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30,000 Feet

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.

They did.

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.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hedy Friedman #

    We met you once at Temple through our son Jason when we were visiting from Arizona.
    Your heartfelt words about the loss of your mother brought tears to my eyes. She will always be with you and will forever be a shining star for you. May you have a long and healthy life ahead.

    January 3, 2013
  2. Karen Marcus #

    I remember writing – on the first yartzheit of my mother’s passing – “G-d could not be everywhere; that’s why he created mothers.” I share this with you with love and with so much awe for how beautifully and honestly you write about your mom; how you felt about watching her suffer, the love you feel for her and always will. Rabbi Moshe Levin said to me 24 years ago when my beloved sister Roslyn passed away (she was 39) – when you love someone so much, they never die. Instead, the live on in the hearts of all who knew them and loved them. That was true for Roslyn and it is so true for Lori too. She was deeply loved by so many and she touched the lives of countless folk – she will live on in the hearts of all of us. I wish you and Shanna “Long Life.” Heartfelt condolences – Karen

    January 3, 2013
  3. Larraine Miller #

    Dear Rabbi David,
    *The journey that you are on now is far from easy…and you describe your feeling so clearly…a tear from the normal, of being turned upside down, a total break from the mother you loved who nurtured and loved you back.

    There is no end time for memories.

    The pain and loss now is very raw and feels almost surreal. It is my prayer that by reciting kaddish with your congregants, joining with others at daily minyon will become an anchor for the comfort that you need and deserve now.

    Be kind to yourself especially the next few weeks. And that means Honoring your mother’s memory and letting go by not putting the obstacle of her not being able to see your successes here at Shearith because of her unexpected illness. Blame the cancer…A big disappointment for you she was so ill…but you can be comforted in the knowledge the she was already so very proud of ‘her son the rabbi’!
    As her son, may you continue to go from strength to strength.

    May your mother’s memory be for a blessing and may she rest in peace.

    With Condolences, Larraine Miller

    January 3, 2013
  4. Stuart Simmons #

    Dear David –
    I read what you wrote thanks to it being posted by your Uncle on Facebook. It was clear and it was sensitive. It was authentic grieving filled with words that expose the reader to your heart and words that might help someone else grieving for a loved one who wants to say goodbye but is unable to write so eloquently.

    Your chosen profession will provide you with all too many opportunities in the years ahead to reach out and find words to comfort the bereaved. I know from my own xperiences as you move through the grieving process you will be sad less often and your pain will diminish.

    As your own mind and heart move from mourning increasingly to loving memories you will in turn become a better comforter to those who will turn to you as their Rabbi seeking your wisdom and support in their time of mourning.

    Part of your Mom’s legacy will be the life lessons you are experiencing and that you will share with others as your life moves forward.

    Best regards to you and Shanna,
    Stuart Simmons

    January 3, 2013
  5. Benji Gershon #


    Reading your blog, it put tears in my eyes. I can’t imagine going through something as immensely tragic as losing a parent. Especially a parent so young. I feel your pain and sorrow and my heart goes out to you, and those who knew your mother.

    Life simply is not fair. I always find myself asking, wondering why these types of tragedies happen to good people day after day, year after year. And I’ve found there is no easy answer, in fact I don’t know if there is an answer at all. What I do know is that without G-D, without Faith, it would be a lot harder to overcome these tragedies and move forward with our lives.

    I used to believe everything happened for a reason, I don’t anymore. I’ve seen and heard about too many tragedies happening to too many good people. What I do believe, is that loss can bring added purpose, meaning, courage, compassion & love to one’s life and the lives around them.

    My prayer for you David, is that through the process of emotional & spiritual healing you will find peace in your life and that you’ll develop an even stronger sense of purpose, meaning, courage, compassion & love in your life and the lives you touch.

    Thank you for sharing your feelings and raw emotions with us and being so honest. I’m sure it must be very difficult to talk or even write about your mother and the loss & sadness you must be feeling. I appreciate you giving us a look into your soul and portraying your mother in such a wonderful light. I can see she meant the world to you.

    My deepest condolences to you and your family.

    -Benji G.

    January 4, 2013

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