My sister-in-law warned me about the first time you see your loved one’s name engraved on a headstone, and it’s a good thing she did. Though we had been working on the exact wording for months, though I had seen photographs of the stone while it was in the workshop, it was still devastating.
As we stood there, people began to arrive, cousins, old friends, one great-aunt, people from Chicago, people from Montreal, people who knew Mom. A man I haven’t seen since I was thirteen. Another I haven’t seen since I was twenty.
We speak, my sister, my brother-in-law, my cousins, myself. We resurrect her deeds, her words, her memory. It is good to hear other people talk about her, remembering her gleeful smile, her boundless good spirits. It is two days before Thanksgiving, and with their words, they are conjuring up for me a thousand festive meals; Mom’s minestrone soup, her fried rice, her mashed potatoes covered in golden onions, the massive turkey. Grandparents and uncles and aunts and lantsman and cousins, all shouting and joking and eating and fighting and laughing, pressed together around the table in the dining room.
At this point, the shadows are growing longer and longer on the stony ground. My brother recites the Kaddish, the El Maleh Rahamim. The words seem to linger in the cool dry air. After the ceremony is over, the men drift up the road to the small synagogue, to say afternoon and evening prayers.
The sun is setting beyond the stony hills, sinking in a sea of orange light beneath the line of cypress trees. It is beautiful in a way that inspires awe, and very very quiet.
Darkness falls fast here. I can see the lights of Jerusalem twinkling like diamonds in the distance. There are already a number of small stones lined up along the edge of Mom’s monument. Hastily, I shape them into the outline of a heart.
It’s time to go. One last time, I rub my fingers over the polished white surface, and say goodbye.
16 Things I Learned From My Mom
1. She taught me that a difficult start in life should not keep you from having a good life. You are the master of your own fate.
2. She taught me that it was important to be a good listener.
3. She taught me how to make the world’s best chicken soup.
4. She taught me not to mix a shirt that had one kind of pattern with pants that had a different kind of pattern when I got dressed in the morning.
5. She taught me how to stand up for my rights.
6. She taught me to help people who would never tell you that they needed help.
7. She taught me to look at all the sides in a story.
8. She taught me that family and friends were more important than anything.
9. She taught me that it was important to read to my children.
10. She taught me that if I wanted kids to play my game, I might have to play their game, first.
11. She taught me that you have to give your children independence in order for them to grow. Whether I like it or not.
12. She taught me how to tell a good story.
13. She taught me to treat all people with respect.
14. She taught me how to be a friend.
15. She taught me that happiness was about being happy with what I had.
16. She taught me to remember only the good things.
I miss you, Mom. I miss you every day.