While driving in my car a couple of months ago, I heard an interview with Yuval Abramowitz, an Israeli actor and journalist, who had just written a book titled Sixty Two Lessons from My Mother. His Mom passed away two years ago and he honored her and their relationship by writing a book.
The interview got me thinking about my mother. The second anniversary of her passing was fast approaching and I had thought once or twice about how I wanted to commemorate her. And right there, while driving, where I do much of my best thinking, I began to wonder what lessons I had learned from MY mother.
Could I count them as well? How many could I think of? Could I get to twenty? Thirty? And as I started to ponder what I had learned from her, I slowly realized that all those life lessons coming up in my mind were, well, how should I say, things I had been trying to UN-learn through therapy and lots of hard work. For the life of me, I could not think of ONE positive thing I learned from her. Not one! Oh my god, could that be true?
All I could think about were negative thoughts, and very soon all the emotions and feelings and garbage that complicated our relationship surfaced, congesting my mind and my heart. How could this be?
If in the past, I would have blamed my Mom and kept regurgitating the negative until it filled me with sadness and pain, this time, I paused...
This time, I knew what to do. I took a few deep breaths and tried to find my balance.
I've been undergoing a fantastic process of transformation in the past year two years, a change that began a few days after I came out of shiva, the seven-day mourning period after my mother's passing. Taking steps towards healing and personal growth has been incredible.
One of the most important lessons I have now implemented in my life is the understanding that I am responsible for my reactions, my attitude, my behavior. I take full responsibility for myself. And the circumstances of my life are the circumstances of my life. That's what they are, just circumstances. I can either live a life of gratitude and responsibility, looking at the good, or I can blame others, be a victim and find all that is bad. These are my two choices. Look at the glass half full or half empty. It's up to me. It's totally my choice.
On that long drive, I realized I needed to change my attitude towards my mother's legacy. As soon as I stopped the car, I whatsapped my brother and sister back in California: Help! What lessons did YOU learn from Mom? and give me positive ones!
Once my brother and sister woke up, they responded with a few answers that resonated with me as well. And that is all I needed. A little push, a little flutter of butterfly wings. Once I got those, I started my own list... I was on a roll.
And you know what? It worked. I DID learn many wonderful things from my mother, and by listing them, by reading them over and over, by being grateful for them, I slowly began replacing the negative ones, pushing them aside.
Where once I could only think of the negative, now I repeated and thought only about the positive. I moved the negative aside!
And it filled me with such joy! What a great exercise.
I ended up organizing a small gathering by my mother's gravesite on the anniversary of her death; her brother and my cousins who live close by came, and we streamed it on Zoom for the family in California, England, the Netherlands, and for our daughter who as a soldier, was on her army base. It was short and lovely. And, I chose to read my list out loud. So my mother could hear.
And here is what I said:
The first time I began learning what our Jewish tradition teaches us about the process of mourning was exactly 4 years ago when Chris (my ex-husband) passed away. And I believe what it teaches us is absolutely brilliant.
The Kaddish, commonly called the Prayer for the Dead, is not really that at all. It is not about our dear ones that have passed and are no longer with us. Nothing of the sort. It does not mention their names or say anything about them.
The Kaddish is actually for us, for those who are mourning, for those of us who are still in shock, still unable to comprehend what has befallen us.
The Kaddish is a roadmap to follow, a transcript of how to deal with our pain, with our grief. It is a brilliant piece of writing that teaches us that life must and will go on despite our sorrow and pain. It calls on us to re-affirm our belief that life must continue. From our lowest place of sorrow and pain, it forces us to publicly declare that we still believe in life, in mercy, in kindness, in some kind of power that guides the way. It makes us say that we still believe in God, for those of us who do, still believe that the future is bright. Despite our grief.
It ends by declaring our belief that the power that gives life and makes peace will continue to bless us with good things.
Jewish belief also says that the deceased is comforted by the knowledge that the ones left behind remember them.
That makes me happy. Reciting the Kaddish for my Mom makes me happy. I know that my Mom is pleased and touched that I said Kaddish for her every Shabbat for 11 months. That I remembered her. Although she had many issues with Orthodox Jewish traditions, there was no one more Jewish or prouder than being Jewish than my mother. And my heart is full and joyful as I know she is smiling and full of naches (pleasure) that I say Kaddish for her and remember her. And I remember her all the time, several times a day, every day.
So what is it that I remember about my Mom?
What did my mother teach me?
1. Love of family. As my sister, Dana said, she was a fierce defender of family, no matter what. Family is family and even though we may hurt each other, or become upset, we never stop speaking to one another. We are there for each other. I always appreciated that.
2. Compassion for animals, especially dogs. She loved her Bandido, both of them, and her Rusty. I got my love of animals from my Mom. I remember that for the 4 months before we made aliyah, we lived in my mother's house, bringing our two cats and a small dog with us. Not once did she complain about them (at least to me). It was chaotic but they were family. I know she is smiling at the fact I now have 2 dogs and 7 cats at home. She thinks I am nuts, but loving it all the same.
3. She hated injustice. I got that from her. We used to watch the news and her heart always ached for the underdog. Oh, and she passionately watched cop shows like NCIS and Law and Order, because most of the time the bad guys were found out and justice was served. Justice, justice you shall pursue. That I learned from my mother.
4. My Mom taught me and Micah, my brother, that buying quality things does not lead to future disappointment. Pay more now, she would say, and it will save you money in the long run. I sometimes follow that. Even when I don't, I know I should.
5. Mom taught me to love cooking. Not necessarily to follow recipes, but to put in a little bit of this and a pinch of that. 'Taste it", she would say, as I mixed the raw gefilte fish, "Then you’ll know what to add" I still cook that way, and even though I do have cookbooks, I rarely use them.
6. Mom taught me to love Polish food, Jewish food, Indian food, Peruvian food, Chinese food. Lots of food. From different places. I clearly remember one of my favorite meals she would prepare for large gatherings. She loved to impress guests with her Indian food spread; chicken and meat curries, succulent side dishes, and all sorts of toppings from peanuts, sliced bananas, different chutneys. Oh, how I loved my mother's Indian food.
7. My Mom taught me how to make gefilte fish. From scratch. When I was around five or six, I accompanied my grandmother to the fishmonger to choose a large carp and we used to carry him back home in a pail with water. Then he would be dumped in the bathtub to await his fate. But it was my Mom who taught me to make the gefilte fish. And it became a tradition and I made it for years, just like my Mom's, and my grandma before her. And it made my mother proud. She beamed when I used to send her gefilte fish pictures and posted them on Facebook.
8. Mom taught me to enjoy hosting and entertaining people. I do enjoy that. And my brother Micah does it the best! He learned that lesson well.
9. From my Mom I got my taste in clothes. That is really funny to say because clothes were always such a big issue between us, but interestingly I now wear some of her clothes and I love doing so. Yeah,it's complicated.
10. Jewelry. I love jewelry and I learned that from my Mom. I also wear many jewelry items I inherited from her. Every time I put on one of her pieces, I remember her. And I know that she smiles when she sees how I enjoy them. I know she’s watching.
11. From my Mom I got my Yiddishkeit, my love for my people, the Jewish people. Again, she did not know much about facts or dates in history or why Jews did certain things, but there was NO ONE more Jewish than my Mom. No one. Her Jewish heart raised me and I am eternally grateful for how she connected me with the soul of my people and my heritage. I am deeply connected to my people and my traditions thanks to her.
12. It is because of my Mom’s love of Israel and her pride in Israel’s accomplishments that I always knew this was home. It was home for her as well. Always. Even though she left Israel in 1970, her intention was to return. And she tried to come home a few times and then thought about returning several times later on. But her life circumstances were too strong and she never did make the move.
And when I decided to return home to Israel in 2011, I knew how much she would miss us and how she hated to see us go, but I also knew that she fully supported the move. And she was happy for me.
On a side note, when in May of 2019, I pressed her to tell us where she wished to be buried, one day in the far off future, she told us she wanted to be buried in Israel. And so it was, only four months after that important conversation, that we transferred her body to Israel for burial. My mother is buried in Israel and she is finally home.
13. My mother was an amazing artist and I love my mother’s sculptures. Not only the art she made with her own hand, but the art she collected through the years. My home is full of her sculptures and I proudly show them off to my friends and all those who come into my house. Her presence is ubiquitous in my home. Everywhere. I know she is pleased about that as well.
14. My Mom loved the Jewish people and her adopted Peruvian people. She expressed her love and passion for them and their stories through her art. She revealed the life of the simple people in her sculptures. I learned to love the simple people from her. And I give her credit for influencing me to pursue peace work in Israel.
15. And my Mom taught me how to be a Safta, a grandmother. She was a great Baba to her grandkids. She gave them so much love. Unconditionally. She was my role model and I hope to follow in her shoes.
16. And I love plants because of my Mom. There is not one orchid I pass that does not remind me of her. And the potted plant garden I have next to my front door and my little vegetable garden? Because of her. Every time I water my plants I have flashbacks of watching her water her plants back in Palo Alto.
17. And most of all, my Mom loved me and she did the best she could. That is a lesson I learned from her as well. She loved me very much. I eventually understood that she did the best she could, and I love my girls very much and do the best I can. I am so grateful we got to spend three wonderful weeks together as we celebrated her 80th birthday.
I love you, Mom. And I remember.