riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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A Mother’s Will to Live

Yesterday (March 18) was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 78 years old. She died at age 56. My mother had been seriously ill at different points in my childhood, so I had contemplated her death many times, beginning at 5 years old when she needed her first open heart surgery. Not that I understood what “death” meant at that age, but I was aware of the possibility that she might not come home.

Somehow though, miraculously it seemed, she did come home… over and over, after every operation. By the time I was 22, my mother had beat the odds so many times, to my young mind she seemed almost invincible, like a frail old tree that has managed to survive multiple natural disasters.

For this reason, despite her history of bad health, it was a shock when one day three weeks after my 22nd birthday, she collapsed in front of a neighbor’s house while walking the dog. Two hours later my brother broke the news, and I too collapsed (he caught me). It felt as if the entire world had been yanked out from under my feet.

My mother was the anchor and center of our family, the one person my siblings and I knew we could always turn to and rely on, a constant and unwavering source of unconditional love. She was an artist, music lover and world traveler.  She went back to college in her mid-40’s to finish the degree she had abandoned when my parents married. She finally learned how to drive after they split up twenty-five years later. In the year before she died, she and a high school girlfriend did a European road trip, visiting Switzerland, Italy and Germany. She also visited New Orleans for the first time, and returned saying she could move “in a heartbeat” to either New Orleans or Florence, Italy.

She spoke English, Hebrew and German fluently, the latter only with older relatives. It always surprised me to hear her laughing with her aunts, or saying something under her breath to her brother, in German. She once told me that she liked writing poetry in English more than Hebrew (her native tongue) because English had so many more words to choose from. She loved movies, literature and laughter. A few of her favorite authors were Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, James Baldwin and Somerset Maugham.

She was beautiful: rosy cheeks, jet-black hair (later, salt & pepper) and deep blue eyes framed by beautifully arched eyebrows. Her only regular beauty regiment was applying face cream and plucking her brows. She never wore a stitch of make-up, and she never died her hair. She was opinionated, but also fair-minded and wise. My older siblings and their friends would often seek her counsel. Me being the youngest and barely out of the rebellious teenage years, seeking her counsel (and listening to it) was still relatively new. We were just beginning to make the transition from the traditional mother/daughter hierarchy to adult(ish) friends when she died.

As cliche as it sounds, there was something special about my mother. She once found a shiny bauble on a Tel-Aviv sidewalk, only to find out that it was a diamond worth over a thousand dollars. The boyfriend of a friend, upon meeting my mother for the first time, gave her the crystal necklace he was wearing off his neck. His girlfriend urged her to accept. Strangers, children and animals were all drawn to her.

Hours before she collapsed, she had received, separately and completely by coincidence, wonderful news from both of my siblings, news that she had been waiting years to hear. My last conversation with her was a bit more tense (something I still regret), but we did speak about the college film I was directing, and I knew she was proud of me. My siblings and I have a theory that, with all the good news she heard that morning, she might have died of happiness.

We never asked for an autopsy because we felt like her body had been through enough, but her doctors had their theories. They also revealed their genuine surprise that she had lived as long as she did. These men of science credited her will to live as the reason. 

Physically frail but iron-willed, she left her mark on the world.

My mother and me

My mother and me


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Two Years

In honor of Kaz’s passing two years ago May 3, 2011, and since I won’t be online tomorrow, I’m reposting Mountaintop, copied below. One love.

— — —

As I continue to heal from a state of heartbrokenness, I am reminded of the phrase stated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last speech: I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

In the context of my life this phrase means, I have known, loved, and been loved by a Good Man.

I lost this man 3 years into our relationship (before we had worked all the kinks out), 11 days after our wedding, to a horrible disease which, coupled with a devastating motorcycle accident, was simply too much to overcome.

Shortly after he passed a girlfriend said to me, “Well, at least you’ve known love.” At the time, the pain was still so fresh I couldn’t find much relief in those words. But even on my darkest days I knew on some instinctual level that she was right.

I had experienced something few people do in a lifetime, the kind of love that makes you walk on hot coals to try and save the other, the kind of love that you read about in novels, the kind of love that makes you write love letters for a year after the other dies.

For a long time, and a variety of reasons, I didn’t always feel that I deserved this love. There had been moments when I doubted or disrespected it due to immaturity and insecurity. Just as the relationship was hitting its stride, he got diagnosed with a terminal illness and everything changed overnight. As things progressed at a deliriously fast pace, a part of me began to awaken, while another part began to shut down in order for the rest of me to keep functioning.

Once he was gone, I had a volcanic eruption of heartbreak and guilt, not uncommon for the surviving spouse/caregiver/less-than-perfect partner. Though my husband had forgiven my shortcomings, I found it difficult to forgive myself. Every time I thought of a good memory, a painful one reared up in front of it, like an eclipse blocking out the sun. It took every ounce of strength to not follow him to the other side.

Another friend told me, “Just hang in there and keep breathing.” Others reassured me that one day I would feel more grateful than devastated, more happy than sad. I couldn’t imagine it, but I also didn’t give up.  He never did and wouldn’t want me to.

Now it’s been 1 year, 6 months and 9 days since I watched him take his last breath, and I can say with cautious optimism that things are better.

I am still heartbroken. I still cry. I still talk to him, write to him, ache and reach out for him. But instead of feeling like my soul has been crushed, it more often feels lifted. Instead of dwelling on all that was lost, I think more often on how to rebuild. Instead of feeling guilty for not knowing better then, I focus on being better now.

Part of this transformation is simply Time. Part of it is all the writing and healing-work I’ve been doing this past year and a half. Part of it is the continued love and support of my family and all of our friends. Part of it is Ruby, my new puppy, who literally re-awakens and strengthens my heart every day.

So, I have been to the mountaintop. And I have seen the Promised Land. I couldn’t get there with my husband, but I have looked over and know that it exists. And in the knowing is the transformation.

Obama inauguration party 1/20/09

Wedding day 4/22/11