Family cancer support

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.

Sweet baby girl of mine,

Words have not yet been invented that can define how I feel about you. Without a doubt, you are the most incredibe gift that this world has ever received; That I could never expect. You are the most amazing creature on the planet, which each parent probably feels, but they should.

Each child should enter this world being the most amazing thing that happened to someone.

This year has been full of ups and downs, as the first year always is. The beginning was difficult, and I am not talking about the physical birth. You were, as I expected, born almost on the day of my mom – your grandmother’s – 3rd anniversary of her passing.

Your birthday will forever be intertwined with her deathday. I will forever be reflecting upon both simultaneously, perhaps even more than I would have otherwise.

But don’t feel bad, my marvel. You gave me a gift that no one else would have ever been able to give me: A new perspective of my mother. One that, had you never been born, I would have never had. And for that, my marvel, I thank you.

As you lay your head on my shoulder when you are sad or feeling bad, I am transported 35 years back to when I was the baby, and I can see my mother doing the same. When I feel my heart explode with emotion for you, I suddenly understand so much of how my mother treated me and how she must have felt.

When I felt down, and not good enough for you, I missed my mom so much, wondering if she felt the same way, because if she did, not only does that mean I was normal, but that it’s possible to pull yourself out of the abyss and become a great parent who is completely in love with her child.

Because I am. I am a good mother to you. I wonder who you will be when you are older, but focus on who you are now. You are so funny. I don’t think there has been one day in the past 6 months that you haven’t made me laugh at least once. My phone has no more space for pictures, because everything you do is the funniest thing that any child has ever done.

I love my job. I love what I do and (most of) the people I work with, and while I am thrown into work each morning, all I do all day is wait to come home to you.

This feeling never ceases to surprise me. My entire pregnancy and labor, I could not fathom how I could possibly love someone with such intensity as I love your father. And yet, here you are, proof that it’s completely possible, though completely different.

Every morning I think I couldn’t possibly love you more, and every evening I am proven wrong.  And I can’t help but believe that my mother felt the same way, and that gives me so much comfort.

I write you these words for two reasons. First, we don’t know what will happen later. If, by some tragedy, you are left in the same position I am in, I want you to know precisely how I felt about you. This is also part of why I wrote about my postpartum depression. But most importantly, in about 5 minutes you will be a teenager. You may be angry with me or your father. You may think we are setting too many limits or don’t care about you. But none of that is true.

This letter is a testament to how I feel about you now, and how I will, no doubt, feel about you until my last breath.

Because you are my marvel, just as I was my mom’s.

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.

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.

My friend and coworker recently approached me at work, put her hands on my now-large belly and said, “How’s Mom?”

My immediate reaction was, “Still dead.”

After 10 seconds (which seemed like 10 years), I suddenly realized that she meant me. I was going to be Mom.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in denial that I’m pregnant or about to have a baby (in about 6.5 weeks, give or take). I’m so excited and absolutely in love with everything happening with my body – even though, as Maroon 5 said, it’s getting harder and harder to breathe. I’m excited and scared and can’t wait for Baby to come – and not ready for her at all. But I guess I didn’t think of the verbal repercussions of this life-altering event.

For most women, when they become mothers, the (capitalized) word Mom suddenly has two meanings: Them and their mothers. In my case, though – it’s just me.

I’m not sure how to make the 100% switch – as opposed to joining and sharing the title. This is probably the hardest post I’ve written, not emotionally, but expressively – I can’t quite figure out how to put into words what I am thinking. This coming from the girl who owns a t-shirt that says: “I’m talking and I can’t shut up” – and I’ve earned that shirt fair and square.

Of course I think about my mom a lot now, though I have had very few breakdowns (to the point where I fear that I haven’t dealt with it enough now that Baby is so close to coming). I wish I could share with her everything going on, and my fears (to which she would say that I’m being silly and of course I’ll be a good mom).

And of course everyone says that – my family, my friends, etc. – but I don’t feel reassured. I probably wouldn’t believe her either, but for some reason hearing her say it would be different than everyone else saying it – maybe because she would probably tell me if I would suck, and no one else would.

When I found out I was pregnant, and it had actually sunk in, I suddenly began to cry one day, out of the blue. I was asked by a coworker who walked by what happened, and I said nothing, I just wish my mom were alive so I could tell her, and she said I need to find someone to replace her. She didn’t mean it in a bad way – she meant someone I could go to who I could talk to and ask questions. I do have great people in my life – including my mother in law who I trust blindly – but you can’t replace telling your own mother you are pregnant.

I couldn’t find the words to explain to her how I felt and what I meant – much like now. A friend told me about her mother  who wants to be in the delivery room with her and asked me if I would agree – I have no idea. When my mom died, I couldn’t even fathom being in a relationship, much less be married and with a child. And with her gone, I can’t even imagine what I would want. At this point, it would be like asking me if I would wear boxers or briefs – it isn’t a situation I have ever – nor will I ever – be in, so I can’t even venture a guess. It’s unbelievable to me that I am not sharing this incredible experience with my mom – but I can’t imagine what it would be like to share it with her either.

I look at pictures of her (it’s easier than it was at the beginning, though I still haven’t gotten rid of the images from the last year of her life) and I try to imagine how she felt and what she thought when she was expecting me (I am the oldest). Sometimes my sister can share stories with me that our mom told her, but it doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t coming from her.

In a few weeks’ time, I will start calling myself Mom(my) to a tiny little person (who I will be expecting to keep alive). I won’t be alone in any way – I have the most amazing husband (who thinks these 9 months are way too long) and great sisters and incredible in-laws who I know I can count on 100%, but it doesn’t change the fact that I will still be missing someone huge – the other Mom who should be there, too, sharing the capitalized word with me.

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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