It was the third anniversary of my mom’s death. That night I attended a memorial service for my friend Leah’s mother, who had died earlier in the week. Her mother, like mine, had lived in Florida. Memories came rushing back. I felt the sharp rawness of my friend’s fresh pain as I experienced the dull ache of mine.
When I got home from the service, I honored Mom by lighting a yahrzeit* candle, an ancient Jewish tradition. The candle, cloudy white wax in a small, clear glass, would burn for the next 26 hours. I said the traditional prayer, and then silently repeated a few of my favorite readings, including Psalm 23, from the pocket-sized Riverside Chapel prayer pamphlet. I stared at the candle flame and memories rushed in.
Three years after her death, I still miss my mom every day. A photograph of the two of us at a cousin’s wedding sits on my dresser. A courtship photo of Mom, in heels and hose, with Dad, in jacket and tie, is atop the bookcase next to my desk. Her phone number, probably long ago reassigned, remains first in my speed dial. After all, I still instinctively go to the phone to recount a story that my granddaughter told me, to talk about my trip to Colorado Springs with my grandson, or to ask her advice on a sticky situation with a friend.
Three years ago, my siblings and I accompanied Mom on her final journey. We all slept at her home during the last days of her life. Her brain fuzzy from lack of oxygen, Mom said some funny yet profound things. One day, she was sitting on the couch, too weak to get up. She began groaning. “I have to go, I want to go. I’ll be happy when I go.”
Thinking she was talking about death, I held her hand as I said, “It’s OK. You can go.”
My sister asked, “Where do you have to go?”
“To TooJays Deli,” she answered.
We all burst into laughter, and my brother rushed to the deli to buy Mom’s favorite sliced turkey breast and potato knishes.
Another day, the hospice doctor, dressed in his white lab coat, came to meet her. Before Mom was even introduced to him, she looked him in the eye and said, “I’m not afraid to die you know.”
I was taking notes of these conversations when she looked at me and asked, “Are you writing another book?”
“Would you like me to write one about you?” I replied.
“No,” she answered. “Write a book and dedicate to me.”
And so I have. My book about how my adopted grandchildren are teaching me Mussar, Jewish ethics, is in manuscript form, and I’m seeking a publisher. Meanwhile, the next few blogs, dedicated to Mom, will be about how she taught me ethics by example.
*In Chapter 20, verse 27 of the Book of Proverbs, it provides: “The soul of man is the candle of God.” The Yahrzeit candle reminds people of the fragility of life and encourages them to embrace their life and that of their loved ones. (shiva.com)