Half a Life: My Personal Untold Memoir

Dear Mom,

Where do I begin to explain my pain so deep, a pain that has been with me throughout most of my entire life? There’s a feeling of incompletion. We all know the feeling that something is missing — such as a part of our selves — or when we find ourselves in a different situation. We know the difference between feeling whole and feeling incomplete. I will never understand the way the world works or how Hashem conducts events throughout our lives. I guess He does this in order to protect us and our loved ones.

It has been 32 years since I’ve seen you last. 32 years that I haven’t felt you, looked at you, heard your sweet voice. 32 years that you haven’t seen me grow — from my childhood, teenage, and adulthood years. It has been way too long and hard. It has involved too much pain, too much of a missing void, and has been too challenging every step of the way. You left my world too early and it isn’t fair. Why me? Why my three beautiful sisters? Why my father? I can ask questions endlessly. Yet I know G-d has his plans.


The fact that Dad was 20 years older than you did not help when you passed away at the age of 38, leaving four beautiful little girls behind and a father who never knew what hit him. He never was the same after my mom passed on. He was there physically, but not emotionally. The flame within him had always been so bright with his love for you — “crazy love.” Many people used to say you died within him, and life was truly never the same.

May 5, 1984 (4 Iyar 5744) was the worse day of my life. At the unfathomable age of 38, Marcelle Messody Zrihen, a”h, left this world. Can you imagine four little girls sitting shivah for their young mother? One should never experience this, yet I did!

When you left this world, the void you left was incomprehensible. Coping with a loss due to a tragedy was heart-wrenching for our entire family. Being raised without a mother is the hardest experience one can ever imagine.

Thank G-d for Dad, who kept us as whole as we were able to be. Don’t forget: he lost the love of his life; a part of him that made him complete was no longer there, and he had to put all that aside and try to raise his daughters alone — loving them, caring for them. How do you do that when half your heart is gone? Yet he managed to make our house a home again.

38-years-old is a very short lifetime in this world. Mom, you were known to be such a soft-spoken woman, gentle and talented. Everyone knew you for your passion for music; music was food for your soul.

Over the years we learned to live with one parent. I guess the only date that bothered me at school was Mother’s Day, so I did not go to school on that day. Yet Dad understood.

Mom, you did not attend my bat mitzvah, my wedding, and my children’s festive occasions… Yet I do see you every day in everything I feel, I see and experience. Despite not being physically with me, I know you’re always there.

I always tell myself that unless someone walks in your shoes or experiences the same pain of loss, they can be compassionate but will never truly know the pain of living “half a life,” as I never felt whole growing up with someone missing — my mom — the main ingredient in a family, in a home.

We had a guardian angel growing up and I know she watched over us. Throughout our lives she sent us the right people.

Everything changed when I became a mother myself 17 years ago. I looked around and needed you spiritually. You were there and I needed you here, now with me, and no one was around. I kept crying for you and telling Hashem, “How can I know how to be a mother when I lost mine? What do I do? How do I start caring for a baby?”

I realized that love has no boundaries and loving my firstborn so much is a different kind of love than that toward a husband or a sibling. It’s a love so deep that I felt a piece of you with my newborn son. It gave me the courage to do what mothers are meant to do.

After that came my daughter and my second son; I wish they could have met their grandmother, but I know that in each of my children there is a piece of you within them.


Now that they are teenagers, I always tell them how I never had my mom to do what I do for them. I want them to know that I love them so much. I want them to cherish the moments that we have and not to take life for granted; it’s an unpredictable mystery.

Well, Dad passed away 16 years ago, and he was reunited with his wife. Even though I miss you both dearly, there is sense of completion now that you are together, watching over me and my sisters and our families.

King Solomon may have been the wisest of all men, but even his wisdom was shaped by a powerful force in his life: his mother (Proverbs 31:10). It was King Solomon who would exhort each Jew, “Listen, my son, to the Torah of your mother…” (ibid. 1:8). Mom, you have been the greatest and most powerful source one can ever give over, and this enabled your daughters to be who they are today. Mom, we miss you terribly. There are no words to describe my everlasting pain and the yearning to see you one more time.


At a Simcha with all my sisters…

“Mom” is a special word. Some say “ima,” some say “maman,” some say “mommy,” but there is this sense of calmness when I myself say it sometimes in silence — “mom” — as I never really practiced it before.

My life is complete with all of Hashem’s blessings: a great husband, wonderful children, amazing friends who have become my family — but it will always be “half a life,” as when a piece is missing from your heart and your soul is never completely healed and whole.


Your daughter,


About the Author
Francine Azuelos born in Montreal, Canada she is a former educator where she taught in Yavneh Academy in Montreal. In 2001 she moved to Toronto and managed several businesses in the retail industry and later got into the field of finance & non-profit.
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