Twelve Years an Orphan

Ima 1992

My Ima, circa 1992

Today is my mother’s yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death in the Hebrew calendar. In the common calendar it won’t be for another couple of weeks, but I like to observe it the traditional way.

My children were very young when they lost their grandmother – my eldest had just turned seven, my second son was three, and my daughter was four months old. The boys have vague memories of her, and my daughter, of course, has none at all. My mother was only 69 years old.

My father’s current partner has done an admirable job of stepping into that grandmotherly void, and for this we are all very grateful. But today is a day for thinking about the mother and grandmother we have lost.

She was a complex person – coming from a background of learning and privilege as the daughter of a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but also of parental neglect and maybe even abuse. She was the youngest of three girls growing up in Jerusalem in the thirties and forties, and she was a good girl and became a teacher as expected, although she probably should have gone to medical school. As she raised her children, she slowly achieved her M.A. and became a school counsellor. Once she was free, she flew through her Ph.D. program in two years, received her degree in clinical psychology at the age of 50, and started her own psychotherapy practice, which she loved literally until the day she died.

She and my father married two months after her twentieth birthday, and they almost made it to fifty years – we celebrated that milestone early, since she was living on borrowed time already. Her son and sons-in-law carried her up the stairs to the private room in the restaurant for that occasion, and she sat in her chair and looked around at her tribe, and it was good. I cherish a picture of her holding my baby daughter on that visit.

She was a typical wife and mother in that she did not prioritise her own health until it was too late. She had been a slender gymnast in her youth, but later pregnancies and stress brought on weight with which she struggled for as long as I can remember. She beat cancer several times, both of the breast and, ironically for a psychotherapist, of the tongue. But it was the diabetes that got her in the end, slowly destroying her internal organs. She was on peritoneal dialysis for the last few years of her life, which put an end to the life of travel she had enjoyed. Finally, her heart gave out.

As the second daughter, I had my own complex relationship with her, of course. But my heart aches to know that she was not at any of my children’s milestone celebrations, that she will not dance at their weddings. I feel her love every day and I often converse with her, as I move into my own middle age and the challenges of mothering teenagers.

The picture of her that adorns this blog post also has a place of honour on my refrigerator. Not only so I can remember her every day, but also to remind me of why she is missing from our lives today. If I am ever tempted to slack on my own self-care, to become “too busy” or too wrapped up in other people’s issues, she is there to remind me that I want to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings.

May her memory be a blessing.

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One Response to “Twelve Years an Orphan”

  1. Peggy Clikeman Mayfield Says:

    Ah Haddass, what a lovely tribute. I lost my mother less than 2 months before my first child was born – and I share your heartache knowing the things she missed that we would have loved. Though I still miss her, I take delight in the things I see of her in my children as they grow – my oldest and youngest have her eyes, and sometimes the things my daughter said come right from my mothers’ mouth. So yes, remember her, see her in your babies, see her in your mirror, and continue to make her proud – that way she lives forever.

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