Monday, April 13, 2009


I have a very old brass candle holder that's electrified, that a nurse whom I never met, sent me from the Jewish Home where my mother spent her last days.

(Why a Jewish retirement facility when my father was "agnostic" and the boss of the family? That's another story to tackle, some other time.)

I don't like the way Mother's life ended. She gave up. She couldn't help it and none of us could help her. The way your parents leave the world is part of what they give you, but I hold on to other things about her.

Feisty Mom ... she gave me feist, and spunk and don't give up the ship, reach for the highest star -- managed to give me that within a very busy family life with daughters and a son, and an elegant, much beloved, hugely catered to husband who was "above her," she said. And she certainly taught us that. It was as he lived on another plain, a higher nobler world to which we were occasionally invited, which we sometimes visited and shared with him.

I thought she was ... pretty, with her auburn hair ... too concerned with keeping her house clean, her dinner table set perfectly ... too concerned with money. More than once, I said out loud, "I don't love my mother," when I was living in Manhattan with friends who were in and out of psychoanalysis, discussing the importance of rejecting your parents, coming to terms with how they screwed you up.

Boy oh boy ... she didn't screw me up. She gave me health, a body, resilience, a healing capacity, a powerful life force. It's in my bones, my muscles, my blood, my skin, my pores. And she was always always there whenever I opened my mouth and said Mom I need ... money ... a hand ... a helper ... courage ... a sympathetic ear ... words to bolster me ...

She lent me a pile of money when, a week before opening on Broadway, I discovered my "balanced check book" was actually $20,000 overdrawn. She copied orchestrations for me, note by note, chords, crescendos, trills, phrasing ... couldn't read a note of music but did it for me. Did all those motherly things -- mended, cleaned, cooked, shopped -- when I was over my head with work.

I can't explain right now why her life ended alone, and why she gave up. I know all the circumstances, I know why, inch by inch, how it happened that she wasn't surrounded with family, loving children in the last years of her life.

Yet the way she left the world gives me something precious and powerfully important. I will go when my time comes with ...... hey, I'm not a swimmer, I can't dive, but I'll do a swan dive with toes arms, torso aligned and cleave the water with neat waves and ripples that tell my guys I'm okay. It's okay.

I keep Mom's light in my office above my desk, my computer, my special books. It's got a small green bulb in it. I keep it lit.


Anonymous said...

That is a loving memory from a loving daughter... and I am very happy to have read this. Our views of our parents change as we age and we see their choices from different perspectives. I'm glad you see her way of "leaving the world" in a powerful and precious way. When we express these thoughts, it is a gift to our own kids giving them permission to view loss with good memories instead of just sadness. Thanks you for writing this.

Lynne said...

Your dear mother sounds like she had the same spunk and overflowing love as mine. Mine was at the Jewish Home and Hospital on 106 Street too for rehab, but we were both blessed that I had her at home for hospice care, and I was with her when she actually died. She may have thought she had limitations, but she had so many wonderful strengths that she passed on to you. That's what keeps her with you.