At no time have I been more aware of this than in my shared time with my mother in her final years. As her memory began to fail, I stepped up and came to visit more frequently and for more extended time. One of the right reasons for this was to cherish the time I had with my mother, suddenly painfully aware that it was limited and would end. The other right reason was to relieve my sister who lived near her and took on more of the burden. I didn't want my sister to feel overwhelmed and abandoned as she assumed responsibility. And I wanted her to know that I appreciated what she did.
When my mother took a turn for the worse, I knew the right thing was to be there for her. To be present. We held her hand to the end, surrounding her with love. It was both hard and profound and I am incredibly grateful that I had that opportunity to be there for her. Later my sister and I tackled the house. I went through my parents' papers, experiencing them through their thoughts and the eyes of correspondents. My understanding of them deepened and as onerous as that process was, I was grateful for the understanding I gained.
Since my mother passed away, I have been experiencing her in a different way, creating artwork and writing about her. I finally was able to give what I was doing a name when I read about the artist Tobi Kahn. When his mother died, he, an observant Jew, said the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. But he also said it in a different way. He decided that during his year as a mourner he would create works of art that related to his mother's life. When he described it as saying Kaddish visually, I understood exactly what he meant. This also was my way of saying Kaddish for my mother, integrating both her absence, but also her continued presence into my life.
We are at the close of a chapter, but I still feel like mysteries are unfolding. My sister and I have both been doing the right things for the right reasons. We are honoring our parents in many ways as we let them go. We have created a force field, out of which good things come.
I was speaking to my sister recently when I said, "Have I told you lately how grateful I am that I have a sister?" One of the good things that came out of this was a deepened relationship with my sister. While we are only three years apart in age we often lived in different worlds. I was away at college while she navigated high school. She was raising a family when I was single. At crisis points we pulled together, but for much of our adult lives we were a tangential presence in each other's life.
Now with complementary, but different skills, and with a deep love for our mother, we stepped up together to support her and to deal with all those end of life challenges. Holding up my end of things was the right thing to do. Really getting to know and appreciate my sister on a whole other level was one of the gift that I received for that effort. And then there are the mysteries...
My sister and my niece were at the house for the final time. My niece was going through an old purse of my mother's and was convinced there was something in it. She felt around in the lining and extricated a star of David necklace that my mother had gotten in Israel. I remembered how my mother had focused in on that necklace in the shop. I had suggested she might want to look at others, but she was insistent that that was the one she wanted. Soon after we returned she lost it. I had thought of it often, wondering if it would reappear. I hated the idea of losing it. It seemed somehow fitting that it was resurrected at the 11th hour by my niece, a legacy passed on to my mother's granddaughter with a sense of discovery surrounding it, almost as if my mother had handed it to her.
The other good thing that has arisen is that a neighbor has bought the house. I'm in town one last time for the closing. The young neighbor couple and their child have the wife's parents living with them. The parents, who are new to this country, were interested in purchasing the house. That somehow felt so right to both my sister and me. "Mom would love the idea" we said to each other. We still seem to have a pretty direct channel to her. She would have liked the idea of family members supporting each other. Her parents were immigrants too and she looked after her mother who lived with us when we were young. I think she would have identified with the neighbors. Actually she would have liked for us to have lived next door to her.
There is a huge tree in the front yard that grew from a twig. The neighbor's mother said that she loves to watch it as it goes through the seasons and has named it Orlando, echoing the name of the street although I keep thinking of the Shakespearean character. My mother loved her house and I think would be very pleased with a new owner who names and cherishes the tree that graces the yard.