In shul (synagogue) yesterday, my daughter asked me “Isn’t tomorrow Grandma’s Yahrzeit (anniversary of death)?” I told her no, it’s just the English date, but it’s amazing that she remembered. She said, “When you love someone that much, you remember.”
She is right, you do remember, and like I remember so many details of when each of my children was born, I recall so much of what happened when each of my parents died.
For my father, I still think of how when I was told it was time, and I’d better get on a plane, I hesitated, looking at my lists of things I was supposed to do that week. Well, when emergencies happen, you can throw your lists out the window. So I did—even after I got back, it was months before I used my notepad again, before I was able to seek a semblance of control or think that I knew what was possibly going to happen the next day; I was afraid to plan only to have it all change, to be told nope, not gonna happen.
With my mother, I also had no idea when it would happen; I just knew enough to go see her as often as I could. From the time she was diagnosed, I went in for every single bit of time off I had, in case each was the last. But my mom was as much of a fighter as my father, and we had time—until we didn’t. We had most of last summer, even managing to get her to a visit with her favorite beach, getting her a beach wheelchair and a canopy so she could sit and watch the waves one last time. She didn’t get to lie on the sand, or play with my children, but she was there. After that she started to deteriorate more quickly, reluctantly letting go. She found the willpower to still make it to the shabbos table one last time, for my daughter’s birthday. That was the last time she got out of bed. She was still awake, talking to us, but she spoke less and less. The next shabbos we brought Kiddush in to her room. She listened and said amen. Then suddenly she fell fast asleep. We really thought that was it, but she stayed with us almost another week. It was hard to know what we wanted. We wanted her to stay with us, but also to rest, to be at peace. We took shifts staying up to give her oral pain medication with a syringe. It was like the time after a baby is born, when new parents are bleary and only have about enough to function and make sure the baby is getting care. We also got up because we didn’t want to miss too many of her last moments, and we wanted to be with her at the end.
Dying is a lot like being born, and yet it’s not. We remember so much, but there is also the blessing of forgetfulness of the difficult things; I don’t remember now how often we got up, or too much of anything that happened in that last week. (I had to look back at what I wrote to remember some of what happened then.)
A few days ago I was watching a program where a main character got killed. During a lot of the show the other characters ‘saw’ her, but they each envisioned her as their idealized version of who she was. At the end, when they had the funeral, each person then saw her more as a memory — they showed a clip of a time she had interacted with each of them. I understood exactly what they were implying; while they were still trying to deal with her death, they made her out to be more than she was; they saw her as “perfect”. But in the end, when they were able to accept it and to tell themselves that they loved her for who she was, that was how they saw her.
My mother was a lot of things; sometimes an amazing example, and sometimes a horrible warning. Part of where she was a horrible warning instead of a good example, was that I don’t think she really chased her dreams, or followed her passion. She had one life and it turned out to be shorter than any of us thought it would be. She was who she was, not perfect, but very loving. She made me crazy sometimes, wanting things her way, but she was real. And I can’t ask her any more about herself, about me or our family, or what she thinks about something. Every once in a while, when I think of a question I want to ask her, it hits me hard again that I will not get another answer because she is just gone. For this reason, I am trying to write things down for my children, answer questions they don’t know they have yet.
My mother was so damn stubborn too, and this taught me to stand up for myself and for others and to fight for what I believe in. she has taught me to do the things I want to do, to ‘get my priorities straight’, and to enjoy life, because we never have as much time as we think we do.
I learned a lot from her, but I don’t want to remember her as perfect. It would make her less than she was, and take away from the good that she brought to the world. In the end she was who she was, just her.
I miss you, Eema.