On February 29th, my mother passed away following a brief battle with ovarian cancer. This is the eulogy I wrote, which was read during the memorial service by my parents’ rabbi.
There is something surreal in preparing for a journey whose sole purpose revolves around saying goodbye to one’s parent. My father and Josh called, and Dad prefaced our discussion by asking if Yogev was within earshot. I quickly entered the bedroom and closed the door behind me, sinking down on the bed as my mind began to race, processing the words I was hearing – “Mom”, “cancer”, “back”, “aggressive”, “hospice”… No one could say how much time was left. Days? Weeks? A month or more? As a family, we agonized. Tickets were purchased, and as I tried to pack for a month’s stay in Sarasota, it dawned on me that I needed to pack something to wear to a funeral. Not only that, but I also had to remind Danny that when he’d start packing for himself and Yogev, he would have to do the same for them.
And with all of this going on, I was in turmoil and I was heartbroken. My mom was dying. My mom, who had spent the last two years battling a slowly progressing case of ALS, was given the opportunity to avoid being utterly ravaged by one monstrous disease in favor of a different one that would take her more quickly and relatively more mercifully. She grabbed it, and I understood completely. After nearly 76 years of life, she made the brave choice of one tragic death over another.
And what a life it was! A wonderful husband, amazing children – in my opinion, anyway – and incredible, beautiful grandchildren – and that’s a fact.
When I think about my mom’s role in my childhood, it makes me smile. She was the one who spent hours throwing a baseball back and forth with me in the street on Rosehill Blvd, at a time when it was still a dead end and there were very few cars to disturb us. Together, we spent hours and hours at the public library downtown, happily staggering out with armloads of books. She organized the most creative birthday parties and made the best Halloween costumes. One year, at the height of the first Star Wars craze back in the late 70s, my mom even turned me into R2-D2 – a tradition we’ve managed to carry into the present as Yogev prepares to dress up as Kylo Ren for Purim this year, after dressing as Anakin Skywalker last year. Clearly, the force is strong in our family…
I moved to Israel shortly before marrying Danny, and we usually saw my parents twice a year for several weeks at a time. Before Yogev was born, they started coming to Israel less frequently because the trip was a difficult one. Once he came along, though, they began to make annual visits again – which they did until my mother was diagnosed with ALS.
Yogev loved spending time with his grandparents – and they with him. Spending time with Grandma meant art projects, fun activities and outings – everything from sculpting side-by-side in sculpture class, to line dancing across the living room, to Easter egg hunts in Sarasota whenever Passover vacation conveniently coincided with Easter, and so much more. Hands down, though, our absolute favorite activity to do with my mom was puppy hugging at the Southeastern Guide Dogs facility just north of Sarasota. My mom always loved dogs, and passed this love down to me. I, in turn, passed it on to Yogev. We LOVED going puppy hugging. Yogev and I would happily join the circle of people sitting on the floor while Mom and Dad would sit on a nearby bench. Mom and Dad got it right though, for while we would sit there trying to entice each puppy to play as they ran and tumbled around us in a blur, kindly volunteers would inevitably bring a puppy or two over to my parents so they could get some quality puppy time as well – without having to work for it at all!
Nearly every item of clothing I’ve purchased over the years was tried on and acquired with my mother by my side. Every visit to Sarasota (and to Schenectady before that) always involved several outings for shopping, which sometimes resulted in a look of disbelief from my father as we’d walk into the house, arms laden with shopping bags. For him, shopping always meant that when you needed something specific, you’d go to the store, find what you were looking for, buy it and come home. Mom and I would roll our eyes when Dad would ask what we were going to shop for and head out. And while I know that shopping may sound like a rather mundane, unexciting activity, those were also the times that allowed us to have our one-on-one conversations. Those moments comprised such a big part of the quality time we shared, and it’s going to be so strange to visit those same shops on my own. I’ll do it though. Not only because I know she’d want me to keep doing something that we enjoyed doing together; I’m also reasonably certain that the last thing she’d want would be for me to have to walk around without any clothes, so… Right, Mom?
And now, all of a sudden. It’s all come to a screeching halt. There will be no more Easter egg hunts and no more sculpture classes. No more line dancing across the living room filled with your artwork. No more shopping together or visits to the theater. There will be an empty space on the bench when we go puppy hugging – which we will, of course, continue to do. But most of all, there will be no more pain for you, and that’s the most important thing. The only wish I’ve made on every first star in the sky has finally come true – you’re finally free from all the pain and suffering of the past two years. Danny, Yogev and I love you so much, Mom, and we’re really going to miss you.by Liza Rosenberg
You would think that after 13 years, my coping skills would be better. And yet, here I am once again, just a few days shy of January 20th, the anniversary of our firstborn’s passing, quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) struggling to maintain the remaining shreds of my sanity through wave after wave of wildly unpredictable emotions.
Some years, it passes by smoothly and practically unnoticed. Other years are harder. Last year was especially rough. As I awaited the upcoming release of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery”, which contained a story I’d written about our loss (coming with its own set of mixed emotions), I was blindsided by the news that a good friend lost her three-year-old daughter in an accident. On its own, the news would certainly have sent me reeling, but combined with what I was feeling over my own impending milestone date, I quickly found myself engulfed in raw, searing, emotional anguish that I hadn’t felt in years. My old wounds had been unexpectedly ripped open, and I wasn’t sure if the agony I was feeling was more for my friend or for myself. As I tried to be there for her, I worked very hard at trying not to let her or most people know just how bad off I was. I don’t know if I succeeded or not.by Liza Rosenberg
It was the hardest telephone call I’d ever had to make. “He’s gone,” I said quietly. “It’s over.” I could hear my father’s sharp intake of breath, followed by a choked sob. From my mother I heard nothing. Sitting on the narrow bed in our spartan hospital apartment with my husband by my side, I proceeded to convey the news to my parents that their six-month-old grandson had died.
The days and weeks that followed would pass in a blur, and the only thing I could recall from the funeral was the way my friend Grace grasped my hand so very tightly, and how grateful I was that she did so. I remember the friends who came to our home during the traditional week of mourning, and I remember wondering whether I’d ever be able to smile or laugh again. At the time, it seemed unimaginable. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg