Laying her to rest
Yesterday was a tough day. I hadn’t expected it to be so difficult. It was the unveiling of my mother’s tombstone monument. Although she passed away a year ago, she has been with me every single day since then. An invisible friend who has been hovering close to me as I’ve participated in my daily activities. It’s as if there has been a constant stream of her words in my head, as I go about my shopping, when she reminds me to hold my tongue, when I remember I must share an event with her at our regular lunch at Tim’s on Saturdays, when I’ve needed help to unravel a knitting conundrum, or just share a tantalizing piece of gossip. She has been my constant companion as I hear her words in my head.
I knew, of course, she was no longer on this earth, but I hadn’t really let go of her. I heard her voice, her wise words of instruction, thoughtfulness, support and her laughter.
Yesterday the rabbi read the words on the tombstone and talked about the profound gap between the dates carved into the stone, the gap that connotes the many, many years of living.
And now I saw her.
She flashed through my mind, wearing an apron, presiding over the Friday night chicken soup dinners; the walking up and down with crying babies; the running towards the bus with a light foot and returning with a chocolate cake and white fish. I saw her carrying heavy loads to the car for my father; and dashing up flights up stairs to retrieve an object. I saw her with her arms around me, knowing when an embrace was needed. I saw her in purple suits and green velvet dresses, always a fashion sense at sale prices. I saw her standing and ironing every Monday night behind our store. I saw her engaged in lively conversations with customers and rising early to get us on the road for a summer family vacation- always a bubbling roasted chicken wrapped in blankets for the trip. I saw her both young and old. I saw her sunburned on a trip to Florida. Always on the move, always flying towards someone or something, never thinking of herself.
And I witnessed the lesser moments when her legs failed her, her energy waned, a stony silence corrupting her face. The many faces of Eve that ranged from my young active smiling –faced mother to the too quiet seated ninety year old.
But standing in place by the stone yesterday, I, the official mourner, experienced a finality to the sounds and sights of my dear mother. The rabbi said she was now with the eternal; and like an angel rising, she felt as if she were ascending upwards, released from my earthly connotations and bindings, no longer strapped to this earth by my sense ties that had kept her here for me. It was a painful to allow her to leave. And as I recited the kaddish, I began to quiver and cry. The terrible release of both her and me.
Before me was the lifeless hunk of stone heavily attached to this earth, a symbolic memento of years passed in joys and trials and devotion, truly only a marker but the simple words, the briefest of words, the single adjectives of “ beloved… treasured…cherished “ carved into the rock. The rabbi’s insights unleashed a storm that cracked my indifference to the coldness of the funerary stone.
Later, I thought of an article I had read by Hillary Clinton who, on the passing of her own mother, reflected that when someone dies when s/he is young, we grieve for all they have lost: children, grandchildren, future possibilities; however, when the person is older like my mother, our thoughts are for ourselves: what we will miss without their presence. Yes, that was it. I selfishly wanted to hear, see and touch my mother again, say good-bye properly, and tell her how much I loved her.
Then the rabbi read a poem about how at first we are our parents’ dream; then they are ours. Simple but true. Particularly now. More words, but now they were his, not ours, not hers, but words unable to call her back. Commentary on the days we live and the emotions that underpin them.
Jewish people say this powerful prayer for their dead,
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter;
We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn;
When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them… (Sylvia Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer)
Will I only hear and see my mother at crucial moments in my life now, or associate her with the opening of flower buds or the last dribble of snow? I don’t know.
The official ceremony of the unveiling of the tombstone has changed things for me. Perhaps that is what it is supposed to do: those milestones in our life marked by ceremonies that connote beginnings and endings.
(As i publish this, I realize today would have been her 94th birthday!)