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Sunday, June 3, 2012

'Bye, Mom

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, I was still sleeping when the phone woke me up. Somehow, even in my sleepy haze, I knew. Sure enough, within seconds, John opened the bedroom door, holding the phone.

Mom had passed away about 2:00 in the morning. M wanted to know if we still wanted to come over, or if we wanted to postpone it. No, I said. We'd like to see you.

John crept into bed with me as I spoke to M, curling around me, pressing his face to mine. My tears ran over his forehead and into his hair, but he did not move away.

I told him I couldn't face lunch with his mother, but he should go anyway. He understood. He got me out of bed, showered and dressed, and then took off to see his mother.

Feeling stunned, I went online, reaching for distraction. There I found a no-reply, form email from the Way With Words Group, stating, "Thank you for your interest and for submitting your application and test. Unfortunately..."

I didn't have to read the rest. Perfect, I thought. Nice touch. Let's get all the possible kicks in the gut out of the way, shall we? They offered no explanation, no clarity as to how I failed their test. It sucked.

We drove to my stepdad's. I asked where my mother was, and he told me the hospital had already come to retrieve her. She had donated her body to medical research, as he will do also. There would be no services.

So I figured, I will say my final goodbye here. Even though I've known this was coming for a long time, the finality of it is still a shock. Wow, I thought. I have no parents. That is a creepy feeling.

I am grateful that my mother is finally at peace, but I am disgusted and furious that she had to come to the end of her life in such a miserable and undignified fashion. That she had to die in degrees; first her mind, and then, slowly, year by year, her body. She did not deserve this.

I'd rather not think about the past six years or so. But neither do I wish to canonize her. Those of you who read my book, who have been reading my blogs over the years, know how tempestuous and difficult my relationship was with my mother. It was not easy being her child. However, I know she did the best she could. She was raised in an effed-up family and shown very poor examples of parenting. And of course, she made the mistake that many of her era made -- "I'll have kids myself and do a better job." She didn't. But she tried. She meant well.

Wasn't she beautiful?

I don't know the date of the above photo, but I'm guessing she was in her early 20s there. It was a different time, a different era; I've never looked that glamorous in all my life.

Here she is with my brother and baby me (having a bad hair day):

This is a candid shot from my college graduation. Not the greatest shot of me, but I love it because it's one of the extremely rare photos of my mother smiling with her whole face. Mom did not like her smile (she claimed she looked like a chipmunk), and, long before the advent of Botox, she trained herself to smile with her mouth only. After all, scrunching up one's face and eyes caused wrinkles. (sigh)

Mom's 70th birthday -- still gorgeous:

And finally, this was from her 37th wedding anniversary party, seven years ago:

(Yes, I was a bit taller than she; I took after my dad that way. I got his coloring, too)

She was 83 here. And this was her last good year. Shortly thereafter, she had hip replacement surgery, a risk at her age, but she was in a lot of pain and it was necessary. During the surgery, she had several small strokes that affected her brain. After that, the slow downhill slide began.

According to family legend, the night I was born, one of the nurses jumped the gun. I was a big baby, 8 1/2 pounds, and I had broad shoulders. When I was halfway out, the assisting nurse exclaimed, "Oh, look at the big beautiful boy!" My mother, in her stupor of pain and whatever drugs they gave you in 1957, moaned, "No, NO! I don't want another boy! Put it back!"

Damn. Good thing I turned out to be a girl, huh? But... I know I wasn't the daughter my mother wanted. Somehow, I doubt that I could have been. She hungered for so much, wanted me to have everything she didn't have, wanted me to be everything she couldn't be. I took after my father in many ways and she couldn't stand that.

This weekend, I said to John, "I wonder if Mom was ever proud of me." Ever pragmatic, he replied, "Does it matter, really?" Probably not. She loved me. And her criticism, deeply personal as it was, still wasn't personal. She was hard on everyone; herself, most of all.

Mom, there were so many things I admired about you. I admired your adventurous spirit, your lust for life and different experiences, your love of travel and other cultures. I loved how you could welcome people in your home, numbering anywhere from two to a hundred, cook for them, make them feel at ease, entertain them -- all the while keeping your cool and grace, looking spectacular and making it seem so easy. I loved your cooking and how you could make even the simplest of dishes, such as meatloaf, taste like something special. I will always miss your homemade soups. And ohhhh, your stuffing. A year in the making; you'd save every heel of bread, every leftover roll, the last few tortilla chips in a large plastic bag in the freezer, and every Thanksgiving, you'd take all these odds and ends of bread, combine them with onions and celery and chicken broth and seasonings, and make stuffing that I'd eat right out of the casserole dish, it was so good.

You were an open book, an open door -- you had no filters and no protective armor. Everything affected you so deeply and brought out your passion, your anger, your rebellion. I still remember something you said years ago, when I was a teenager. We were discussing about how Orthodox Jews disown their children if they marry outside of the faith. In essence, they pretend these children are dead. This made you furious, and you said, "That makes me sick. If I could have my son back, whole and alive, I wouldn't care if he married a giraffe."

I'm sorry you had so many hardships in life: a family of lunatics you couldn't wait to escape, so you went into a bad marriage. The loss of your child. The regrets, the disappointments, the restlessness, always feeling like a better life was just beyond your fingertips. But you had good times, too. You won the lottery with your second marriage. You saw the world. You had so many amazing experiences, met so many incredible people. And oh, my God, you were so beautiful. And smart.

I wish I could have made you happier, but I hope you knew that I loved you. Even when I disappeared for a year, I thought of you every day. I have no excuses; that was my weakness, my fear. But I never stopped caring.

Rest well, Mom.


  1. Erica,

    My heart and love are with you. Thank goodness for your mother, and thank her for you.

    Sincerest sympathy,

  2. Erica, I am so sorry about the loss of your mother. My thoughts are with you and John. Peace, sandy

  3. Erica, she was SO beautiful. I could see you in the first picture of her. You have the same cheeks!

    And look how she is leaning towards you. She loved you, it's in her body language. I'm so sorry her last years have been awful. I'm glad you let yourself forgive her at the end. You have to take a small measure of comfort from that. I hope your stepdad has some peace in the months to come.

    I'm thinking about you.

  4. Dana -- thank you, beautiful lady.

    Sandy -- I appreciate that; thank you, dear.

    Cindy -- you're so kind. It's interesting to me, how many people are saying (on the FetLife photo) that I look like her. I always thought I looked like my dad. Perhaps I have some of both.

  5. Dear Erica,

    As tears well in my eyes, I can only sing the lyrics that seem to find me in both the darkest and lightest moments in my life:

    "May the long time sun shine upon you,
    All love surround you,
    And the pure light within you,
    guide your way on."

    Love and peace to you,

  6. She was very beautiful Erica. I am so sorry for your loss. Even though you knew it would happen one day it's still so hard when it does. My thought are with you.

    Love and hugs,

  7. I lost my wife of 48 years a little over two years ago. I will never forget the fun we had. But I also had to watch as MS took her down the hill, a small amount each year. She suffered and she is in a much better place. I have read your blogs and your book and you have suffered a major loss, but she also is in a much better place. You have wonderful people around you. Hal

  8. Hello Erica - Even though you don't know me, I feel as though I know enough about you from reading your posts. I am so sorry for your loss, but she is in a much better place, and in a much better state. My thoughts are with you - - Dale Nooch

  9. I am so sorry for your loss Erica. A relationship between a mother and a daughter is always extraordinary. She sounds like a wonderful woman, and so do you. I wish you much strength, and better days.


  10. Oh Erica, I cried for you as I read this.
    Your mother was indeed beautiful and had many wonderful attributes, not least that she created a beautiful, creative, caring daughter.

    Love is difficult, it is awkward and painful, and it smashes us when we want it to hold us but it is love all the same.

    Your love for your mother and the need you have to feel her love is very strong - I feel for your grief.


  11. I'm very sorry for your loss, and she was beautiful and this is a lovely tribute.

  12. TheVBB and I both want to say how sorry we are for your loss. You have been saying good bye for a long time now and I pray for peace and healing for you. Isabella.

  13. We are so sorry for your loss. You have been saying your goodbyes for a long time now but it does not lessen the pain. We pray for quick healing and peace. May the good memories grow stronger and the bad fade away. Isabella and TheVBB.

  14. My prayers are with you and your family, always cherish the good memories and she'll be close at heart.

  15. Oh Erica. I would not have a clue what to say. I sincerely believe that your mother is in a better place, somewhere, but I also know how little comfort that is to you. I had to watch my aunt battle cancer for five years, before she died in January, and it was a slow, horrible process, especially the last year.

    I'm not sure what else there is to say, Erica. I hope you can find peace in time.

  16. Erica, what a beautiful tribute to your MOTHER. Yes, I honestly cried. Your mother would have been thankfully proud that her daughter could write such a masterpiece of prose, about her passing from life. Yes. she was a beautiful woman, and passed this beauty of heart unto her daughter.

  17. Erica,
    I'm so sorry for your loss, but in a way I'm relieved for you and your family. Thanks for this amazing glimpse of your mother. You've mentioned her a lot throughout this years, but this post really was a wonderful tribute to her and the good parts of your relationship.

  18. We all face the loss of our parents. Please know that altho we don't know each other you have my sincere sympathies on the loss of your Mom.

  19. You and yours are much in my thoughts, Erica. May you be a source of strength for one another as you grieve. And may the memories of your mother's last months fade with your grief, leaving behind the memories of the lovely, vigorous, highly competent, and complicated woman you have described so beautifully here.

  20. Hi Erica -- OMG i am so sorry about your mom :-( I can't stop crying,She was so BEAUTIFUL,You look alot like her,you are VERY beautiful too.I am sure she was proud of you, your the BEST daughter anyone could possibly have,your pretty and smart and did alot with your life,You are truly AMAZING.The pic's are LOVELY,you were an ADORABLE baby.This is a WONDERFUL tribute to your mom.My thought's are with you and John and your stepdad.May your mom R.I.P, With sincere sympathy,I Love you sending you big hugs from your naughty girl Jade xoxo

  21. I'm so sorry. Add me to the ones who cried. She was so beautiful, even as she got older. And you look so much like her...

    So much sympathy.

  22. Eloquently written, Erica.

    I understand. It is hard on one's spirit in more ways than one. Now all are free and unburdened of the painful side effects. Relief is so often elusive and is welcome when we finally get to that point in time, however overwhelming those waves of grace are.

    Very Tight Hugs.

  23. So sorry Erica, words fail at a time like this, just know our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time!


  24. It is strange, isn't it, becoming a middle aged orphan? I lost my dad three years ago, and his last five years were not good ones. Saying goodbye was a process that took years, as you have also done. I'm so sorry for your loss--it's never easy, particularly when our parents have to suffer every indignity. I wish that this nation was not so backward when it comes to death with dignity.

    It's true that your mother was very beautiful and you look a lot like her. I always thought that I took after my dad too, but others who knew my mom in her younger days say that I resemble her strongly. I'm sure your mother was proud of you in her own way even if you were not the daughter she expected, and I'm sure that she loved you dearly despite her own flaws.

    I hope that in the coming months you will feel the loving comfort of those closest to you. Wishing you peace...

  25. I am overwhelmed. SC, Ronnie, Hal, Dale, Olivia, Poppy, Emen, Isabella & VBB, OFG, Terri, Six, Katerina, Anonymous, Indy, Jade, Conina, Bree -- THANK YOU. ♥

  26. Ooops... two more came in while I was typing. Dave and Dana, thank you.

    And yes, this nation is backward. I will fight for the right to die with dignity for the rest of my days.

  27. Erica..
    ((sending you a much needed cyber hug)) I'm thankful your Mother did not have to endure the pain of a life she was not truly "living" - for both your sakes. I don't know where you found the strength to write such an eloquent eulogy for your Mother, but I'm glad you did. I'd have personally collapsed, and gone into seclusion from the world. I don't do well with death at all - especially when I lose someone that was an intrical part of whom I've become. I also hate facing my own mortality. We all have many ups and downs as we travel through life, and some things frazzle us to no end when they are beyond our control. You inherited your Mother's strong will and fortitude, and a will to persevere no matter what. I've no doubt she loved you, immensely. You honor your Mother by sharing her life, and yours, with the masses. No matter how tumultuous either has been over the years, all those moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.. and have helped you to become the person you are. And for that, I thank your Mother, for giving you life, so that I could become a better person just by knowing you.
    ((hugs)) xoxo Zelle

  28. I wish you a lot of strength and I hope you and your mother will find peace.
    Your eulogy touched me deeply.
    My best wishes, my thoughts are with you.

  29. Sorry for your loss. I hope that the good memories, that you wrote of in the post, stay with you.


  30. My condolences Erica


    DJ Black

  31. I think you are blessed to have so many caring friends.

  32. You have my deepest sympathy, Erica. It's a shame to see people that were once so strong and vibrant to have to spend their last years in pain and confusion. It is comforting to know that now they are at peace and out of pain. I'm glad John was with you when you got the news.

    I can see the resemblance in your graduation picture, you have her smile. I am sure she was proud of you, many parents of our generation didn't say they were proud or that they loved us.

    Loved the baby pic, I got one just like it with the same curl on the head, must've been the thing to do back then. :-)

  33. I'm sorry for your loss Erica, but happy that her struggle is over and she can rest in peace. It is such a horrible disease, and one I am unfortunately watching myself now. Hopefully your mother's wonderful donation of herself can help others that may suffer in the futures.

    I know I do not know your mother, but I do believe that she was proud of you. She raised a good person, and mother's admire that, even if they do not know how to show it.

    Love and hugs,

  34. I am very sorry for you, Erica.

    No services, apparently - but you as a daughther created a GREAT, impressive, moving, monument for her.

    Take time and space for mourning, remembering - and for celebrating everything she has meant for you.

    Best wishes.

  35. I am so sorry, Erica.

    I know this has been very hard for you on top of everything else. It is very surreal when we loose our parents and I think especially loosing Mom. You wrote a beautiful tribute to her and I do believe she was proud of you and loved you very much. May you have the comfort of peace in this painful time.

  36. Beautiful tribute and I love the pictures. I bet she was proud of you, but she didn't know how to show it or tell you. It's tough to be around someone who dislikes themselves so much because they have nothing left to give to those around them. I wish you the best as you move forward beyond this chapter of your life. Peace, love, and happiness to you always. ~Juju~

  37. So sorry for your loss, Erica. I know it's better for everyone. She could not have been happy in the last few years. I was amazed by that last pic because your mother really looked a lot like you (or, uh, I guess vice-versa in this case!).

    My thoughts are always with you.


  38. This is a beautiful tribute, Erica. She was a beautiful woman and has a beautiful and wonderful daughter. So much beauty all around. No matter the ups and downs in a relationship, losing someone is never easy. Even if you know the time is coming soon, nothing can fully prepare you for it. I hope you and your loved ones can find peace in this difficult time. {{{hugs}}}

  39. What a touching and well written tribute. I truly feel for you- I've had a complex relationship with my mother, and have been grieving her loss though she's still sort of here. I've also gotten up in front of the packed church for a eulogy and just about broken down. All that to say- I truly admire how you've handled this, and my thoughts and condolences are with you. I've said in the past how much I think "hugggsss" are gay, but if I were there, I'd give you a big one, and not even pinch your ass! Hang in there, sweetie.

  40. I just learned of this. All my love to you, Erica.

    This is a heartbreaking and absolutely beautiful tribute.

    You have your mother's sense of humor, as well as your dad's. For what it's worth, I see her beauty in you.

    I suspect she had a lot of fears and barriers as well, but even with that, mothers do know.

  41. Your Mom's beaming smile and body language in her 70th birthday photo speaks volumes as to the love and pride she felt toward you. I am very sorry for your loss. May you find comfort in the love of your close friends during this sad time.


  42. Erica, I am so sorry for your loss.

  43. Erica, I am so sorry for your loss.

    Be well,

  44. My mother died from breast cancer. She was 83 and it had metastasized into her lungs. Dad lived to be 77 but he died quickly from a massive heart attack. Neither lost their wits, but I sometimes wonder if senility would have dulled the pain for Mum.

    My sympathy for your grief.


  45. Dear Erica,

    this is a wonderful tribute to your mother! She was indeed a beautiful woman. Sadly I know about the shock of suddenly being without one's mother but I can't imagine how hard it must be if both parents aren't there any more. My thoughts are with you and everyone who grieves for your mother, especially your stepfather. I know him only from your writing but I have the feeling that it meant a lot to him that you went to see him. Ludwig and I both send you our good wishes.

    Warm hugs,

  46. I love you guys. Thank you. I am sorry that I'm not replying to each individual comment as I usually do, but I know you'll understand. I am overwhelmed.

    Please know that all these comments, plus the emails and tweets and everything else, are keeping me from withdrawing into isolation, as is my typical MO.

    I will catch you all up soon. In the meantime, please do read between the lines and see how full my heart is.

  47. I read this and sat here and bawled. It brought it all back for me, the awful feeling of being a disapointment to my Dad, "or at least that's the way i felt," trying so very hard to do something - anything to make him proud, yet never hearing it.
    The late years when he got sick and had to rely on me because I was the only son left. They were the best times, I began to know him then. Still his critisism stung but I learned to yell back. With that we began to speak truthfully to each other, but it was so very late in the game.
    Getting him out of the house for one last ride to the cider mill and antique tractor show before his strokes. Listening to his stories the whole trip and for the first time realizing it was his way of passing a lesson on to me.
    Bringing him home at the end to die in the house he was born in, and still waiting for his aproval.
    It wasn't until after he was gone that his friends and brothers came to tell me what he never could, that he was proud of me.
    Erica she may not have been able to say the words you wanted or needed to hear but I'm sure she was and is very proud of you and loved you very much. You could not be the person we all have grown to love without her seeing that very special part of you. She may not have been able to express it but I am sure she felt it!
    Grieve if you must but hold on to what ever good memories you have, they are the balm to heal that pain!

    Poppa Mark

  48. Thinking of you, Erica. I only just read your blog and learned of your mother's passing. You're right, she was a beautiful woman, as you are, and I offer my most sincere condolences on your loss.


  49. The photos tell the story. I see pride and love coming from her to you. I know it wasn't a story book relationship, but you said it best about how she wanted to improve upon the way she was raised and do better by you and your brother.

    And no question how sickening the way her health was robbed in stages. She's not dealing with that anymore. Hopefully your warm memories of her will begin to dominate your overall feelings.

  50. Erica,

    Even when we know it's coming, the finality of losing a family member is a shock unlike any other. At such times, we search for meaning and context. I think you've found more than most of us do.

    I'm saddened by your loss, but even more so by your heartbreaking descriptions of your mother's long decline. As a society, we treat our pets more humanely than we do our ailing seniors, and that's not as it should be.

    As a mother myself, I think I'm entitled to say "Please take good care of yourself, dear, because we all still love you!"


  51. Dear Erica,

    Please accept my condolences for the loss of your dear mother.
    Thank you for sharing your memories of her, and also of your dad
    through the past several years. I can still visualize the photo of
    him on that long ago cover of TV Guide, as well as another early one of your family. I read every comment on here and it shows what a devoted and caring readership you have.

    May your mother's memory be for a blessing.

    Be well,


  52. Erica, I'm so very sorry for your loss. She was indeed a beautiful woman.


  53. Very sorry to learn of your loss. The pictures you shared are lovely... full of smiles.

    ~Todd and Suzy

  54. Erica... I wish I'd known sooner, and could have been there for you. Don't withdraw into isolation! Too many people would miss you. I love the graduation picture!

  55. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. I'm sorry for your loss.