It’s hard to believe that only recently my mother was the “young 73 year old,” living her life, mentally sharp, interested, active, meeting friends at new restaurants, playing bridge, going to movies and plays, walking the streets of New York, feeding its economy by spending at all the best stores and nail salons. It’s hard to believe that only months ago she was always at the other end of the phone. But my mother was, and isn't anymore. On November 5th we found out she had brain cancer. And on December 16th she died.
I’ve tried to sit down and write this, write something, many times over the last few months, but never got very far. Initially I think I had wanted to give life to her memory, and then maybe in some small way to honor me, my brother and sister for the experience we had all gone through together. Other times, just to clear my head. But today is my birthday, a day that was naturally as much hers as mine. Also a day when, year after year, I could always rely on the first call of my day to be from her. Today, filling the silence with words about her, seemed like the right time to try to finish this, whatever this is.
The numbness from the shock and the emotionally exhaustive 5 1/2 weeks we spent watching as each day she disappeared a little more has worn off. But in its place, has come a strange, long mix of emotions. Initially I just felt “off,” for lack of a better term. It was time to go back to work, get back to life, so my body went through the motions. But my brain didn’t always follow. I found I couldn’t concentrate very well or pay attention to anything for very long. I can’t count the number of things I lost or misplaced during that first month. The “off” phased into a feeling of disorientation, just couldn’t find my balance. My brother described it in terms of DNA, half of it suddenly disappearing. For me, it felt like a missing limb. I knew she wasn’t there, but it felt like she was. And in her absence, pain and sadness. Now, I'm just trying to make sense of how someone is here - and then not.
There is definitely some comfort having my siblings, Jerry and Joanne, around. Both to share in memories of her, and process the whole thing. Although we all had very different relationships with my mother and are coming to terms with it in our own way, we’re all tied together in ways that go back far beyond the last few months. And the loss is profound for each of us, even as it manifests itself in different ways.
Random memories of her come at the oddest times and for no reason at all other than she is clearly top of mind. At the gym, in a meeting, on the subway... thoughts of her through the years, when she was sick, and the weeks before that, of the signs that might have been a clue there was something wrong.
My mother was a dichotomy of many things, as we all are. She was sweet, sensitive and very easy going, but also quite judgmental. She was very opinionated, but didn’t always feel it was her place to interject. (Sharing her thoughts with others instead of the intended target.) She was very loving, but could also be aloof at times, putting up just enough of a wall to keep her in her comfort zone. She could be very giving, but also unbelievably self-absorbed. She was creative, but also very smart with a good business head. She was quite weak in some ways, while incredibly strong in others - and brave too, braver than she gave herself credit for. Actually a real survivor. She just didn’t see herself that way. Ultimately, she had a very good life, fortunate in so many ways. But too often she viewed life through the lens of a half empty glass.
Regardless of the negative traits - some of which unfortunately she passed right along to me - I loved my mother deeply. She was incredibly cute, often quite silly and could really be very fun. Loved a party and a drink. Loved exploring new things, loved food & cooking (something she was excellent at), loved her kids and adored her grandchildren. My mother and I talked all the time, many times a week, if not daily. We enjoyed the city together, we traveled together, talked about nonsense – stories no one else would care about or listen to - and at times, we also annoyed the shit out of each other. In the end, although not always in the ways I wanted or needed her to be, she was there, always. For good, for bad and for everything in the middle, she was my mother - and I miss her. Especially today.
My brother and I have birthdays two days (and two years) apart. And this year, I am celebrating with him and his family in L.A. Although I didn’t get the call from my mother this morning, appropriately, the first birthday greeting I got was from my youngest niece Ruby. She is sweet, sensitive, looks very much like a Solomon and loved Grandma Judy deeply. A picture of her and her grandmother sits by her bed. And she misses her too, so we reminisced and told funny stories about her the last few days. As Ruby says, sometimes it really feels like she is still here, like she was just on a long trip.
If only, she was.