Grieving My Mother’s Death

Grief has walked beside me for much of my life.  I have grieved loss of childhood, loss of innocence, loss of trust, loss of intimacy, loss of hope, loss of confidence, loss of loss.  You name it, I’ve grieved it. I have suffered deaths before.  Large and small.  Death of my beloved grandfather, death of my father, death of animal companions (two cats and two dogs, so far), death of ways of life, of ways of being, of parts of myself.

And now, in a wholly new way, grief is my constant companion.

My mother died on November 26, 2011.  Weird to say that.  Weird to read it.  She’s dead. Gone. Not with me any more. Death has such a ring of finality to it.  In one sense, yes…final. No more physical contact. There are moments – sometimes hours, or days – when every ounce of me aches for my mother.  My mom. My mama. I long for her presence. I want more time with her. I am greedy, starved; an infant who does not yet understand how to nurse, but desperately needs sustenance.

I was blessed, you see. My mom and I resolved our differences, with mutual grace and compassion, long before she died. I have no regrets about any part of my relationship with her. I had such anger – rage, more like – when I began my journey of healing about my father molesting me.  My writing about her was harsh.  It was hard for me to be with her for extended periods. I blamed her, judged her, disdained her.

Then, things began to shift.

My mom and I were 200 miles apart, and she was becoming increasingly frail.  We found out she had early Alzheimer’s.  I became her caregiver, from a distance.  I traveled from Boston to NYC every couple of weeks for doctors’ appointments and medical emergencies.  As I walked with her to each doctor’s office, for each medical test, my vantage point changed; I let go of the baggage I had been shlepping around and saw her as a person I loved, warts and all.  We started having real conversations.  My love for her became unconditional.  I buried the hatchet, and birthed a deep and treasured relationship.

My mom moved up to Boston almost two years ago, after much prodding and manipulation (the lawyer in me…).  I found a wonderful assisted living facility, and two weeks after she came up, she declared “I’m ready to stay!”  She loved the staff, the food, the activities, and most of all, the residents.  She forged strong friendships, and was the leader of a posse of New York ex-pats.  Every evening they would gather in the living room and chat together.  She taught people how to write haiku.  She would do the NY Times crossword puzzle every day, rallying her posse to help her. New residents were brought into the fold, quickly and with love.

My mother was a true presence, and people are still mourning her loss.

After her death, I wanted to find a way to honor my mom.  Not merely by going to synagogue and saying Kaddish for her. Given that my mother was a “confirmed agnostic,” I knew that Kaddish wouldn’t be that important to her.  Still, I said it for the 30 day period of Shloshim.  At the same time, I started writing a haiku each evening in her honor, and to help me through my grief.  My plan was to continue through Shloshim, and then stop.  My 12- year old daughter, an old soul if ever I met one, challenged me to continue for the full 11 month period.  She told me I should do it because it would help me.  She was right.  I would write!

Here are the first ten haiku that I wrote, with their dates.  I’ll post more as I go.  They have indeed been profoundly helpful, and provide me with a day-to-day record of my grief.  I hope you’ll join me on my journey.

ELEANOR BURG ROTH, z’l
1924 – 2011


November 29, 2011/Day 1:

As we bury you
I wonder where are you now;
watching from above?


November 30, 2011/Day 2:

My soul aches for you
heart breaking with every breath
I yearn for quiet.


December 1, 2011/Day 3:
Headed back today
home to family of choice
but not to my mom.

December 2, 2011/Day 4:
Welcomed back tonight
into my community
prayers and solace.

December 3, 2011/Day 5:
Thinking of you and
singing Tumbalalaika.
I wish you were here.

December 4, 2011/Day 6:
Body’s life force ebbed
soul soaring through the heavens
punning on its way.

December 5, 2011/Day 7:
Shiva over now
your soul rests in the heavens
your love within me.

December 6, 2011/Day 8:
Doing the crossword
thinking of you with each clue
searching for “etui.”

December 7, 2011/Day 9:
Physical life gone
brilliance shining heavenward.
What would Dante say?

December 8, 2011/Day 10:
Only Haiku?  Hmmm…
perhaps someday a sonnet
(edging toward Shakespeare).


About armsakimbobook

I'm a mother, a lawyer, a feminist, a writer, a potter, and an inveterate and unapologetic New Yorker. My book, Arms Akimbo: A Journey of Healing, tells of my journey of healing over a number of years, learning to live a full life after I was molested by my father at a very young age. I live in Medford, MA, part time with my 11 year-old daughter and full time with our dog, Toast, and our cats, Samson and Hercules.
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