I birthed my seventh baby in the twilight of an early Friday morning this June. Sixty-three days later, on another Friday morning, 1,230 miles away, I buried my mother.
The interim, in retrospect, is a blur. But those sixty-three days, as I lived them, saw me welcoming a new beloved life into this world and slowly, and painfully, saying goodbye to a most beloved life, the giver of mine.
My husband and I toyed with different names before her birth in the tradition of parents everywhere across time. But when she was born, she brought so much joy, Gila, that her presence named herself. Her name was both a depiction of who she was at her arrival and what we hoped her life would herald.
When she was almost two weeks old, Gila and I boarded an early morning Delta flight bound for my mother’s bedside. We repeated the trip twice more, visiting every two weeks like clockwork. I passed my sister and brother in transit during those two months; always someone at her side, as she had always been by ours. When Gila was eight weeks old, I drove my kids halfway across the country for what was unknowingly, and ultimately, goodbye.
The day before her last, my brother and I spent hours singing my mother every Chasidic melody we knew (and didn’t). I positioned tiny Gila in front of her closed eyes and the eternal Bubbie in her knew that her newest granddaughter was there, observing. She slit an eye, she cracked a slight smile. It was big enough and bright enough to light up my world. In that moment, I prayed that Gila would remember the Bubbie she barely knew and would grow up to be everything her Bubbie was and everything she held so dear.
Over the hours and days and weeks of our many visits, I watched my tiny newborn morph into a tiny human and I watched my strong, giant of a mother morph into the unimaginable. It was the circle of life at its most raw, most painful.
Then shivah came. And with it the crowds of people who knew my mom, who loved her and who felt the hole as we did. Several times during those long days, from my low perch, I caught myself mentally cataloguing a conversation to repeat to my mother during our daily calls. Oh, she would love to know what this one said, or that this one came. Then I remembered. There would be no conversation. There would never be another call.
Then shivah ended. As my brother and I took our traditional walk around the block, my children boarded the yellow bus for their first day back at school. Was it heretical to contemplate the weather? We had been largely inside for a week and the day was one my mother and I both loved, the early fall crispness in the air, the smallest hint of a tree turning. No, it was not heretical, this was my new normal. If I couldn’t have my mother in the flesh, or at the other end of the phone line, then I should at least have her in my thoughts, always.
I grapple with the challenge of grief and the frailty of life as we as a nation approach the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They are our annual chance to beg G-d to grant us a year of goodness, of health, of prosperity, of life. What was He thinking this time last year, I can’t help but wonder. And what does He have in store for us this coming year?
As the days pass too slowly and too quickly from that day, I worry. I worry that I won’t remember her voice, that my children won’t remember their Bubbie, that I will be lonely forever. Rosh Hashanah is almost here and “they” say that holidays without loved ones are the hardest days of all. Are they? Will it be?
On the second day of the year, we will read about the prophetess Chana who took her barren self to the Temple to pray for a child. All my life, my mother, Chana, prayed. Through her challenges, and ours, she prayed, through her triumphs, and ours, she prayed. And I know that she is still praying, for us, for our children. And, I suppose, that will have to be enough for now.
My mother holding her granddaughter Gila.