By Beverly Kopf
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.
mother died a little while ago," the nurse whispered.
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
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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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