Eleanor Harbula was my first tennis teacher in Sylmar. I am also listed in this article. This is amazing; the lady I played in the article was named Leah and she was the tennis instructor at the park for my children. I didn’t realize the connection until I scanned this article!
“The change began because of my isolation”
This title should actually be, “Tennis is the thread in the fabric of my adult life.” I was married at the age of 21, and I experienced a huge change in my life. Close friends, musical joy, and the excitement that a wedding can bring had surrounded me. The change began due to the isolation of working alone at home. I was pursuing an illustration career from the ground up. I was definitely not interested in having any children to burden myself with, and although that might have left me with a feeling of “freedom,” I was extremely dedicated and responsible about my work. That was also a significant change from living at home with my parents, and never being on my own until I was married.
I became depressed when I was 23, and it was my own mother that encouraged me to find some other interests. She suggested tennis as a way for me to get myself out of the house. I was living in Sylmar at the time, and had seen an ad for lessons at a public park. I called the instructor, whose name was Ellie and took lessons for a while. Then I played after my lessons at the park where I started meeting lots of tennis players.
I played every weekend, and while I was there I met a wonderful Romanian couple that joined me. We had so many wonderful games, and we became good friends. My husband tried to play, but didn’t seem to enjoy it – I was probably far too competitive for him.
The main thing was that my loneliness subsided and my friendship with the Romanian family continued even after I moved away from Sylmar. Occasionally, I would still drive out to play with Magda and Mat, my Romanian friends. I still can remember the day when I played with Magda and her leg unexplainably became numb. Her later diagnosis with MS was devastating, and it was hard for me to understand how someone that has had such a difficult life could still be so positive. Her stories of what she lived through while in Romania were chilling. We’ve only seen each other once in the last five years, but her whole family is so special to me, and mine to hers. She began using a computer a long time before I did and I know it has certainly kept us connected.
When I moved to Granada Hills from Sylmar, I drove to play quite often at a facility named “The Racquet Center.” There was a drop in “round robin” that I enjoyed regularly. I met a whole, new group of friends. One in particular left her mark on me. Her name was Linda. Linda was on a USTA team that I was on, and became very ill suddenly. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian cancer.
She bravely went through treatments, lost her hair, but continued to play tennis through it all. I believe she lived about eight years after her initial diagnosis. She had many problems with her teenage son, and confided so much in me. I can still hear her voice when I play sometimes; she used to say, “Burn that serve in!”
Linda was very caring toward me when Jason died. Her terminal stage was very unsettling for me, as I had never had anyone close to me going through the dying process other than Jason. Toward the end she was in a lot of pain, and her yellow pallor from jaundice was something I can never forget.
I saw her the day before she died, when no one was “supposed to visit.” I was discouraged from visiting, and told she was completely “out of it.” I went in to see her anyway, and she opened her eyes and smiled at me. I told her I’d look out for her mom, because I knew what it was like to be a bereaved parent. Linda smiled, nodded at me, and said, “thank you.” After that, I called her mother every year on Linda’s birthday, death anniversary, and on Mother’s Day. I did that for almost fifteen years, until one day the phone number had been changed. I still wonder where her mother moved. It gave Linda’s mother great pleasure to share with me that Linda’s son went on to become a school teacher. Linda had so much stress to contend with, between her son and her illness. It was too bad she didn’t live to know that her son had “straightened out.” She knew in her heart that he acted out due to her illness.
I played one of my original songs at Linda’s funeral. I was so honored to be able to do that. A week after her death, her husband called me and asked if I would like her tennis clothes, or any of her clothes. I brought a huge trash bag and filled it up; I shared some clothes with another one of Linda’s friends. I also took a pair of shoes, tennis undies, and the outfit Linda had worn for her son’s Bar Mitzvah. I wore the shoes until the soles fell off. I still wear some of her things, and I think about her often when I play. Below is a link to a later story that I wrote about Linda:
“In grief, we have both opened up doors within our heart.”
These four parts about tennis alternate between the past and the present. If Part 1 was about when my love for tennis started, then Part 2 is a logical transition to what transpired during the past month with my very first “tennis friend.”
Due to her MS, Magda last played tennis probably seventeen years ago. I visited Magda, her husband, Mat, and her stepson, wife, and grandson in Palmdale a few years ago. Her stepson used to assist my husband, Mike, when he was self-employed for a brief period.
Before my mom’s illness, we did have occasional email updates to each other, but not too often. Mostly, I have always been sad about the progression of her illness. We never lost touch from our tennis playing days back when I was 24!
Recently, when my mom was seriously ill, I shared updates about my mom’s condition with Magda. Her message came to me as a result of sharing pictures of my dead child. That happened because my trauma was reignited when my mother was very ill.
On Feb 1, 2010, Magda wrote:
JUDY IT IS A PLEASURE TO SEE ALL THE PICTURES AND THANK YOU FOR SHARING …JUDY WE’VE KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR 23-24 YEARS AND I LIKED YOU FROM THE FIRST MINUTE …YOU DIDN’T CARE ABOUT MY FOREIGN ACCENT AND POOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
YOU INVITED ME TO THE BABY SHOWER, MY FIRST ONE EVER AND THE ONLY ONE….JASON, MY LITTLE ANGEL WAS BORN AND I REMEMBER THE DIFFICULT TIME YOU HAD FEEDING HIM…I WAS BABY SAT HIM ONCE.
I REMEMBER HIS LAST BIRTHDAY IN GRANADA HILLS …AND THE WORST PHONE CALL…JASON!!!!.. HE WAS SO BRAVE BEFORE HIS SURGERY! I COULD NOT STOP CRYING FOR A LONG TIME…AND NOW I HAVE TEARS WHEN I REMEMBER THAT MOMENT…I HEAR HIS SWEET VOICE IN MY EARS, AS I HAVE FOR YEARS…AND I CAN STILL SEE HIS ANGEL FACE WITH FRECKLES …I ATTENDED THE FUNERAL AND LISTENED TO YOUR RECORDED VOICE, BUT WATCHING THE LITTLE CASKET I CRIED NON STOP …I LEFT… I COULD NOT WATCH THE LAST PART…
I DON’T KNOW WHY ALL OF THIS CAME TO MY MIND…I LOST A SON 10 DAYS AFTER HIS BIRTH (premature) IN THE HOSPITAL THEY NEVER LET ME TO HOLD HIM…. I COULDN’T TALK WITH ANYBODY AND I JUST PRAYED TO GOD TO HELP ME AND HE DID. AND FROM THAT TIME I ALWAYS ASK HIM FOR HELP… SO MAYBE THIS IS A REASON I AM SO SENSITIVE AND I LOVE THE KIDS SO MUCH…YOU ARE A WONDERFUL MOM AND GOD GAVE YOU THESE 3 SPECIAL KIDS…
JUDY …IN JASON’S PICTURE FROM THE HOSPITAL, HE WAS STILL SMILING TO HIS MOM …WITH ALL THE TUBES ON HIS LITTLE CHEST.
WHAT I NOTICE, IS GOD TOOK FROM US LITTLE ANGELS WHO COULD HAVE SUFFERED MORE (living with heart problems)…AND GAVE US MORE COMPASSION AND LOVE FOR OTHERS… SO MUCH IS NEEDED IN THIS CRAZY WORLD WE LIVE IN…
JUDY, KEEP SMILING…ALL YOUR PICTURES ARE LIT BY YOUR SMILE…IT IS HARD FOR ME TO FIND THE WORDS TO SAY HOW MUCH I APPRECIATE YOUR HONESTY, UNDERSTANDING, AND LOVE TO EVERYBODY…KEEP IN TOUCH…. HUG TO YOUR MOM…
MY LOVE TO ALL OF YOU, MAGDA
P.S. (Unfortunately, I type w/ one hand only because my left one doesn’t move too much)
On February 2, 2010, Judy Unger wrote:
Dearest, dearest Magda,
As I read your message over and over, each time I am sobbing and crying fresh tears. What can I say? I realize now that my mom’s illness has brought me here. Of course, it made sense that my trauma would be re-ignited by seeing all the tubes and machines. Also her inability to eat triggered something primitive within me, it brought back all the feeding problems that I had with Jason.
In order to go on after such a loss, we certainly change. It is so true about you being sensitive and loving kids so much. Your beautiful grandchildren are benefiting from receiving your endless, wellspring of love and devotion. I’ve been a zombie, because although I thought I was a champion through the grief process, I had to continue to be a champion for my childrens’ issues. That left me no time to grieve over that!
I get choked up remembering how you told me you didn’t come into the funeral room, but waited in the lobby. You were too upset after seeing his little casket. I only recently remembered that I actually tape recorded my eulogy. There was no way I could get up there to read it on that sad day!
It has been 18 years since Jason died, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. When my mother-in-law died recently, I came across his little lunchbox that she saved. It was full of pictures and even a pacifier. She once told me she was looking forward to seeing him again when she died. Lately, I think about that, too.
Your words about his freckle face create tears because sometimes I can’t believe he was real. To know that you still remember him – his voice, his face – it means so much! Sometimes I feel like I’m losing him again, because the memories start to fade. But that is protection from the rawness that I used to feel. I used to cry every, single day for years and years, and I haven’t been able to cry for a very, long time. I think this morning, it was a good thing I did.
If there were a wish I could make on this earth, it would be for you to have held your little son (and of course, that he would have lived!) He will always be a part of you, even though you never saw him. That is why you have written this heartfelt message to me – channeling the sensitivity you have through him.
In grief, we have both opened up doors within our heart.
Thank you for bringing Jason back to me for a little while this morning. I love you so much!
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