April 14, 2022, Israel
They say the first year of mourning is a year of FIRSTs. So this is the first year of celebrating the festival of Passover without my dear mother. Just a few days ago was her first birthday without her, and the pain and sense of loss are too great for me to put into words.
I was studying about ancient civilizations. One of our best sources of information about tools, weapons, jewelry, bronze, copper, iron, gold, come from grave sites. Burial practices have evolved over the years, religious beliefs and practices have changed over the years, but one thing is clear; grieving is the same. At a time when producing a sword, or a piece of jewelry was a massive time consuming enterprise, these objects were lovingly placed beside the dearly departed. Perhaps there was a belief that in the afterlife their loved ones would be able to use these tools, wear those ornaments, enjoy these blessings. Clearly we can imagine the grief of the surviving members of the family. Over the many centuries, the millennia, across continents and oceans, we feel their pain.
Two years ago Passover I learned a valuable lesson from my dear mother, may she rest in peace, pain free. It was the height of the Corona crises and all flights had been cancelled. Her major 85th birthday party, with all her children coming to Israel to celebrate with her, was cancelled. All flights were cancelled, none shall enter leave and none shall enter. So instead of us all being together in a hotel, as planed and as booked, it was just my mother and I, alone in her house. Passover is meant for large gatherings. But the two of us sat at the large table and went through the ritual, telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, eating the traditional foods, and observing the traditions.
As one might expect, I was upset. This is not how it was meant to be, this was not as we had planned. But my dear mother, God rest her soul, was happy. She was happy!
She said, now I can read the entire Haggadah, (the Passover book), I can sing all the songs. Normally everyone is taking turns reading and it goes so fast and I can't follow, but now I can read every word.
She was happy. She was making the best of a challenging situation. The next year, this past year, I was more enlightened. I shared her attitude and was less "disappointed". Little did I know it would be her last Passover on this earth. Little did I know how precious this time was. She taught me a lesson, after all these years, not by lecturing but by her life. Life gives you lemons, make a lemon international enterprise! Be Happy!
Just the two of us, without the traditional large family gatherings, limited by the Corona regulations, and she was simply happy, filled with holiday joy.
I often looked at her, my dear sweet mother, and saw how frail she had become, how weak, how tired, spending most of her time in bed. She went from being independent to needing constant help. She went from walking feely, to use a cane, and then a walker, and then a wheel chair. And then came the time when I would dream of her being well enough to sit in a wheel chair. And then came the time when I would dream of a time when she could sit up in bed. But all this time she never complained about her life.
Yes, she complained that her back hurt, that she was itching, that her lips were parched, but she never complained about life.
I would look at her and think; she lost her parents, she lost her husband, she lost her two younger sisters whom she loved so much, whom she was so close with. She lost her Aunt Violet whom she would talk to on the phone for hours, her last aunt who was 13 years younger than her older sister, the "young aunt". She was battling cancer, and yet, she never complained about life. She would say, I have no complaints against life, I have had a good life, I have nothing to complain about.
But she wanted to live, she never gave up the fight. She wanted to see the birth of a new great granddaughter. Even in the Hospice when she could barely speak she would ask...Did the baby come? . The baby came 26 hours after her passing and bears her name (as her middle name). Even in the Hospice she was celebrating life, she was looking forward to good things. She would always tell friends, I have a lot to live for, I have a lot to look forward to.
She lived her life as Tevya would sing... To Life, To Life, Le Chaim (Hebrew). And if our good fortune never comes, here's to whatever comes, drink Le' Chaim to life.
As as Passover approaches again, and now the Corona regulations have been relaxed, we will sit without her, and I will miss her terribly. But I share her message, she lived with hope, with Joy for every day that God gave her. Even confined to narrow and difficult confines, she LIVED. She enjoyed the hospital visits, she enjoyed when people called her, she enjoyed life. She understood how precious life is.
And now, now we are left behind to pick up the pieces of our lives. I wish to honor her by sharing these lessons by which she lived. I still have so much to learn from her. A mother is our first teacher...and our best.