteers at Starlight Galas and events; she was a counsellor at Camp Trillium (Camp for kids/siblings dealing with cancer) for two summers and is an ongoing volunteer at Camp Trillium.

Jonathan volunteers as a consultant for the Childhood Cancer Foundation (website, business development, etc.)

Rebecca and I sit on the Advisory Committee for the Max and Beatrice Wolfe Centre for Children's Grief and Palliative Care.

We donate Adventure Valley annually to Camp Trillium for their one week of day camp.

We have hosted fundraisers at Adventure Valley (and we have all been there as volunteers) for The Pediatric Brain Tumour Foundation, Childhood Cancer, and Chai Lifeline.

We have waived  camp fees for many children who have cancer or have siblings or a parent with cancer.

So far, all proceeds from book sales have gone to organizations that support grieving children.

For every speaking engagement I have done, I have asked that, in lieu of a fee, a donation be made to the Repairing Rainbows Fund.

You've obviously passed on the helping gene to your children. You've poured so much of your energies into camping. What's so great about the camping experience, especially for grieving kids?

To quote what I say on my camp website:

At AV, we know that Camp is about having SAFE summer fun...
  • getting along with others
  • developing skills
  • discovering hidden talents
  • attempting new things
  • developing teamwork and sportsmanship
  • gaining independence and self-confidence
  • feeling a sense of connection and accomplishment
  • building trust
  • learning about cooperation and communication
  • participation not perfection
  • exploring and appreciating nature
  • enjoying physical fitness
  • fun in a well-supervised and safe environment
In addition to all of the above-mentioned benefits of camp, I believe it's important for grieving children to stay busy and distracted with enjoyable "kids" things -- a break from the crying, the panic attacks, and the sadness.

Tell us about  the Repairing Rainbows Fund;  what does it do? And I'd like to know more about Adventure Valley. Is it only for grieving kids? How do they find you?

The Repairing Rainbows Fund will provide financial support for the outstanding work being done at The Max and Beatrice Wolfe Centre for Children's Grief and Palliative Care. We now know without dispute that providing specialized services for children and families living with the death of a loved one can make a significant difference throughout their lives.

Families trust Adventure Valley Day Camp to provide an environment for ALL children that is safe, secure, nurturing, welcoming, positive, age appropriate, challenging and extremely fun. We integrate children with special needs, and there are several organizations who connect us with grieving children.

Sounds great, Lynda. What else would you like to talk about that we haven't touched on yet?

Throughout our lives together, people have been shocked when they hear our stories.  When they ask how we've made it through all these years, and we seem so normal, we always said that you deal with what you have to deal with -- what choice did we have?  But looking back, I realize that we did have choices. We always have choices. And we made choices. People don't always choose to deal with things the same way.  

When I think back to those early teen years, I realize that it occurred to me, even then, that my life was comparable to Dorothy's in The Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, I intuitively understood that the decisions and the planning for the direction of my life was up to me.

Dorothy and her little dog Toto, were caught in a tornado and swept away to a land beyond the rainbow - the land of Oz. She didn't just stand there. She didn't walk aimlessly in circles. She embarked on a courageous quest to find a way to return home.

She chose to lean on the wonderful people she met as she followed the Yellow Brick Road - the people who were caring, positive and sincere - Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, the Munchkins, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Lion. Following the Yellow Brick Road together, they did their best to dodge the bad guys -- the ones who were miserable, negative or mean - The Wicked Witch of the West and the Flying Monkeys.

Sometimes Dorothy is a damsel in distress to be rescued by her friends, and other times it's the reverse, with Dorothy rescuing her friends. Throughout the story, Dorothy chose a direction, she stayed focused and optimistic, and she held onto her hope with persistence and determination.  

Is that where the rainbows in your book's title come from?

The whole Dorothy thing was a memory (that I had totally forgotten about) that came to me when I was recently writing a speech. When I listened to the words in the song Somewhere Over The Rainbow, I was blown away. So it wasn't inspiration - it was validation!

You're absolutely right; you and Dorothy are soulmates, sharing the same positive outlook. Good luck with your book - I'm so glad you wrote it. And thanks so much for talking with me, Lynda. I enjoyed it immensely.

Thank you to Donna Karlin for the suggestion of this book and interview. 

from Lynda's website:

Lynda is a motivational and inspirational speaker and facilitator. She has published articles and training manuals on leadership, teamwork, bullying, trust, childhood health and wellness, communication and customer service.

Lynda is a woman of action. She has incredible enthusiasm for life. She is persistent, focused and faithful to her dreams and goals. She is willing to work for everything with patience, optimism and determination. She finds ways to be grateful and positive. Lynda goes out there and does what she has to do with a CAN DO attitude of gratitude, positivity, compassion, and honesty.
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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