Last week, my mother, Susan Margulies, lost her battle with Glioblastoma Multiformae, an aggressive form of brain cancer. She died the day before her 63rd birthday. 

Mommy,

Two years ago, when we learned of your diagnosis, the sky started falling. The terror of losing you crept into every aspect of our lives. We woke up with that terror and we went to sleep with it. There was no respite.

We couldn’t imagine life without you. You were our oxygen, our glue, our foundation, our family’s heartbeat.

You were our mother; you were life itself. You were love itself.

You were the cool hand that checked for fever, the warm lips on my forehead. You were the voice telling me that I could do anything and be anything; that everything would be OK. When I was sick, you’d whisper, “How I wish I could take this away from you.”

Your love was fierce, emotional, maternal—you were a mama bear always ready to defend her young. “10,000 dinosaurs would have to stampede over my body before I’d let anything happen to you,” you once said, instead of ‘good night.’

You saw your children, and all children, as people, with ideas, unique personalities and rights. And so that’s how you raised us, from the earliest age. You always respected our intelligence. You never lied to us and you never snooped. You answered all of our questions—however intimate– calmly and truthfully, and you empowered your two daughters to understand that their minds and bodies were their own. You respected our privacy and created a home that was a loving haven; a sacred and safe space.

You encouraged us to read, to think, to ask questions, to have opinions, and to stand up for what was right—even if it wasn’t popular.

You always wanted to know what was going on in my life and my heart. If something bothered me, it bothered you—and you couldn’t rest until it was resolved. There was nothing I couldn’t tell you.

As the child of Holocaust survivors, you had a keen awareness of danger and the power of intuition, and you gave us advice that has always guided me: “Listen to your gut. If you’re ever in a situation and something doesn’t feel right, get out. Don’t worry about appearances—just get out.”

You raised us with such strong Jewish identities. We always knew where we came from, what our family had lost, and that we were part of a chain stretching back generations. “Anywhere you go in the world,” you told me, “find a synagogue. The melodies may be a little different but you’ll feel something familiar.” Because of you, wherever I am in the world, I try to find a synagogue or Jewish community.

You also had such a playful, sweet and fun side.

When your little girl asked for a cookie, you bought her two—“one for each hand,” you said.

When a friend’s dog turned 13, you bought him a “Bark Mitzvah” card and wrote, “May you be an asset to your community.”

Your daughter often made you laugh so hard that you begged her to stop.

You loved shopping with your girls, snuggling on the couch with sushi and reality TV, and frequent trips to Sephora, where every makeup artist you encountered oohed and ahhed over your beauty, and often asked if you were our sister. You were gorgeous inside and out, Mommy. We were always so proud to be your daughters.

You loved life and you were always ready and willing to squeeze as much laughter and experiences out of it as possible. You spoke four languages and easily picked up new ones wherever you went. And no matter where you were, or what language you were speaking, you had a special gift for communicating with people. You weren’t content with small talk and had no patience for artificial social barriers. You wanted to know what made people tick. Whether with old friends or perfect strangers, you had a way of getting to the heart of the matter, of making people feel seen and heard. They loved you for that.

Daddy was the love of your life and together, you traveled the world, raised two children, did reams of crossword puzzles, read stacks of books, went to museums and shows and galleries, and built the house of your dreams in the Berkshires. I’ll never forget being in Mykonos, watching the two of you dance cheek to cheek as the sun set, and wondering if I’d ever have a love like yours.

And when I finally found my love, nothing made you happier. You loved him as if he were your own son, and you said that you’d be at our wedding even if you had to crawl there.

Well, you made it to our wedding, Mommy—and you were so radiant and joyful, even with brain cancer and a fractured femur, that you mesmerized everyone who saw you. For me, you are the definition of a warrior, a mother and a woman—you are the highest example I know of living life with courage, resilience, warmth, loyalty, integrity, curiosity and love.

The lessons you’ve taught me, the values you’ve imparted and the love you’ve wrapped me in are mine to keep forever.

A few months ago, you told me, “I’ve lived such a wonderful life. If this is all I get, so be it. The rest is just gravy.”

We will love you and miss you forever. But you’ll be here with us—in every breath we take, every beat of our hearts, every step on this earth.

My mother at Ben Gurion Airport, having just arrived for my wedding,

My mother at Ben Gurion Airport, having just arrived for my wedding,