All these years after her passing, I think of my Mom every so often, but especially on Mother’s Day. Here’s my remembrance this year.
When related commercials for sales and deals start popping up on television, before Mother’s Day, I tune them out.
My mother died on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1998. I never observed the tradition — because I’m Jewish — but for the last fourteen years, Christmas Eve has become time for recollection.
For that matter, so is Mother’s Day. Other than thinking about her and sending a silent message on the second Sunday in May, ever since the first one, five months after she died, its impact fades with each passing year.
My relationship with my mother peaked before she died, despite the fact she lived in Florida and I only saw her once or twice a year. Distance was an issue, but, more importantly, we were the only two left in our immediate family. My younger brother died in 1988 and six years later, after open heart surgery and countless trips to the hospital, my father died.
During the periods when my father was hospitalized and recovered, the previously flawed relationship between my mother and me — covering good times, bad times, celebrations and contentious discord — gradually vanished as our mutual need for solace turned into trust and friendship.
My Mom and I depended on each other more than ever, as our discussions became more personal when we talked about things we intentionally avoided before. Our standard monthly Sunday morning phone calls became more frequent whenever we felt the urge to talk.
We grew closer as we analyzed assorted conflicts that were part of our hostile past. Now was the time for reconciliation and honesty. I’m grateful that we reached an accord, which allowed me to better appreciate and understand her in what proved to be her final years.
The news of my Mom’s death that Christmas Eve morning was as shocking as it was upsetting. I was home packing for a weekend trip to visit friends when I got a call from a co-worker, who sounded distraught as she told me to call Florida. My mother was seldom sick, but as I dialed her number, I knew something was amiss. Except for a bout with ulcers, decades earlier, which led to her quitting a 25-year smoking habit cold turkey, she was healthy.
After one ring a man answered, which, in itself, was unsettling since my mother lived alone and was not dating, so I anticipated the worst. It was. The man introduced himself as a state trooper and then, with a heartfelt manner, calmly told me my mother had died. To ease my anxiety, he said it appeared that she passed in her sleep. He then advised me about what to do when I arrived to take care of funeral arrangements and hung up.
I sat stunned for a few minutes and then paced as thoughts of her trickled through my mind. After I experienced a rush of emotions and I composed myself and realized I had to sort things out; like fly to Florida, prepare her funeral and deal with the property I inherited. I contacted a friend who booked my airline ticket and arranged car service to JFK. As I packed and during the flight, my thoughts focused on my Mom and the lasting effect she had on me.
When I thought about her, I recognized that I possessed her admirable qualities, as well as a few of her faults. (This apple didn’t fall far from the tree.) She had a friendly, refreshing nature, which sometimes didn’t eclipse her stubbornness, and, at times, left no room for compromise.
My mother instilled in me a love for music and movies, as well as books. Though our tastes radically diverged as I got older, my early music education formed as I listened to music, mostly from pop stars of the 40s and 50s, on the radio or from a record player.
Her favorites were Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. She insisted her hand was one of several in a photograph on the back of the “Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall” album. She was there and assumed since she managed to squeeze her way to the lip of the stage for one show, it was hers. Fantasy or not, what did it matter? As I grew to embrace rock and roll’s earliest stars, she understood my enthusiasm when she reminded me she idolized Frank Sinatra when she was a Lincoln High School bobbysoxer.
She was, I believe, a little envious during my years in entertainment public relations when I conveyed tales of mingling with celebrities and stars.
When I switched professions, she didn’t have to tell me how pleased she was when my writing was published, because she proudly shared copies of my columns and articles with family and friends.
Long before the struggle for women’s rights, my mother, like many of her peers, was content being a housewife. On the other hand, if she had an opportunity for another career that was not widely available to her generation, she would have been successful at that, too.
As much as I admired my mother for her strength, fortitude and nerve, I valued the respect she offered in her final years, not due to her instinctive maternal commitment, but because we came to appreciate and understand each other.
Now and then, when my life sucks, I wish I could speak with her. She’d probably offer some sage advice and support to help me get through the rough time.
This one’s for you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.