I remember one of the few times I allowed my feelings to rise to the surface in front of her and I acknowledged how unfair it was that she was in the hospital while all these old grandparents were still out and about. With perfect comedic timing, she said, "But they don't look very good.." My mom was seventy and about to lose her fight with cancer.
St. Patricks Day will be ten years. Ten years without my greatest emotional support and best friend. My life literally separated into before and after. This piece I'm dedicating to all the Motherless moms and dads and everyone who has ever felt a complete level of devastation.
(my mom, Sandra Friedman performing comedy in NYC)
My mom was hilarious, ask anyone that knew her and that's one of the first things they will say. She didn't particularly look funny. In fact, she looked like Marlo Thomas from "That Girl." And those months of absolute suffering in the hospital were incredulously filled with laughter as well. But it was always there, the bitter fear of how will I raise my children without my mom? We dreamed of these days together since I was a little girl. We only had four years of mothering together and my youngest wasn't even two yet. There were just too many things to remember, to memorize, to study. And the truth was that all I wanted to do when I saw her was cuddle in bed with her.
I made little deals with God, "I'll lose weight, I'll have more patience." I started hiding little copies of the "Zohar" in drawers and decorated things with religious symbols. I concentrated on healing and carried a card with its healing sign wherever I went. Yes, I knew bad things, terrible things, happen every day to people. But watching death up close is entirely different. I never had grandparents. Death had been the thing you didn't worry about when everyone was so happy.
(My mom and I)
I roamed the house while everyone slept, sobbing, and making more deals. And whenever I was alone on the weekend, I lost myself in Toddlers and Tiaras. Yes, this reality show about pint size beauties with full make-up on allowed me to forget for 60 minutes. Shows like Survivor no longer had appeal. Try to get out of a cancer wing alive...Now that's impressive.
While I was literally praying for a miracle, a very close friend, Tony, suggested that I ask her some questions. This was something I could do. I made it fun, an interview! And I ended it with a bonus round: One-word nicknames for each of us. My children made her videos and the doctors allowed my four-year-old son to sneak in and visit with her. "Nana! How wonderful that you have this gorgeous view!" and then he read to her. My mother said every day after that, that it had been the best day of her life.
(Three generations on Mother's Day 2007)
We decorated her walls with pictures from the kids and a few of her favorite things, Madame Alexander dolls, and pictures of the family. We found a book that parodied her favorite operas and we took turns reading it out loud. The nurses would come in asking what all the loud laughter was about. We made fun of the lady who blasted her TV, flirted with the cute doctors, wrote operatic parodies. We were merciless in our quest. Surely the angel of Death would skip us over if we were having this much fun. I even denied her a Frappuccino because I thought it would harm her further. We put my birthday trip to Vegas on the back burner and dug in.
Of course, the call came anyway. On March 17th, 2009, my son had just finished playing a piano sonata to her picture when we received the news that she had died. The nicknames from the interview I gave her were saved as a gift to the recipients at the funeral.
I had two babies and virtually no time to mourn, so these feelings would get acted out in a myriad of unhealthy ways. Friends would leave, things would change, and the glue that held much of it together was never coming back.
We went to my "Happy Place," San Francisco. While we frolicked at Ghiradelli square I suffered from the Swine Flu. And at night while everyone slept, I cried my eyes out and wondered how could I be a mother now when I still need one? Cindy Crawford's infomercial had a calming effect on me and when we returned home, dozens of boxes of her skincare greeted us. "At least it wasn't a car commercial..."
It's been ten years and I am still in utter disbelief and find myself yearning to curl up in bed with her, feel her hands on my face, hear her laugh, her wisdom... I'm still in great despair at all the life she missed with my children. I have learned things: those of us that miss this hard are the lucky ones to know so much love, and I wish I let her have the Frappuccino. Sometimes, in my head, I hear things she's said, "I don't think love can cure me but it sure is helping me."
Recently, I found myself forgetting the details of one of Nana's incredible stories. I faltered and told my daughter I was so sad about this. She said, "Mommy, you are the mom now and it's time we hear all your stories."