For those who knew Lynda Fishman and her family growing up in Montreal, this year’s Choices event of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Women’s Campaign was especially meaningful.
More than 300 women filled Agudath Israel Congregation, October 28, to hear the author and motivational speaker talk about her own life choices after her mother and two younger sisters died in a devastating Air Canada plane crash in 1970, when she was just 13 years old.
Fishman said she hopes people understand that, when they suffer a loss, they have choices.
“No matter what you’re faced with in life, you can choose to get back on the path of life and joy and happiness again,” she said. “And that’s what people who die really want us to know. They want us to be happy again.”
Fishman’s 2010 memoir, Repairing Rainbows: The True Story of Family, Tragedy and Choices, chronicled her struggle to grieve her family. The social protocol of the era was to rid the house of mementos and never speak of the dearly departed in an effort to repress the sadness of loss, she said.
While recognizing there is an appropriate time to grieve openly, Fishman said she cultivated eight key strategies for living a vibrant, happy life, which allows her to balance meaningful work and build strong relationships with her husband, children and grandchildren. [See sidebar.]
Fishman’s message that one can choose to be happy when coping with tragedy resonated with many who attended the event.
Women’s Campaign Chair Leiba Krantzberg said she was immediately drawn to Fishman’s story as she also lost her mother at a young age.
“She’s one of us. She’s a Jewish girl who grew up in a Jewish community in Montreal and lived through a horrendous tragedy and is the kind of woman we’d all like to be,” Krantzberg said.
Some had a personal connection to Fishman’s story. Choices Chair Shari Silber’s best friend was Carla, the speaker’s 11-year-old sister.
“Lynda and I had a chance to connect after 44 years and revisit the whole experience. We both realized that the main thing was that there was never any closure around the horrible tragedy, because, at that time, they didn’t use psychologists or counsellors,” Silber said. “Even for the kids at school, we went back to school and nothing was ever acknowledged.”
Choices attendee Andrea Blaustein said she had recurring dreams about Wendy, her childhood best friend and Lynda’s eight-year-old sister, for decades after the crash, and said she is grateful Fishman was chosen to be the keynote speaker.
“Lynda’s words were life-giving,” said Blaustein, who reconnected with Fishman in 2010 in the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of the crash. “Her mother would have been proud of her.”
The atmosphere of gratitude and positivity moved some attendees to tears, including Fishman.
“It feels incredibly supportive to finally know that there are people out there who miss them too,” she said.
Fishman said she has always been drawn to happy, positive and giving people, adding this allowed her to feel at home among the donors attending the Choices event.
Six weeks into the Campaign, Krantzberg said, contributions have increased at a rate of 4.5 per cent and currently total more than $3.1 million.
Fishman agreed that she is in good company in Ottawa.
“I feel a connection to Ottawa and really every place I go to tell my story because it’s a story that everybody can relate to, and people are people and we all experience loss,” she said. “As soon as I tell my story and connect with wherever I am, there are no boundaries.
“I feel incredibly blessed in my life.”
Lynda Fishman’s Happiness Principles:
• Surround yourself with positive people
• Look ahead – don’t look back
• Help others
• Express gratitude
• Stay busy
• Have faith and patience
• Spend time with animals
• Choose positive thoughts