This week marks fifteen years since my mother’s passing. She died the Friday before Mother’s Day just as the Sabbath started, and we buried her on Mother’s Day, one of her most favorite days of the year.
Born in 1926, when radio and newspapers connected the world to individuals at home, she never stopped listening to the radio. She relayed what she heard from her favorite radio personalities, all experts in their fields, all arbiters of knowledge. She combed through newspapers, and one of her favorite activities was clipping articles she thought would be of interest to people she cared about – me, my brothers, our children. She sent off these articles in envelopes with brief notes – “thought you might like to read this”. She engaged in the precursor to “sharing” on Facebook – discovering interesting tidbits of information and sending them on.
My mother had a thirst for knowledge. She read parenting books before it was in vogue. She was wicked smart. She skipped grades in grammar school and graduated high school at the top of her class. She wanted to be a doctor, but recoiled at the thought of dissecting a cat and studied accounting instead. She was the first person in her family to graduate college, one of three women in her graduating class. It was how she met my father, who hired her to work for him as a junior accountant. Within a year they married, and like most women of her day, she stopped working, but she never stopped learning.
Through my life, my mother studied Judaism, Hebrew, interior design and teaching. She took modern dance classes and piano lessons. My father was the breadwinner, the public face and voice of our family, but my mother was its moral, ethical, aesthetic, and intellectual compass. Each person’s journey has a purpose, and we leave our imprints on the world, even when we aren’t aware of the imprints we leave. My mother’s journey included her kids and grandkids, but her legacy was more than her family. Because of her commitment to arts education, she insisted I have art, music and dance lessons. In turn, I fostered creativity in my daughters, who majored respectively in music, art and creative writing. My mother left the legacy that we are lifelong learners, and we must seize the opportunities life offers. She left her imprint in immeasurable ways.
My mother spent a lot of time homebound during the last decade of her life. I wish I understood her then as I have come to understand her now. The older I get, the more her comments and concerns resonate. Being shut in is very difficult. It is an isolating experience. Losing the ability to get out, even temporarily, means losing independence, and people thrive on autonomy. At the time, I thought she was difficult or demanding or unreasonable. In the fifteen years since her death, computer access has redefined what it means to be homebound. My mother would have loved Facebook and its ability to connect individuals to the world.
I wish she hadn’t died as young as she did, although I wonder whether it took her absence and time passing to change my perspective. Perhaps the lens through which we see our parents shifts like a prism. What appears distorted at one angle becomes flooded with light and color at another, beautiful and radiant, making us smile and warming our hearts.