I still remember the first time she said it – the three words that would guide me through life for decades to come.
“Always show up.”
Those words of advice did not come from my mother – they came from my best friend’s mother. That’s why on Mother’s Day, I don’t just celebrate my own mom, but all women who embody the courage to show up, especially for a child.
I do my best to show up in everything that I do – from my career as the Director of Advance Planning at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, where I help families make decisions, often navigating uncertainty, discomfort, loss, healing, love, stress and joy while simultaneously doing the same for my own untraditional family. From raising my three children to being gifted two bonus children to fostering a child abandoned by his family on his fifteenth birthday, I show up – no matter what.
But showing up hasn’t always been easy.
Before 40, I was divorced, beat cancer twice, was struck by a vehicle that sent me into open-heart surgery, and had my world shattered when my daughter was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
And now – working at Mount Sinai– I face difficult moments that challenge me to show up daily. There are texts and emails waiting when I wake up and phone calls late into the night. In meeting rooms, families may be flooded with unexpected emotional memories when planning their own arrangements. No two days are alike. I’ve seen caskets far too small and listened to tragic stories that defy imagination. Most recently, I was present when Rabbi Paul Kipnes officiated the first COVID-19 funeral at our cemetery, a jarring and heartbreaking scene that reinforced my commitment to show up and shepherd my family, my workplace and the entire Mount Sinai community through this unprecedented era.
Life has thrown a great deal my way and, as a single mom for almost 15 years, I know I am constantly improving how I react to situations but am always empowered with the choice to act. As mothers, we do everything we possibly can: we tell our kids to look both ways, we teach them empathy, to listen, to enjoy life. But we can’t teach the cars to slow down or the world to be gentle with our beautiful sons and daughters. All we can do is show up and hold our families close, have faith and accept that, eventually, we will lose control. We plan to the best of our ability but focus on the now and cherish the gift of today. We simply cannot know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Take the coronavirus pandemic. In a million years, I never expected to hold a cell phone for a socially distant funeral or move dozens of meetings I have each week with Mount Sinai families to Zoom. I never expected to spend my Mother’s Day placing Jerusalem stones on hundreds of graves of mothers whose families are staying safe at home. But here we are adapting—yet another essential skill for any mother!
For most people, death is not a normal part of life. It’s foreign and confusing and tragic, even in the best of cases. And when families are going through the unthinkable, many simply do not know what they need. Or, for those wanting to fulfill the mitzvah of planning ahead, there is difficulty initiating the conversation. Being a mother has taught me how to foreshadow and read between the lines to help others understand what they don’t know. I am grateful for mother’s intuition allowing me to show up for people who may not even be able to ask for help. During times of grief, people need compassion and care. They need to know that no matter what, we’ll be there for them and their family – even if that means showing up at 3 o’clock in the morning as a mother does for her sick child or coming into work during a pandemic.
One thing I have always loved about Judaism – like in many cultures – is the central role that many women play in the lives of children. I take the lessons I learned from women in my life to heart and show up in everything I do: in the mortuary, where every family feels like the first family, each loss as heavy and important as the one that preceded; at a graveside, where I may be the sole guest other than someone’s spouse; in the office, where I show up for my amazing team who serve on the front line of compassion; and at home, as a mother to children who each need a different kind of parenting.
Most Jewish kids grow up with “aunts” – women who may not be biologically related, but who nonetheless play a deeply impactful role in their upbringing. Growing up in West Covina, one of those “aunts” was my best friend’s mother – the woman who taught me to show up.
I have passed her lesson on to each of my own children, adding my own twist: “be good, do good, and show up.”
This Mother’s Day, Mount Sinai Memorial Parks is celebrating the women we can never forget. I’m celebrating my mom, my “aunts” from my childhood, the wives and mothers I meet every day at Mount Sinai and every woman everywhere who shows up for those they love.