Oh death, what you do to me

My father asked me tonight who in my family had the hardest time after my mother’s death. Like it’s a competition. He asked because someone at work wanted to know. Someone who is curious.

I said I don’t know. It really isn’t a competition. Everyone will mourn in their own way in their own time. There’s no one way to do grief. No time limit on grieving.

But it has been particularly hard for me. Mostly because I was one of her caretakers towards the end of her life. I really miss that. I really miss pushing her down the hall to appointments. I really miss entering future appointments into my calendar. Keeping track of her schedule. Feeling needed. Feeling important.

After she died, during Shiva I looked at my calendar and there was a follow up appointment for an MRI scheduled for two months in the future. I deleted the entry. No need for that.

I had to call the equipment rental company to have them pick up her oxygen equipment. When they asked the reason why, I simply said, she died.

This year has been hard on me in many ways but a lot of it has to do with my mind coming to terms with this lack in my life. It feels like an imbalance. Like something in the house is completely off. There’s this silence that nothing seems to be able to fill.

I listen to her voicemails and it’s not the same. I try to make sense of life before she got sick, and after. A lot of it doesn’t make sense and maybe never will.

It’s disorienting. I have no idea what it’s like to lose a limb, thank G-d. And I never imagined I would know what it’s like to lose a parent. But now that I do, maybe I have some sense of what it’s like to lose a part of your body. I imagine it’s an ache for awhile, like a small child losing their favorite blanket. But in that case, maybe the ache goes away. Eventually the child forgets. The longing grows less.

In this case, it has dulled over time, this feeling of missing and of lacking. But it’s still there. There’s still a part of me that will always feel incomplete.

It’s hard because I didn’t actually know she was going to die. It wasn’t neat and tidy like you see in the movies, where the doctor says the patient has very little time left and the family gathers at their bedside to say goodbye. In this case, the doctor said “hang in there”. I don’t know if he really didn’t know she was going to die, or he really didn’t want to tell us. Either way, it happened very suddenly. One moment she was there, albeit not entirely functioning, and then she was just gone. No more.

It’s hard because I think of all the years left she could have lived, all the experiences she could have had.

I have a flashback from driving with her on a road trip, late at night. I’m half asleep in the passenger seat. She’s driving. We enter a highway. She accelerates really fast on the entrance ramp. I get annoyed. Be gentle with my car. She says that’s the only way she’ll get on.

Another time in the car, I flip through the stations and start enjoying a pop song, which turns out to be Christian rock. I turn it off, laughing. We both get a kick out of that.

This year has been hard because my mind is befuddled. It’s hard to comprehend that it has almost been a year since she died. I can’t stop the passing of time. I can’t stop anything at all. The farther along we go, the last of the “firsts” we pass. Last year Yom Kippur I opted to stay home instead of going to shul, and spent time talking to her.

I listen to her voicemails now and I have to shut it off. I simply can’t listen anymore.

It’s hard because I can’t comprehend not having this person in my life who was there since my birth. I just don’t know how to get past this missing. The loss that will never really go away.

That day was a flood of emotions; it was also a complete shut down. My body refused to do what it was supposed to. I left the house only because other people left first, and I figured why should I stay here alone. I went to Kohl’s to do returns. I was returning skirts she would never get to wear. Irrational, but it had to be done. I cried on line. The cashier never bothered to ask if I was okay.

I went to Rockland kosher to get sushi, the only easy thing I thought I could put in my body. I cried.

I went to CVS to pick up my medicine. I cried.

There’s not enough tissues in the world that can contain the tears of losing my mother.

The funny thing is, I want to talk to my mother about all of this. When I was sad or having a hard time, I would call home and my mother would reassure me. Sometimes there was nothing she could really say. But she tried.

I honestly don’t know where to go from here. Should I go over the details again and again? Should I put it out of my mind? What’s the right way to move forward?

How can I make sense of my mother’s life and her death? How can I help keep her memory alive?


Quiet Before The Storm

That day started like any other,
My sister says, it’s cold here, 17 degrees
No one cares
My friend says, come for Shabbos,
I say maybe
No one knows my mother is upstairs dying
I’m putting on makeup
I didn’t know
They came
And they pumped her chest
Again and again
I lay on the floor crying
We all wandered around not sure what to do
Like ringing in my ears but no sound
The world has gone silent and I will never hear again
They keep working on her
It’s cold outside
The guy calls me about a house for rent
Someone texts me about babysitting
I tell her sorry there’s a family emergency
She says no worries my husband had a work emergency, it worked perfectly
I don’t tell her my mother is dead
It’s thanksgiving
People are celebrating
The street is flooded with ambulances and flashing lights
I stand outside in the cold
There’s really no chance but maybe, maybe they’ll bring her back
They come down and we know it’s over
We knew
And finally
The silence erupts
And all hell breaks loose

Here’s How

I’m thankful for the laws, the rules that bind us
At other times I would buck them, hate them, fight them
But today, the most horrible day of my life, I am grateful for them.
Tell me what to do
Tell me how to go on
Cover the mirrors
Get low sitting chairs
Cut your nails
Take a shower
Here’s what’s going to happen tomorrow
Stand here
Say this
Rip here
Go there
I remember lying under my blanket that night shivering,
I couldn’t get warm and there was no way I was going to sleep,
none of us slept that night,
I couldn’t shake off the horrible feeling of her skin cooling
When I kissed her for the last time
Getting up at 6am feeling tired, and drained,
To go to the funeral, the first funeral I ever went to,
I am so grateful for my friends and family for literally holding me up
But grateful also for the laws, for the rules, for the people who simply told me what to do,
Please tell me what to do!!
When I’m blinded by tears
I need you to take me by the hand
And lead me
Help me when I simply can’t help myself,
Remind me to eat when I can’t taste anything in my saliva filled mouth,
That week I clung to the mourner’s instructional manual,
The book of laws,
I found comfort in being directed
You don’t know until you need to know
May you never have to know
But when you do
There’s a certain level of comfort
In letting go
And letting someone else take the reigns.
Thank you G-d for taking my mother
And for giving me the people to hold me up
When I couldn’t stand on my own.
Thank you to the ones who never left my side
And to the laws G-d created for mourners
For those unable to think
When your mind cannot go on
The Torah says:
Here’s how.

Where Does it Hurt

I held her in my arms when she was dying
She was dying on the cold hard floor
It was a Thursday
There was nothing I could do about it
She sat in the lobby in pain
There’s so much pain here
I cry and think I’ll never come up for air
I miss touching her
Hugging her
Kissing her cheek
Did she know we loved her?
Do you know how much I don’t want you to be in pain?
Yet I rush you to appointments
And I shove you in the car
And I plan plan plan the next day
The next week
We make appointments like there’s many tomorrows
When one day, one horrible miserable Thanksgiving day,
You’ll be gone
I feel that I hurt you
She told me to hug you and kiss you and tell you that we love you
But I didn’t say it enough
I said, why, she’s not dying
But you were.
I’m so sorry Mommy for not touching you enough.
I’m sorry for being on my phone in the lobby while you sat in your jacket with the hood up because you were always cold, and you could barely take a bite of the sandwich I prepared for you, and I looked around, and I was healthy
And you were dying
I ask you now where does it hurt
And you say, everywhere
And I don’t kiss it and make it better
Instead, I keep making appointments hoping they can fix you and put you back together
But you were rotting from the inside out
Your core was coming apart
And I couldn’t do anything to fix you
Or to take away the pain.

365 Moments of Healing

I stare at the skin on my thumb, the skin that a week ago wasn’t there. My hands got sweaty inside the rubber gloves I was using to mop, the mopping I didn’t want to do but did anyway because the cleaning help didn’t come. When I peeled off the gloves, the skin was gone. Rubbed off, I assume.

It instantly hurt, just from knowing it was there. It of course did not hurt a minute prior to this knowledge.

I tried ointment. I tried a bandaid. But the fresh raw baby pink skin underneath just stayed exposed. It was painful. I tried my hardest not to bump it into anything, but it was unavoidable. The thumb, a majorly used digit. A very important component of the hand.

I’m somewhat obsessive about washing my hands, and every time I washed them the skin stared at me, wet and pink. Vulnerable and unprotected.

And then a fascinating thing started to happen. The skin began to grow back. This is fascinating because the human body is equipped with much of what it needs to heal itself. It can grow skin! That’s amazing!

I watched every day as the fresh pink flesh began to get tighter and tighter, until eventually the skin began to grow from the edges in towards the center of the wound. The color turned more white and less pink. The healing process was well under way.

As the layers of skin continued to grow back, I reflected on this past year of healing, and all the small moments that came together to mend our souls.

The first few months after my mother died were the hardest. From going to her grave which I knew I wasn’t supposed to do for the first year, to sitting in the driveway by our old house crying hysterically in my car, I tried to find her everywhere. Every time I thought about never seeing her again, I felt like an astronaut who walked off the surface of the moon and was doomed to float in outer space forever, until death. This was a very morbid and depressing thought. It was very scary in its intensity. My thinking is already catastrophic by nature, and being an “all or nothing” kind of person doesn’t create the most positive mindset for my life.

But this, having a death in my family, was something I didn’t think I would ever fully recover from.

Let me tell you, grieving is a beautiful process. Beautiful in the sense that there is a way for our souls to heal and for our lives to find a way to continue on. We continue if not for ourselves, then for the fact that we have no other option.

“I felt happy, and then I felt sad.” This from a person who’s experienced this loss. It is a part of life to feel guilt in moving on without a loved one who passed. But to live is what we were put here for.

After the grieving came and went, there wasn’t an actual time when my body said, now it’s time to live again. There was no moment of healing. It came in spurts. It came in minutes and hours and days.

Sometimes healing can take a lifetime. And sometimes it can take just a week for skin to grow back, for a life to feel rejuvenated.

G-d created sickness and death, and He also, in His infinite kindness, created healing. It is like a hug or a warm smile from my mother. It is feeling like I’m being cared for. It is sensing her presence and feeling like she is here with me.

It is knowing that eternity is not forever, and it is the comfort of knowing that there must be something after death. Of wondering and imagining what her soul is doing now, if perhaps it was gifted to another little boy or girl who needed to be born.

My mother always used to talk about what it would be like to be a grandmother. She would joke that my siblings would bring their kids over and when it was time to leave my mother would hide them under the covers and say, I don’t know where they went!

Well, now I imagine that she’s up in heaven playing with my own unborn children, getting to know them and love them and protect them until it is time for them to be born. She’ll be for me and for my family the same person she was in life, only now she has much greater capabilities then she ever did in life. I’d like to imagine that she’s free of all her fears and worries that weighed her down. I’d like to think that she’s full of happiness and laughter, the sides of her I saw come and go in life.

My wound will be closed up soon, fully healed in a way that would appear as if the skin was never blemished to begin with. Such is the amazing feat of the body.

And the soul, this in time will be fully healed too. Such is the nature of grief. It is ours for a time, and then it must move on, to make room for growth and wonder and life. The dead must move on, to make room for the living.

Blessed are You Oh Lord, Who created healing. Blessed are You Who gave us the strength to go on.

My birthday

I gave away the books. How was I to know that would be the last birthday present she ever bought me?

Do you think she knew, last year, that she wouldn’t be with me this year on my birthday? Probably not. She was probably scared, and spending her days fighting the cancer, not thinking about me. That’s narcissistic of me. I get it.

They were books of poetry. And not the cool modern kind I enjoy. The old classical romantic poets of old, the ones I had to read for English class in college. I’m not sure who’s idea it was, or why.

They knew I liked to read. That’s a good start.

I cleaned my room. They were just sitting there for awhile, literally collecting dust. I donated them to the library finally.

I doubt I would have ever read them. I even threw out the bag, and the paper plate. She always wrote notes on paper plates. How was I to know it was time to start saving them?

Should I hold onto every last scrap knowing that this might be the end?

I think these are feelings of guilt. Because I haven’t thought about her lately. And the less I think of her, the more I feel like she disappears from my life.

It’s like seeing her face in pictures, but it’s faded. It’s fading away. And I wonder what’s wrong with me, why I’m not crying anymore, why I don’t wake up missing her every day, why my heart doesn’t feel hollow and empty.

I wonder how I’ll live the rest of my life without her. That’s a lot of years to live without the first vital relationship I’ve ever had. The one that gave me the greatest love, and also the greatest hurt.

I don’t think about it. Maybe because I don’t want to deal with the pain. Maybe because I have dealt with it and there is no pain. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

I’ll never stop loving my mother, just because she’s gone. Maybe it’ll be harder now. Maybe I won’t think of her as much.

I don’t know what that means, beyond the fact that grief can’t last. If it did, we’d all be emotionally crippled.

I hope those books found a loving home. I hope my mother found a loving home.

I know my mom will find a way to be with me on my birthday. I’ll really miss getting a card from her. She always wrote from the heart, and she always told me how much she loved me and how proud she was of me.

But my birthday will come and I can’t stop it.

She’ll be here. I know she will.