We are officially in the last stage of my mom’s life. I’m remembering the last call I got from you, when you softly shared the news that your cancer had spread everywhere. All I wanted to do was jump in my car and be with you but it was time for your family to come together for that last week .
I think about you as I share the last days, hours with my family as we say good-bye to my mom.
I sat with family yesterday in my mom’s hospital room. Now in that comfort phase, the nurses work to keep her peaceful and offer us what they can to keep us feeling supported.
As I ride up to her in the morning and back home in the afternoon I write a eulogy to her in my mind.
I think about a photograph that was taken at the photo shoot for my brother Jeff’s Bar Mitzvah. She was well dressed of course, hair just so but it’s how tall she stood, how confidently she smiled. That’s the towering presence that I followed for the first 18 years of my life. I picked up the books she loved, sat through her favorite movies with bowls of popcorn, happily traveled with her from Kingston, to Middletown, to Poughkeepsie for classical music concerts watching her close her eyes and hum to the music.
I loved learning from her and with her and when I graduated from high school and was ready to leave for college, she let me go. She would have been happier to have me stay closer to home but she helped me pack, dropped me off at my dorm and left with an empty car for home.
She wasn’t out of my life but she allowed me to grow into my own skin. She had provided the foundation and now she let go.
Well not completely of course.
Here’s just one story:
I was a senior in college, serious and passionate about European history, more specifically the revolutions of 1848. We were on a family vacation during winter break in Florida and I was smoking cigarettes then, the only one in my family and it was driving my brothers crazy. We were sitting at the pool, I was smoking and feeling dizzy. My mom probably knew it and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. “How about we made a deal. You stop smoking those cigarettes and for your graduation, we will send you to Europe. Anywhere you want to spend the summer.”
I handed her the pack of Parliaments and started planning my trip.
When we were back home and I was about to enter my last semester at Hofstra, my advisor suggested a summer program in Saltzburg, Austria offered at the Klessheim Palace. I did the research and shared the details with my parents. My dad was not happy. “Why do you have to go somewhere where we are hated?”
My mom intervened. “We taught her to be open to the world.”
I went. I explored. I experienced my own unexpected torment when I visited a concentration camp and even though my mom would have been happier if I had spent that summer in Israel or somewhere more friendly to Jews, she let me go.
She was that towering presence in my life sharing what she loved and allowing me to find my own path.