Since the day mom died, one date on the calendar has loomed big, bold and daunting: March 19.
Next Tuesday is the birthday that mom never got to celebrate, the day we should be eating cake, not missing someone we love so much.
Has it really been almost three months since that horrific December? It seems like years, like I haven’t seen her, talked with her, held her hand in forever.
Death sucks, to say the least, it sucks for the dead and for the living.
We all miss her so much. The time between the painful moments grows, but the pain does not dull. Just starting to write some of these words whips me out of a normal day in the office and back into the reality of loss.
But let’s also be honest about all that mom accomplished. Her greatest treasure, for her the proof of her life’s worth, were me and Shanna. She loved her husband(s), she loved her parents more than anything (except for when she worried whether they were nice or not), she was proud of her work and all she gave to her community. But her identity was in us. Lori was the mother of David and Shanna, the rabbi and the physical therapist.
This is the line of Lori, Lori begot two children: David and Shanna.
It reads like a verse from Torah. That’s no coincidence. So many sections begin their description of a person’s accomplishments based on their lineage. “This is the line of Noah – Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age.” “This is the line of Isaac, son of Abraham…” The list goes on.
Our greatness is not always in what we do, more often it is what we leave behind.
Which is not to fill this page with a gloating of my sister or myself. To the contrary. Mom’s failure was in not realizing that she left this world so much more than just the two of us. She left a city changed, a community inspired, friends moved, a family built.
Lori’s line is more than her two kids. Lori’s line is a fundamental gift to the community, a new lens through which we can understand what it means to believe that there is right and wrong in a topsy turvy world, to believe that we have an obligation to do good, to believe that there are things you do because your gut says you’re supposed to, that we with abundance must give to those without, that our worth in this world is discovered through the most unintentional ways in which we create meaning, find purpose, give back.
Lori’s Line is about more than one person, two people. Lori’s Line is about a community better because of someone we knew and loved. Someone who filled this world with more good than we ever could have known while she was here.
And Lori’s Line, as it should be, is about clothing, the one thing Lori may have adored more than life itself.
Today, the Jewish Gift Closet – San Diego Community Community G’mach – with the help of my family and Hillel of San Diego dedicated a special line of upper end clothing in my mom’s memory. Lori’s Line will help those in need find clothing for job interviews and special occasions, to be dressed properly to help turn their lives around during their most trying and important moments.
Lori’s Line will wed high fashion with acts of righteousness. I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to my mom. I cannot imagine a better birthday present for her.
Just this morning, the line collected 5 racks filled to the brim with clothing, shoes, purses and cosmetics. Contributions in the form of lightly used items or money can be made directly to the G’mach, through there website here.
Happy birthday mom. I miss you.
There’s always something magical to waking up in New York City, something which makes me want to take my computer down to the nearest Starbucks (or the other one, a block away) and get writing.
It’s cold outside, so I’ll stay in my hotel room.
Yet the aura permeates. I barely slept all night. As if I need to move at that much more feverish a pace when I’m here. Here, we can do it all.
Work, work, work, work.
I lived here once, once upon a time. I lived the dream, as they say.
And then I came back, one year ago exactly, a kid from Los Angeles looking for a job. And somehow I ended up in Dallas of all places, that backwater of Judaism and life and civilization and culture.
Except it’s not.
I found in some small hick town in the south the most cultured of places, the most temperate of attitudes, the most mild of approaches, a place where Judaism soars, the grass grows green and the people smile. I fell in love with an entirely new way of life.
The funny thing is how we come to believe that the reality we know is the reality as it is wholly, reality as it should be, reality as best it can be.
I remember vividly, when I lived here, thinking how could I ever live anywhere else. New York was where I had come to, it was where I would die. This was the center. This was ground zero. This was the core.
This was where I had to be.
But I’m not. And things have worked out pretty damn well, to boot.
And now I come back to New York, back to sit through interviews of young rabbinical students about to be released into the world. Only this time I sit on the opposite side of the table, eager to welcome a new colleague into the wonderful family I’ve found down in the Republic.
It’s funny, the twists and turns that life takes. You never really know where things will end up. They rarely end up where you think they will.
That is, after all, what Kevin Arnold taught us in the series finale of The Wonder Years.
Some things work out. Others don’t. Life takes twist and turns.
And the trick is to find yourself sitting on the opposite side of the table from where you once were, or finding yourself at another table entirely, or maybe even no table, and realizing, celebrating and enjoying the blessing implicit within that new vantage point.
A year ago I had no clue that my mom would now be dead. Heck, I didn’t even know that she was sick. But I also had no clue of the new heights that life would bring me to all the while.
And I certainly had no clue that life would bring me right back here to New York, one year later to the day, so I could sit early in a New York morning and write, and feel oh so New York for getting straight to work on this cold winter day.
On the last day of my mom’s life, I tended to her various needs, helping her move around in bed, rubbing her back, keeping her smiling, and rubbing her back some more.
At one point, I sat on her side and showed her three ties.
“Which one should I wear to your funeral?” I asked.
In retrospect, it seems trite, seems almost disrespectful or cavalier to have asked. It feels cruel to write these words. But, at the time, it was the best I could do to bring order, reason and control to a world spinning off without end. Let’s decide what we can. Let’s make it how she wants.
I wasn’t the only one.
Mom spent some of her final hours planning her funeral, and our mourning.
No flowers. Pine coffin. Pink napkins. No DZ Akin’s catering during shiva.
She didn’t want her funeral to be maudlin. She wanted a celebration of her life.
And so that’s what we did.
There were moments when we each broke, moments when we wallowed in the tragedy. But, for the most part, we cried through our laughs, reflecting on how much we loved her, not how much we missed her. We sat seven days of shiva in awe over the woman – the mother, daughter, sister and wife – we came to know so much better in her death. We poked fun, and smiled, and celebrated all she accomplished in her far too few years through our sadness.
Mom’s body still lay warm in the other room when my uncle prodded my grandparents to realize that it would only be right to take us all on a “Lori Bolotin memorial cruise.”
Why cry, when you can laugh?
Three weeks later, shiva is all a blur. It seems like eons ago. I’m sure that I haven’t seen my mom in years.
And as time fades the memories of mom’s suffering, the experience of our angst and worry, the visions of her sickness, I’m left realizing that I just miss her.
More than anything in the world.
I no longer feel relieved that she’s no longer in pain. I’m no longer comforted that this madness is over. I’m just a son, who misses his mom.
But in my more sanguine moments, I can sit comfortably for a moment or two and accept that this should be hard, that healing will take a long time. That there is no sense in what happened and that is OK.
Life is messy. We control much less than we pretend to.
People die. They die too young. They die without reason. And they suffer too much along the way.
My mom was one such person.
But she was also a person who, through her death, came to understand just how messy life is, that it’s not black and white, but black and white and gray, and a little more black and a little white, all mishmashed together in a messy contorted reality.
All her life she had thought, she had lived as if the opposite were true.
But it’s not.
And we can fight that fact all we want. But that’s just a waste of the time we do have.
On that day, that day before she left this world, when I sat there, showing her ties, my mom did not like the pink tie I showed her.
“Too much,” she said.
She did not like the black one either.
She chose for me, to wear on the day of her funeral, the day we celebrated what she gave to this world an argyle tie of black and white and grey stripes, all criss-crossing each other in one big mess of a statement.
Two weeks ago, I sat on an airplane, drinking some wine to ease the pain. My seat mate turned and asked what was taking me to San Diego.
“I’m going home to watch my mom die,” I said.
And so it was. The woman I came home to was a world away from the woman I had left only three weeks prior. This was a woman who looked like cancer. This was a woman who knew she was dying.
The next few days are a blur. Conversations about hospice. Learning that morphine would prevent her from feeling like she was drowning. The tears. The goodbyes. The hugs.
She asked me, “What will I do without you?” She told me, “Goodnight sweetie,” and then died only hours later.
The one memory clearer than all others is running to grab Shanna as she got out of the car so that I could hold her tight as I told her mom was gone.
There’s no way to fully prepare for someone you love to die. All the more so, there’s no way to be ready for the inevitable when they are so unfairly young, when they have suffered so much, and when you’ve thought – when you’ve assured them – all the while that they’re getting better.
It’s been a week and a half since I buried my mom. My beard is uncomfortably long. A week of shiva and home and grieving has left my belt uncomfortably tight.
Yet it’s never been harder to leave San Diego.
The world feels broken – upside down at least. It does not yet make sense.
Maybe it never will.
But my mom’s memory lives on. It lives on in the hundreds of friends and family who helped us to mourn these past few weeks. It lives on in the thousands of lives she touched during her short time on this earth.
It lives on in me, a son who wishes he’d spent a few fewer hours being angry about things that didn’t matter and resenting attributes that were unchangeable, a few years less being annoyed and distant.
When I started rabbinical school, my mom would joke about how “we” would learn so much now that “we” were studying to be a rabbi. She was more proud of my journey than almost anything.
I am heartbroken that she never got to see me in action. She was the one who knew that Dallas was where I would go from the beginning. There are so many accomplishments, so many successes, so many excitements that I want to get on my phone and call her to tell her about.
But her line is disconnected. There’s no one there to answer.
And I want more than anything to cry on her lap. To hold her tight and have her tell me everything is going to be all right.
But I can’t.
My writing follows a fairly normal course of emotion, starting high, moving low, and coming up high again at the end. Almost pollyannish.
But this one can’t.
Or maybe it can.
My mom was an absurdly complex woman who lived a relatively simple life. She cared about family, about her home, about her Howie. She wanted people to like her.
And I loved her more than anything in the world.
I don’t know how I’ll live without her. But I know that I have no other options. It made her uncomfortable knowing that we were even sad about her.
So we’ll live on.
And we’ll name our kids after her. And we’ll color things pink because of her. And we’ll miss her. Oh we’ll miss her.
Because we love her.
And we always will.