Our mother, Barbara A. Sherf, has passed

Happier times at our wedding.  She was in a state of bliss the entire day.  She is at peace.  I am at peace.

Happier times at our wedding. She was in a state of bliss the entire day. She is at peace. I am at peace.

Barbara Ann Sherf 1/13/36-5/22/15

Longtime Somers Point resident, Barbara A. Sherf, known to many as “the unofficial mayor” of Somers Point, passed away at home on May 22, 2015, surrounded by her loved ones and Holy Redeemer Hospice angels.

Mrs. Sherf (nee Smith) was an aide at the Dawes Avenue School formany years, following the passing of her parents, Leo D. and Anna R.

Smith, who constructed their home on Dawes Avenue from a Sears kit.

An only child, Mrs. Sherf grew up in Philadelphia, and summered in Wilkes-Barre, PA, until the shore home was built.

A graduate of Nazareth Academy, she married Charles T. Sherf of Maple Shade, New Jersey, and lived in Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County for 22 years before the couple divorced.

Mrs. Sherf then worked in various banking positions in Bucks County to support her four children, before relocating to Somers Point to take care of her parents in their retirement.

Her son, Kevin, lovingly assisted her in caregiving until her parents died, and he continued to live in the home, working full-time at Staples until last November, while taking care of her needs.

In addition to her former husband, she is survived by Karen (David) Jones; Patrice (Thomas) Hilferty, Barbara L. Sherf (Brad Shapiro), and Kevin Sherf.   She was “Mom-Mom” to Rebecca (Becky) and Andrew (Drew) Jones; Kaylynn, Evan and Kyle Hilferty; and one great grandson, Bennett. Her firstborn, Charles, died shortly after birth. We pray she is dancing with Charles, reunited with her parents and her beloved Aunt Bina, and all who have gone before her.

The family would like to recognize her many caregivers, the staff and ministry at St. Joseph Church, the Holy Redeemer angels, the Rev. Sandra Strauss and Rev. David Arnold, Gayle Davidson for lending her voice, and the many devoted angels, friends and neighbors who have supported her and us.

We ask that butterfly weeds (not bushes) be planted in her honor and memorial donations be made to her devoted son and primary caregiver, Kevin Sherf c/o St. Joseph Church, 606 Shore Road, Somers Point, NJ, 08244, Becky’s Buddies through The Epilepsy Foundation of SE PA (www.kintera.org) or to the charity of one’s choice.

She is at peace. We are at peace.

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Goodbye Tooth by Barbara Sherf

cowboymission_editI said farewell today to what has been described as Tooth #8 to those in the dental community, but to me it was my right front tooth that had given me a winning smile for more than 50 years.
With eyes squeezed shut and tears streaming down my cheeks, I knew the second it was out and tears again streamed down my face as I asked family friend, Dr. Alan Krochtengel, if I could take the tooth with me.
Alan had thought I was crying from the pain, but those tears were more about the closing of a chapter of my life and the clarity in knowing when to fold.
As he handed me the bloodied tooth, we both saw a small fracture that was likely sustained during a 2008 horseback riding accident in the Wissahickon. Valley. The tooth was a painful reminder of that last ride my father and I would share.
For the record, the accident had not been the horses’ fault. I had brought Sunny into a full gallop along a demonstration trail cleared of rocks and downed limbs by the Friends of the Wissahickon, as part of a pilot trail maintenance program designed to make it safer for bikers, riders and hikers. One thing that could not be cleared were the gnarled tree roots; some apparent and others hidden just below the surface of the soil. It was one such concealed set of roots that brought, Sunny, one of five horses who were part of the Philadelphia Saddle Club, to an abrupt halt. It seems the space between his hoof and shoe got caught in the web-like roots, with the shoe tearing off and sending him to the ground and me flying over him.
As I lay there in shock and assessing my injuries – concussion, broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder- Sunny regrouped and limped over to nuzzle me and apologize.
“It wasn’t your fault, boy, I’m so sorry,” I said looking to see that his hoof had been badly butchered.
My father, riding Wyatt, was behind us and immediately dismounted, helping me to rest on a large rock just off of the trail. What if I had come down on that rock, I thought, as my mind raced to formulate a plan for getting to the ER and my father and the two horses safely back to the barn.
At the time of the accident, both front teeth had come loose, but they had not come out and for that I was grateful. But over time, it was clear Tooth #8 had to go.
Two painful and expensive root canals over the years, followed in July by oral surgery, had not done the trick and I was ready to fold,
Reclining in the dentist chair waiting for my mouth to get sufficiently numb, tears rolled down my cheeks at the memories of times in my life I had folded. Alan came in and wiped the tears away with the pink bib clipped around my neck, telling me that it won’t hurt and that he was in agreement with my decision to take the tooth out. He did not know why I was crying.
Back at home, now swollen but still numb, I carefully washed the bloody tooth before placing it in my jewelry box, where it now serves as a symbol to me of knowing when to say when.
I had recognized my father’s progressive dementia in the months leading up to the accident and his 80th Birthday. When I witnessed him bring the wrong horse into the barn the morning of our last ride, I knew these outings had to come to an end or one of us or the horses would be hurt. The previous week we had ridden under a stone bridge heading to RittenhouseTown, and I shouted for him to duck in order to clear the stone pedestrian bridge hanging over us. While he had ducked, he had misjudged when to lift his head, and I cringed upon seeing a 2 by 6” black velvet flap peel away from his helmet. It was time but neither of us was ready to fold.
Since 2003, my father and I had gotten together once a week to enjoy the trails, followed by a beer and sandwich at a local pub. The excursions had healed the rocky relationship we experienced following my parents divorce when I was in my teens.
Recovering from my injuries, I had the time to write a book titled “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…Not Preached.” The self-published paperback held essays about our love of horses and Dad’s years as a teen cowboy, riding at Sally Starr’s ranch and in Cowtown Rodeo. I wrote about how he earned more money riding a bull for eight seconds on a Saturday night than he did picking tomatoes all week on the South Jersey farm for Campbell’s Soup Company, he and his best friend used as their rodeo playground.—riding anything with four legs; mules, cows, and work horses.
In the book, I penned an essay about my decision to dismount following a runaway horse incident in which my two riding companions urged me to stay on the horse. But my gut told me the horse was too wound up to ride safely, and so I swallowed my pride and walked a mile or so back to Monastery Stables. It was the first time I had ever dismounted like that, and yet I knew it was the right thing to do, just as I knew that despite three dentists telling me the X-rays looked fine, there was something wrong with the tooth and it needed to go. It was the same gut feeling I had knowing that I would be the one to have to stop to our weekly rides and I was learning to listen to that voice.
So after the accident, I told my father that my husband wanted me to take a break from riding. In truth, he did want me to stop, but never gave me an ultimatum. Dad didn’t know that and he was distraught over the news, but he said he said he understood, and I sensed perhaps he was relieved.
On some level my father knew of my concerns about his bringing the wrong horse in from the pasture, or lifting his head too soon, or getting lost driving to and from the barn. However, I knew he wouldn’t fold, so I stuck to my story and allowed him to ‘save face’ as I took control over ending our rides
On March 8th, Dad is comes up on the one-year anniversary of his transition to the Veteran’s Memorial Home in Vineland, New Jersey. I had spent 6 months getting the paper work together, and when a bed became available, I bolted like that horse. Dad had fallen in his townhouse in January and had hit his head on the tiled bathroom floor. There was a big snowstorm. I was not able to get to Cherry Hill. It was time.
In order to ease him into this new chapter, I stayed at a local hotel near the facility for three nights, and spent time getting him used to the change. Passing out copies of our book to anyone with a remote interest, I shared my father’s stories with the staff and residents, introducing him as Cowboy Charlie, a term I had had embroidered on a denim shirt he wore. The residents and staff settled in and listened to the stories from the book that he reads daily. He is a bit of a celebrity and enjoyed the limelight.
If I had not had the accident, the book would most likely not have come about, nor would another chapter in my life, serving as a personal historian and founder of Capture Life Stories.
Still, when I call Dad, I have to remind him that ‘it’s me, Barbie, your riding partner.’ When I visit, I pull out the book and we look at the pictures, and there is a glimmer.
And then, more often than not, the guilt sets in. Maybe he would have been better off leaving the planet doing what he loved most –riding horses. Maybe I should have let the natural order of things flow. Maybe we folded too soon. Where is that crystal ball?
The bad tooth was another reminder of a chapter in our lives that has closed, and I knew reclining in that dental chair that writing the epilogue will be more painful than the pulling of any tooth.

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What Kind of Sandwich are You?

As part of the ‘sandwich generation’ I feel like I a panini, being smashed down and heated on both sides. The cheese oozing out the middle is part of my soul.
My parents are long divorced, and of their four children, I am the one who stepped up to the plate to serve as Power of Attorney for both of them. If you ever decide to take this responsibility on, think twice, because in reality, there is very little power until the child-like parent does not remember what year it is, or who the president of the United States is, or, at times, who you are.
That has been the case with my father. I saw it coming. My maternal grandfather had dementia, and trained as a journalist, I did my homework to find out as much as I could about the memory-robbing disease. It isn’t pretty; on paper or in life.
As his dementia got progressively worse, I began the process two years ago to get him into the Veteran’s Home in Vineland, NJ. As someone who was transient much of his adult life, he had very few documents which is why the process took so long, and who could imagine there was a fire that destroyed many documents in the Veteran’s Administration years ago. Not I?
After the winter from hell in which he fell and hit his head and I couldn’t get to the hospital an hour away as my husband had just had hip surgery, I jumped at the first bed that became available through the Veteran’s in early March. His longtime partner pleaded with me to wait until “after golf season”. I could not. There were no guarantees of a bed then, nor that her 90-year old body would hold out under the stress of caring for him. He is where he needs to be, and is being treated with dignity and respect. Yes, there have been issues, but they are manageable.
Despite my mother’s myriad of health issues; obesity, hypertension, diabetes, recurrent breast cancer, mini-strokes, bedsores and a leaking abdominal aneurism, she is still in denial about her fate. As I work with a funeral director who also buried my grandparents at the Jersey shore, I tentatively ask if she’d like a funeral mass. She does. She also wants to be cremated, which is really the only option in the budget. That is the beginning and the end of the conversation.
As I write this we are a family in crisis as I am make my third attempt to get a Medicaid application approved in order to get her into skilled nursing, and out of her home where my 50-year old unemployed brother is doing his best. But as a caregiver who has not been taking care of himself, he has developed a host of health issues that need to be addressed and his ‘best’ isn’t working anymore.
So I pull out her massive file from a wheeled briefcase and dust off the two previous Medicaid applications to get them ready for a third shot and learn that even if she has a Medicaid application in process, she cannot go back into the rehab side of the nursing facility she has been in twice so far this year until she has “60 Well Days” under Medicare guidelines. I count the days on the calendar and despair sets in as November 29th seems like an eternity to keep this together. The house of cards is crumbling.
Add to the mix that there was a hoarding issue to deal with before she came home from rehab and back taxes due, and the overflowing sandwich has landed me in therapy for anxiety and depression. I haven’t been in a deep sleep since getting a colonoscopy in December with the miracle of twilight anesthesia.
My husband is sick of hearing about the woes, and while my true friends have been very supportive, others have fallen away as if the germs from my sandwich could contaminate them.
My communications consulting and personal history businesses have been mothballed and I have been very selective in taking on new projects on, although the pressure is there to deliver to try to keep the ship afloat. My mother and brother are living off of her meager, Social Security check and what we can send.
Before mom was released from her latest stay at the rehab facility, I decide to go back to her room to say one final goodbye because ‘ya never know.’
As I round the corner I catch her in the act of opening a packet of Reese’s peanut butter cups. SHE IS DIABETIC! How did she get these?
She confesses that she ‘won’ them at Bingo. I’ve been to Bingo and know that you get to choose the prize you win. She chose the peanut butter cups over the scarf or the handbag.
Tears flow for the second time that day and I simply say, “Mom, I came back to say while I am frustrated with you, that I love you, but clearly you don’t love yourself.”
She says she does love herself, but continues to open the package.
I give her a kiss and walk out the door for the two-hour drive home, taking what turns out to be a two-hour detour to hit Vineland while “I’m in Jersey” to check in on dad.
It is a 16-hour day. My shoulders are knotted beyond repair, and upon seeing our golden retriever waiting for me at the door, I sink to my knees, wrapping my arms around him in the hallway and let the tears flow.
Tomorrow, I will pick over the leftovers from the sandwich and hope and pray the panini doesn’t go bad overnight.

Barbara Sherf lives and writes from Flourtown, PA and can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com. Assuming her aging parent issues don’t rear up, she will be participating in the kick-off information fair titled “Old Answers to New Questions for Today’s Sandwich Generation – Using Jewish Wisdom to Navigate this Time of Personal Transition” at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, Montgomery County on October, 19th. Five additional workshops sponsored by the Bucks-Mont Neighborhood Kehillah, through a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, will be held through mid-December at various locations in the Bucks-Mont area. Go to jewishphilly.org/sandwich for additional details.

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