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Lose Your Mother… Find Yourself
By Beverly Kopf

My mother died on January 6, 2004 in West Palm Beach, Florida. I remember what an absolutely beautiful day it was, sunny and sweet. The phone rang at exactly 9:00 AM. I was alone in my parents' Century Village condo. My father was just coming back from synagogue, and I was dressed and ready to take him to the hospice where, against his wishes, I had insisted my mother be taken. For the last week, I had been caught between my parents' conflicting needs: my mother, clearly ready to die, and my father, desperate for her to come home. Come to think of it, it was a very familiar feeling. Growing up, my mom insisted I was God's gift to the world and my dad -- well, I can't remember ever really pleasing him at all.

"Your mother died a little while ago," the nurse whispered.

"What are you talking about? You promised to call me when you saw the signs," I cried, feeling myself slip into that altered state where I would remain for many, many weeks. "How could this have happened?"

"There were no signs. She just went. I'm so, so sorry."

It wasn't the nurse's fault -- it was just my mother -- God forbid she should be a burden to anyone.

For the next 12 hours, I was transformed into an Olympic athlete competing for the gold medal in 'good Jewish daughter.' I talked my dad into burying my mom in Florida, near her firstborn child, my brother Barry, whom she had buried seven years before and with whom she would soon, happily, be reunited. I found the perfect funeral director whose dedicated staff was willing to work late into the night so the funeral could take place the next day, as required by Orthodox law. Then I marched my disabled dad into the Veteran's Administration -- without an appointment -- and demanded that they provide him with home health care, effective immediately. They agreed. I mean who could resist the screams of an anguished daughter: "He just lost his wife!"

Then I drove to the most ostentatious funeral parlor I had ever seen and met with my new best friend, Joe, the owner -- whose picture appears on his business card -- and gratefully put every last detail of my mother's burial into his capable and well-manicured hands. And when I finally returned to the condo to find my shell-shocked dad -- who had just lost his soul mate of 65 years -- doing a crossword puzzle, with Law & Order blasting in the background -- I awarded myself the bronze. And I thanked God that I had spent the years since my brother's death healing old wounds and giving my mom the chance to be the mother I had always dreamed of.

As millions of women are discovering, losing your mother, even in your 40s and 50s, is a life-altering experience. At times, the pain seems unbearable. It's almost impossible to not go back and relive certain moments -- "Oh, God, if only I had insisted she go to the doctor sooner." I never knew from moment to moment what I would be feeling -- laughing hysterically one minute, crying uncontrollably the next. No one was spared my desperate need to talk about her in excruciatingly intimate detail. "She loved my girlfriend Bobbie, you know -- my frum little mom who safety-pinned her house key to her girdle every Saturday morning because carrying anything on the Sabbath was simply out of the question -- loved my girlfriend like her own daughter." "Once, during my darkest days of shock therapy and food orgies, we were speeding down the Belt Parkway and I had to pee. Without shifting gears or changing lanes, my mom emptied her humongous vinyl purse, shoved it in my crotch and gently whispered, 'Here Mamala, pee to your heart's content.' Lots of parents say they'd do anything for their kids -- my mother meant it." This went on for months.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to get the hang of it -- my own process, I guess I would call it, and its wisdom. I didn't give a shit what anyone thought -- I had nothing to prove. I was going to experience my mom's death in my own way, and that's all there was to it.

And then one day I woke up with the unbelievably exhilarating sensation that I was free. Free of what? Who the hell knows. My mother's expectations… hysteria… need to be needed? My own desperate need to believe that she would always be there for me? That I couldn't live without her? It didn't seem to matter -- I just knew that my life would never be the same.

So I casually mentioned this to my friend, Catherine, who had lost her mom about six months before I did. She looked at me with abject horror, "Oh, I could never admit to feeling that way. I'd be a puddle of guilt." I just looked at her and smiled, "It's okay, whatever you feel, it's really okay."

Look, I'm no expert, but whatever your mother/daughter relationship -- symbiotic or synergistic, empowering or downright dysfunctional -- I know one thing. We honor our mothers by honoring our own unique experience of their death. And in that simple act, one of the great tragedies of our lives becomes a springboard into a better life -- an unimaginably better life. And that's all our moms ever really wanted for us, right?

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