death and dying


My beautiful mom

My beautiful mom

4 words I so love to hear.

4 words I so miss saying.

I can’t believe it’s been 7 whole years since she died. My world simultaneously stopped moving and started spinning at a crazy pace and before I knew it, I had been waiting for 7 years for my mom to call and ask me why I haven’t called her today.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel like I am missing an arm; Like there is a hole where part of my heart was, and even though I have created so much love around me, there’s just nothing that can fix it. You can’t grow back your arm, and you can’t get back your mom when she’s gone.

February-March is always so difficult, 2 weeks filled with the best and the worst: The Hebrew date of her death, then my daughter’s birthday, to be immediately followed 3 days later by the anniversary of her death. Sad, happy, sad, happy – a rollercoaster of emotions in such a short amount of time, that when I get off the rollercoaster, my head is spinning, I’m not sure where I am, and have no idea how to stand up straight again.

When I was putting Sophie to bed tonight, she asked me, “Why do you read to me, Mommy? Is it because I am awesome?” I answered, “Yes, you are awesome” and then she flung her arms around me, throwing me full force onto her bed, and said, “I love you, Mommy,” embracing me for two whole minutes. I swear I have no idea which one of us needed that hug more. It took all my strength, of which I possess none, not to break into tears in front of her.

Rarely a day goes by, if at all, when I don’t think of how different my life would be if she were here. If she knew my kids, if she would have been the difference between the postpartum depression I had with Sophie and not having it. It sounds terrible, but sometimes I wish I could just forget. Forget that she isn’t here by forgetting that she was.

But then I see my kids, and she is in all of them. She is in Sophie’s smile, in Chloe’s hands, and in Eitan’s eyes. The love she gave me passes through me and into them. I try to incorporate her into our world as much as possible.

“Sophie, you know what Savta (grandma) Rochale would say?”

“Yes, Mommy, she said you can’t have too much vanilla extract in a cake and to always put in a little bit more.”

So I pretend everything is marvelous. My family is healthy, and nothing else really matters. But I am missing that arm. Sometimes I forget it isn’t there and I can feel a phantom arm, but it isn’t really there. Everyone else sees the arm, though, they can’t see that it’s missing, so I will continue to go through life as if I am whole since nobody can see that I’m not.

 

Dear S and E,

You don’t know me. I’ve never met you, I have only seen pictures of you on Facebook, of your beautiful smiles and never-ending happiness. But I knew your mom. We worked together at camp, like so many others who have graced my Facebook feed with immense outpourings of love over the past week or so.

Last week was the 5th anniversary of my mother’s passing. Coinciding with that terrible anniversary came the miserable news that your marvelous mom was suddenly losing her battle to cancer. I’m writing you this letter because you two are so young, still in single-digit ages, and all of the memories of your mom will be of the hugs and meals and help she gave you.

For the past week, all I have been thinking about is you two. Your mom – who everyone knows is incredible – has been in my thoughts, but you two have been in my heart. Just like I never got to know my mother from the side of a parent (she passed before I was dating my husband, and definitely before I had a kid), you two will never get to know yours as an adult independent of her parenthood. And while I hate when people tell me what a wonderful woman my mother was, and how much they loved her, and how much they miss her, the fact is that I already know all those things; But you need to hear it.

There are many people who knew your mom better than I did, who will be able to tell you stories as you get older that I won’t be able to tell you. But what I would like to pass on to you is the view from someone whose life she touched, but was not a part of.

I only knew your mom from her early 20s, and I haven’t seen her in 20 years, but I am 100% certain that there is no one who has ever crossed paths with her who didn’t fall in love with her immediately. Her obvious physical beauty was nothing compared to her stunning soul. The second you met her – you wanted to be her friend. The moment you heard her sing – you didn’t want it to stop.

I didn’t work side by side with your mom, but I watched her from afar. I wanted to be her. I don’t mean I literally wanted to be her – I wanted to be loved like her, talented like her, and – most importantly to me at the time – to be such an adored counselor like her. I think the only person who didn’t look up to your mom – was your mom.

What’s most important for me to pass on to you is this: Even though she is being taken from you half a century too soon (at least!), she is part of you. I can see it in your smiles and your laughter and your inner happiness. You two will be amazing women for the simple fact that she was your mother. It isn’t something that is taught; It is inherent. Even if you can’t remember specific “lessons” that she’s taught you (which I also forget sometimes), it doesn’t matter. Her kindness and love for you and for people in general is as part of your body as your belly buttons.

There will be days when you don’t know how you can go on living without your mom – I was 31 when it happened and still don’t know how I am going on. It was especially hard when I got married, and when my daughter was born, and probably when my next kids are born.

But it’s a choice you make, and sometimes a choice you will make more than once a day. You can choose to be unhappy and focus on the sadness – which you will have plenty of – or you can focus on what you do have: Each other, an adoring father, and the knowledge that, though her time with you was short, you had the best mother you could possibly have.

I can even give you a real-life example of my own. My husband and I knew each other for 3 years before we started dating. Had I agreed to go out with him the first time he tried, he would have known my mother, even before she was sick. She would have had the comfort of knowing I was with a great man. She would have been at my wedding. She would have probably even known my first child.

I can choose to be filled with regrets that we did not date immediately; That my mom never got to be a part of such huge milestones in my life. Or I can choose to be thankful for the marvelous family I have.

I choose the latter. Some days this choice is harder than others, but I believe it’s honoring my mother’s memory. The best thing we can do to honor our mothers’ memories is to be wonderful women like they were, or at least aspire to be. They brought us here for a reason, and even existing in a way that goes against how they raised us – and do not be mistaken, she has raised you – would be a disservice and dishonor to them.

As the photos of your mom begin to disappear from my Facebook feed, this new reality will no longer be a part of my daily life as it has been for the past week and a half. But be not mistaken: There are hundreds of people, all around the world, who will forever have you two in their thoughts.

I’d like to leave you with a clip from YouTube. This is your mom’s gorgeous voice. I’m sure you will always remember how beautifully she sang, but there’s something extra special with this song. You see, it’s, very fittingly, called Modeh Ani – I am thankful.

I am heartbroken.

I am head over heels in love with my baby and I am thoroughly heartbroken.

Each time I call myself Mom when I speak to my daughter, my heart breaks for the “real” Mom, mine, the one who earned the title by right, and not by (giving) birth.

Every time I say Mommy to my daughter, the image of my own mother flashes in front of me. At least it her real image now, and not the dying one that I couldn’t get out of my head for so long.

And my my heart breaks because I can’t believe I have been a mother for 9 months, this whole time without her.

9 months that the word Mom switched meaning from her to me – but it really didn’t.

9 months that have already introduced crawling, teething, and even walking.

9 months of milestones that I can’t share with her, and can’t compare to my own milestones because I don’t know what they are.

9 months of questions that remain unanswered.

9 months of wondering if she would be proud of me – or if she’s slap me upside the head (so to speak) for something I was doing wrong.

9 months of falling deeper in love with the most amazing creature in the universe – the one who has the same exact smile and serious expression as my mom.

9 months of well-meaning friends and coworkers commenting, “Every time I think about you, I can’t believe that you are doing it without your mother.”

9 months of pretending that I appreciate the sentiment, but secretly feeling my heart fall apart.

9 months of so much love – and an equal amount of absence.

9 months of complete and utter bliss, coupled with relief, because I now know I really can do it without her.

I get about a dozen emails every week from people with a dying/dead parent, asking me for advice or just asking me to be a sounding board for them. Yesterday I received an email from someone who’s mother was just given a few weeks to live after recently finding out she had cancer. The writer asked me what I wish I would have asked my mom before she died.

A lot of what I would ask or do now is different from what I would have done at the time because I am now a mother and at the time I wasn’t even dating anyone (see how much happens in 3 years?) In retrospect, I would have asked her a lot of questions that would have made me feel stupid at the time, since they weren’t even in the near future, but I would have been happy to have the answers later. I don’t regret not asking her these questions for this precise reason – I wasn’t even able to see past the fact that she was dying to a time where I would be happy. Regardless, by the time we knew it was the end, she couldn’t talk anymore anyway, so none of these would have been an option.

I’d ask her about her pregnancies, and what it was like for her to be a mom for the first time (I am the eldest). And I’d ask her about her births and recoveries and how she got through everything. I’d ask her what challenges she came across with pregnancy and marriage and what she did to resolve them, and I’d ask her how can you love a tiny person so much and still have enough room to love another (we are three girls).

I’d ask her about my childhood, what kind of a kid I was like, what she would have done differently with us and what she would have done the same. I’d ask her about her wedding and what the planning was like, and what tips she may have for me and if she’d be OK with me wearing her wedding dress (which I did).

I’d ask her why my meatballs aren’t as delicious as hers and for her recipe for chili.

I’d ask her to reassure me that I will find someone who I would like to marry (and who’d like to marry me) and that I would be a great mom. And I’d ask for her to list the reasons since I wouldn’t believe her anyway.

I’d ask her to record a video of herself reading some stories for my future kids, like “Goodnight, Moon”, which my nephew and niece both loved so much, so they could somehow know her, even the puffy and weird version of her, though that may be painful to watch.

Most of all, I would ask her to hug me so I could sniff her and feel her touch. I would give almost anything just to feel her touch and smell her.

Hi Mom,

It’s been a while since I’ve written on the blog. As opposed to the previous times that I have delayed posting because I was crying too much – or didn’t want to cry – this time a tiny, 3.320 kilo person has delayed my post (Best. Excuse. Ever.)

I’d like to introduce you to my brand new daughter, Sophie Rachel Perez. Yes – her middle name is yours.

She was born on February 28, a couple of weeks early. A week before she was born, The Boy made me go to the doctor because I had some pain the night before. Turns out it was actual contractions and I was 1/3 of the way through, so I was sent to the hospital.

The Boy joined me at the hospital, and while Baby’s heartbeat was being monitored, I suddenly started shaking. I was freaked out, both at the concept of having a baby (whom I am expected to keep alive) and the fact that you wouldn’t be here for any of it. It’s not that I would have had you in the delivery room with me.

Or maybe I would have. Who knows? It was never an option. It would be like asking me if I would prefer boxers to briefs.

But it wasn’t meant to be that day, and as my due date approached, I couldn’t help but feel that I was going to give birth early. You see, 2 weeks before I was due was to be the three year anniversary of your death. From the moment I found out I was pregnant (and that I, most likely, conceived on your wedding anniversary), I kept having a feeling that Baby was going to come very close to that date.

A week after the previous hospital visit, after my regular doctor’s appointment, I was sent to the hospital and was induced. 12 hours after getting to the hospital, she came. Within seconds I was transformed into a parent.

It was, without a doubt, the weirdest feeling in the world. I can’t describe it. Somehow, I was able to focus completely on this absolutely awesome family that just formed, and I thought of no one except Baby and The Boy.

The next few days were a blur, as were the first days at home, where I was mainly amazed that I was expected to keep a tiny person alive with less training than I had on our washing machine. But 6 weeks later I am beginning to feel the impact of your absence.

It’s so incredible to me how things change in a moment. I was transformed into a mother with the same ease and incomprehensible speed with which I was orphaned.

I didn’t wonder how you felt when I was born – it was obvious to me that you must have felt the same insane range of emotions that I felt. But What about everything else? Did you cry? Did you feel incompetent? Did you feel abandoned by almost everyone and everything you know? Did you ever feel like a bad mother? I can’t possibly know – I couldn’t have possibly felt more loved by you.

But this is some of what I am faced with now, and I wish you were to tell me I’m doing OK. It doesn’t matter how many friends tell me I’m a good mother, I don’t believe them. How would they know? You would tell me the truth. And, since you know me better than anyone, I would believe you.

Or not. How would I know? Boxers or briefs.

Luckily for you and us, you did have a chance to be a grandmother and pass on some advice to my sister. She, in turn, passes some on to me. I think of it as by proxy parenting.

Sophie looks sooo much like you (me). She has your (my) smile and your (my) facial expressions. She has the funniest facial expression when I take the bottle out of her mouth, the same one that you had. Except on you it wasn’t funny – it was your expression when we fed you when you were dying. When she looks at me with that expression, I am overwhelmed with awe and love for her, and sadness and aching for you. I can’t separate the two from each other. I’m happy she looks like you because it gives the affirmation of your presence, but it’s so hard to be her mother sometimes, through no fault of her own other than DNA.

Furthermore, as I suspected, I indeed gave birth in very close proximity to the third anniversary of your death. I was released from the hospital on the day of your memorial. If that isn’t the circle of life, I don’t know what is.

Hi Mom,

It’s been a while since I’ve written. My last post, when I just got engaged, pretty much described everything leading up to the wedding. I survived it all and even had a great time. A lot of people have been talking to me about it, asking me how it went, so here’s the list of what I thought I wouldn’t survive – and what ended up happening:

  • You won’t be there for me to tell you I am engaged. You weren’t, but I survived.
  • You won’t be there to help me with the preparations. But Grandma came with me to be fitted for the dress the first time (the seamstress offered her a job), my baby sister the second, and my good friend the third. Shanainai tied it for me and everything. I survived.
  • Your name will be listed as z”l (deceased) on my wedding invitation – or is it not supposed to be listed at all? I have no idea. A non-issue. We didn’t list any parents on the invite, we just made the invitation from us. That was easy. I survived.
  • You won’t be at the signing of the Ketubah. Neither was any other female. If anything, you were there, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even know when it happened. Survived.
  • You won’t be walking down the aisle. Grandma went with me instead. The rabbi suggested it, and I loved the idea. So did she. Definitely survived.
  • You won’t be under the chuppah with me. Grandma was. But then again, so were you. I know it was you that made that wind blow and knock everything over. Definitely survived.
  • You won’t be beaming down at me. Ever. No, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I guess I accepted it, so I survived.

The truth is, the  most stress I had about and from the wedding was that I was afraid of the attention. I was hoping no one would mention you when they saw me, and thankfully just about no one did, other than a few of the elderly. But I had that invisible “pretend you are someone else” wall up, and it worked perfectly.

In fact, everything went very smoothly, from the planning (which I hated, but I would have hated it if you were here, too, to be fair), all the way through the wedding. I had more offers of help than I knew what to do with, and The Boy and I knew what we wanted and wouldn’t let anyone bully us into something we didn’t want to do. Well, we did invite a few people I didn’t want to invite, but The Boy was right, it wasn’t worth the fight.

I had the sleeves from your dress removed, and the back opened up with a corset-type thing to tie it with, and the dress ended up being great. I would have preferred to be a few pounds lighter, but who wouldn’t… Dad’s best friend growing up actually asked me at the wedding if it was your dress – he somehow remembered your dress from 36 years before!

I’m so happy I got to wear it. There were a few times where I felt I  missed out on the choosing-a-dress part of the wedding, but the truth is it doesn’t matter – who wouldn’t rather wear their mother’s dress if it was as gorgeous as it is? There were times where I would suddenly think, I can’t believe my mom danced in this and ate in this and got married in this. I thought it would make me cry, but I loved it. By the way, I hope you didn’t take it personally that I changed clothes when we were dancing. I was just jealous of The Boy and wanted to be part of the t-shirt fun, too.

The wedding itself went by in a second and a half, like everyone said it would. I survived the family picture taking (mostly because people were already coming, so I just wanted it to be over), the reception was great, and the hike to the chuppah was a lot of fun. After a brief 10 minutes when we couldn’t find Grandma, she appeared, and the ceremony started.

It was the fastest 10 minutes of my life. I felt like an actress playing a part, just I was surrounded by people I love instead of random actors and stand-ins. At one point, the rabbi said that Jewish tradition says that 3 generations back come to visit at the chuppah, and that we have to mention your absence. I swear, he could have been talking about sauerkraut if you were to judge by my reaction. I can’t believe how calm I was. The only time a few tears fell down my face was when I heard Grandma sniffling beside me. Of course, The Boy is amazing and took  me hand the second he heard it, just to beam some extra strength into me (which worked, of course).

And then she asked when do we kiss already, so that was over.

The rabbi picked up one of the glasses of wine, started the first prayer, and then an insane gust of wind blew in and knocked everything over – the other glass, the ring, etc.

My reaction: Yey, The Boy broke the glass succesfully

The reaction of the 175 other people at the wedding: That was Talia’s mom.

Thankfully, I made no connection. I didn’t think about it at the chuppah, I didn’t realize it during the wedding, and only later when I got home, people started talking to me about it.

And as it turns out, everyone thought it.

So I’ve accepted it. Even though I am not mystical in any way, I kind of like the idea that you made a statement and said, “Ahem! I am here! I am in the dress and the wind and the glass of wine that just shattered on the floor.”

So the wedding went by smoothly, and honestly, it couldn’t have been more perfect, that is other than you actually being there. Everyone laughed and danced and ate and had a great time.

I waited a while to write about the wedding because I was waiting for a nervous breakdown. A week passed, another week passed, and another, and I was OK. I don’t know how. And then suddenly it was just over; Reports of the impending emotional storm were greatly exaggerated.

A few weeks after the wedding, I started feeling really weird. Not sick or anything, but just weird. After a few more weeks of weirdness, I decided to take a small test.

It had 2 definite lines on it. I am pregnant.

A few weeks later, the doctor was able to tell me exactly what day we conceived.

It was 5 days after the wedding.

On your wedding anniversary.

Dear Mom,

The Boy proposed on Saturday morning and we are now engaged. You would have loved him. If you are looking, then you already know how great he is. I just hope you aren’t watching at inappropriate times.

For the longest time, I wasn’t ready to get married, not because I wasn’t sure (let’s face it, I pretty much knew by week 3), but because of all of the logistics involved:

You won’t be there for me to tell you I am engaged.

You won’t be there to help me with the preparations.

Your name will be listed as z”l (deceased) on my wedding invitation – or is it not supposed to be listed at all? I have no idea.

You won’t be at the signing of the Ketubah.

You won’t be walking down the aisle.

You won’t be under the chuppah with me.

You won’t be beaming down at me. Ever.

It took me over a year to even bare the thought of figuring out what happens with the invitations, and that’s probably the least important of everything – I mean, we can just email everyone and get it over with. For the last year or so, everyone and their dog has been bugging me about when I’m going to get married, and I brushed it off with a swift, “when we decide.” It even got to the point where people were getting angry with The Boy, through no fault of his own.

They just didn’t know. And why should they? It’s not like I told them. Luckily for them, they haven’t been in this situation and can’t even fathom a wedding without their mother.

It got to the point where I wanted to elope. Forgo all of it, after all, it’s the act that matters, not the execution. But The Boy was right, our families would be hurt.

When Saturday happened – and believe me, I couldn’t have been more surprised (we have been talking about it, but I wasn’t expecting it Saturday) – I was pleasantly surprised. While half a year ago, the thought of not being able to call you made me cry, when Saturday happened, all I wanted to do was talk to my sisters. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to you; I think it’s just that my brain knew I couldn’t, so it just sent me on the right course.

So I got the girls together and told them, and of course they screamed (and the kids asked why they’re screaming). And then I called Dad. And then I told your parents, Saba and Savta. And then I called my friends. And I did really well. I didn’t cry once, I didn’t get depressed once, and I seriously don’t think I would have been this way half a year ago.

I was doing so well, and then I wasn’t.

I went to look at rings with my friend, The Swiss, and the sales lady at last store we went into used to work at the mall where Dad had his restaurants. And naturally she asked about you.

Since it’s been two years since you left, I haven’t had to tell people you’ve died in a while; at least not people who knew you personally. I was able to get through the story fairly easily, omitting the most painful parts, like the last 4 months, and by doing what I always do when I talk about you now: Disconnect completely from the words coming out of my mouth.

But no, this encounter was made to make me cry. And I haven’t in a long time. I did a bit at night when your two-year anniversary came by when we were in Japan, but other than that, it’s been forever.

It started with her being shocked. And then telling me what an amazing woman you were, which I know. And then she had tears in her eyes, saying that the righteous die early, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I started to cry. And once I got my breath back, all I could say was, “She could have died in 20 years, and that still would have been too early.”

But that ship has sailed. You are gone. I am embarking on a major life event without you.

But you will be with me. You know how I always wanted to wear your wedding dress when I got married? I tried it on, and it fits me almost perfectly. So welcome to my wedding. You would only be able to be more present if you there in person.

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