When my college announced there would be no in-person graduations this year, I didn’t think I would care that much. But the official day came, and I was so devastated.
I was devastated, angry, hurt, sad, and overly jealous. I was jealous of the students that had real graduations, the ones that had photos with their moms and dads all dressed in cap and gown. Seeing everyone celebrate with their friends and family was really hard on me. I didn’t know how much I wanted a graduation until I didn’t have one. School had been the most focal point in my life throughout everything, and now I’m finished, just like that. Done. No celebrations, no cheers, no cap throwing, no flowers from my mom, no congratulations from my dad.
I relied on being a student to get me through all that these last two years have thrown at me. I did homework at chemo sessions with my mom, I completed my midterms not even two weeks after she passed, I submitted essays while waiting for hospital phone calls to see if my dad was still breathing. And I got straight A’s.
School pushed me through, it made me have something to anchor onto, this was my safe haven. As much as I hated it, at one point it seemed like it was all I had. I am so glad to be done, but I never pictured it ending like this.
I thought it would be at Barclays Center, with my mother waving and calling my name, handing me flowers and taking photos together outside, going out to eat and celebrating, and she would probably buy me a cake the weekend before and write cheesy messages on paper and hang them all around the house, and decorate the outside of our house and buy big obnoxious balloons that everyone hates but secretly adores, and she would be so happy and so proud.
I thought I was well prepared for this, after all it’s been over a year now.
But even as I write this there are tears in my eyes as I am so terribly sad to not be celebrating with my mom.
My mother never wanted to talk about her sickness or her dying. She didn’t want to acknowledge what was happening to her. She couldn’t fathom the possibility of not being at the rest of her daughter’s weddings, or any of her family’s simchos. But for months I begged her to write letters to me, videos for me to watch on my wedding day, for my children, personal messages, anything and everything, I wanted it all. I begged her and I fought with her, but she was tired, she was sick, she didn’t want to face it.
And then, she went in for her last chemo treatment. I’ll never forget that day, how she begged the doctor to give her more chemo, how she sat on the chair begging for the poison if only it will give her a little bit more time. I can still see her face and hear her sobs as clear as that last visit. The doctor’s last touch, shaking his head and walking away, because he was heartless or his heart couldn’t take it, I’d like to believe the latter. The nurses in the corners crying, my beautiful mother, their patient for so long, the one who gave them so much love and treats and appreciation, always with a smile on her face. My sister, next to my mother, sobbing with her. The doctor very calmly giving me the last instructions to help with the pain, precise instructions on the exact amount of mcg. I watched in horror and stayed silent, until my mother cried out my name and started telling me she is going to write the letters now, she’s going to write letters for my wedding.
Later that week, she was too sick to write, but she had her friend write a letter for my sister whose baby she will never meet, the granddaughter named after her, for my sister whose wedding she will never attend, and for me, I was granted with two. For her baby, for the graduation she know she will not see, and for the last wedding she will never know.
This is something I often thought about. The last accomplishment I could have shown to my mother was getting my driver’s license. And before that, getting into seminary. And before that, graduating high school. These were the last things I could celebrate. These were the height of my achievements. I hope to do more things, to do great things, and these things – these things my mother won’t see. This pains me.
I left this as a draft after my graduation day, hoping to finish off the post on a happier ending – once I get my gown and cap, take photos on campus, feel more happy for whatever reason I keep telling myself that I will be happier “soon,” just a little more time.
The truth is I’m not any more happier two months later. But some things hurt less. I got over the graduation sadness, that weird week in between, and I don’t care as much anymore. Not every post can have a happy ending, just like those we’ve lost can never come back. I need to remember that I write here to let out all feelings, to put them into a place so they no longer hold heavy in my heart and mind. I don’t write here to create false narratives, happy endings, fake truths – losing a mother will never get easier. Ever. Moments along the way will only hurt less as they pass.
This post is hard to finish. Maybe because I don’t feel like I have actually finished anything. I’ve completed my undergraduate degree, but I haven’t finished learning. I’ve had all the experiences I would ever have with my mother in my lifetime, but I haven’t finished craving more. I’ve finished the first year of mourning, but I haven’t finished crying, screaming, shouting, wailing in desperation for a miracle that will never occur.
I suppose a child will never finish mourning the one who raised them and gave them life and constant love.
Just yesterday I came home from work and did the self-inflicting pain of listening to old Whatsapp voicenotes and messages. I sat down and cried for about 10 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, and then got up, washed my face and started to cook dinner. These short bursts of feelings and tears are so important – they remind us that we still feel, we still hurt, we still love and we are capable of so much, of heartbreak and joy, of getting pulled down below the earth and rising back up as if nothing happened, of continuing to show up to work and events as if the heartbreak didn’t suck out every single emotion in your mind, heart, and soul and drown it in a deep ocean of darkness, as if your body hasn’t experienced the lack of movement and nourishment during these moments, as if everything is just fine. This, you are capable of. Every day, this, you accomplish. Moving. Breathing. Living. To the finish line, and beyond.
The letter wrote, “to be opened on your graduation day.”
I was so nervous to graduate but excited, just to open this letter. And at the same time, after this, I will only have one more letter to open, these will be the last new thoughts she had to me, these are all I have left. What can I look forward to next?
It was difficult to keep my hands from trembling as I broke the seal and read my mother’s words to me. My breath caught as I immediately recognized that it wasn’t my mother’s handwriting, or her tone of voice. It wasn’t very long, and I so desperately wanted more that I cried in hurt and frustration. It took me almost two months to understand the beauty and simplicity of the message my mother was trying to teach me. “Just be happy, and enjoy. Be matzliach “successful” in everything you do. Go out to a fancy restaurant, and buy a martini, as I would. Love, Mommy, Tatty, and the Baitch Bunch.”
There isn’t much we can control in our lives. There isn’t a promised allotted time that we know about either. When people talk to me about my mother, they said they remember her smile – when she spoke abut her children, her students, her husband, her life. They remember her joy, in her religion, her god, her community. Growing up, every Saturday night my family used to go out to eat. That was our tradition. And yes, there were fights about the money spent, as nothing is ever simple, but the love, laughter, and memories of pleasure of being with family, eating delicious food, all these are the things we remember. These are the things my mother chose to tell me on my graduation day. Be happy. Enjoy the pleasures in the world that God gave us, the company we keep, the food we eat, the blessings we attain. And don’t ever forget, with so much love, mommy, tatty, and family.