BY SARA KAPLAN / AJT //
When Lynda Fishman was only 13, her life dramatically changed after her mother and two younger sisters were killed in a plane crash. Teetering on that tender brink between childhood and adolescence, a young Fishman was forced to grow up quickly and handle the responsibilities of her father, who was in a complete state of shock.
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Fishman, a trained social worker, motivational and inspirational speaker, has written a memoir, “Repairing Rainbows,” that detail her loss and the endless hardships that are the fallout of incredible tragedy. She’ll be speaking at Temple Sinai the end of August. The Jewish Times recently interviewed Fishman to discuss her book and life. Here’s part of our conversation.
AJT: So, what made you decide that this was a story to share with others?
Lynda Fishman: I guess upon reflection, almost four decades after I lost my mother and two sisters, I realized that there were a lot of life lessons that I had to share, along with strategies and attitudes that I felt could help others who are faced with tragedy or loss.
And it doesn’t have to be a death; it could be any kind of loss. And sometimes it’s inspiring to hear from someone who has lived through a terrible tragedy to see that they were able to survive and even thrive, and it gives people hope and inspiration.
AJT: You wrote a book, “Repairing Rainbows,” about your experiences. Was it difficult to put it all down on paper?
Fishman: Well, I wrote it in my head for almost 40 years (laughs). And then I decided to put it down on paper. It was very difficult because back in the 70s the way people dealt with loss and death and grief was to bury it and not to talk about it.
So, I learned for many years that that was just the way people moved forward … not talking about their grief and keeping it buried. When I finally started writing the book, I literally relived the tragedy all over again and talked about it for really the first time in my life. It was really, really difficult.
It was heart-wrenching for me at the time. And I wrote for an entire year, seven days a week when I didn’t look up from my computer. But, once the book was done and I started talking about the whole tragedy and the way I dealt with it and the way my father dealt with it and my grandparents, it was incredibly cathartic.
AJT: How did you approach the writing?
Fishman: It was really difficult … it was like I opened up a dam and it just started flowing. I really had no idea how hard it would be when I started, to relive it all. But once I put myself back as a thirteen-year-old, and I used my old diaries and scrapbooks and music from those times to remember, it just came pouring back into my memory.
AJT: So when you first started writing, did you plan on publishing it or did it start off as a simple therapeutic process?
Fishman: I thought it was something that I needed to do for me and for my family because most people outside of my immediate family didn’t even know the story. I never told people; they just thought I was some ordinary person.
I thought it would just be an exercise and a process that would somehow be beneficial to the people that I am close with. A few months after starting to write it, we were on a cruise. And we met some people from Philadelphia who wanted to read my manuscript. And they encouraged me to keep writing because they couldn’t put it down.
And then, when I was done, I flew to Philadelphia and met with these women (people she had met on the cruise) as well as some of their friends who I didn’t know, and they became my Philadelphia critique group.
They told me what they though I needed to elaborate on, what they wanted to know more about, and they were so encouraging that I said, ‘You know what, maybe this book really should be for people other than just my family, because here are strangers telling me to keep writing!’
AJT: Your husband also had a tragic loss as a teenager, right? Is that how you connected with him?
Fishman: We met when we were 17, and he had just been orphaned and had been left with a brother with special needs. I was essentially orphaned because my father really wasn’t able to be a father anymore because he never recovered from the tragedy.
And so, we were two 17-year-olds who were destined to meet and be together. We were both determined to create a happy life, and we were able to do that together.
AJT: Why did you become a motivational speaker?
Fishman: Actually, I call it inspirational speaking … because I believe that everyone needs to be inspired to do things. Once the book came out and I began getting invitations to book clubs and other events, I was in this whirlwind of speaking. It was so rewarding to speak and to see the impact I was having on the audiences.
I actually sold a camp that I directed, which was my main career, to speak full-time. It’s all on a volunteer basis. I just really want to get out there and tell my story because the feedback I get is that people … feel like they can move forward with their life and that there’s some light in what they thought was only a dark spot for them.
AJT: Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone who might hear you speak at Temple Sinai?
Fishman: I would encourage people to read “Repairing Rainbows” if they can because I think knowing the story really makes the whole conversation and the whole talk even more impactful and meaningful.
But, if they don’t, I’m hoping that just hearing the story from both me and [my husband] Barry, especially right around Rosh Hashanah is really quite incredible.
My father made very different choices (in his life) and he just spent the rest of his time alive in a state of distress because he never recovered, and that’s heartbreaking. It’s not what my mother and sisters would have wanted.
But people don’t think that way. People who have suffered loss or lost someone that they love don’t feel like it’s okay to live again. Sometimes they need permission, someone to push them and say, ‘Hey, this is not what your loved one would have wanted!’
THE 911: Lynda Fishman’s talk, “Letting Your Past Make You Better, Not Bitter,” will be at Temple Sinai, 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 31. For additional information, call 404-252-3073.