Wednesday, June 06, 2007

No Second Chances?

L’ilui nishmat Itta bat Eliyahu
I like to tell my kids that G-d always gives them another chance. You made a mistake? Try again. It’s the essence of teshuva, repentance, that Hashem is always ready and willing to have us back. I try and emulate that with my kids and when, once again, the laundry is around the hamper and not in it, I remind myself that Our Father in heaven certainly is patient with me and my weaknesses.
This past week I lost my mother. She’d been ill for months, years even. Persistent, insistent, independent to the end, last Friday she relaxed her hold on a vibrant life of 82 years and G-d in His infinite kindness spared her suffering and what she surely would have seen as the degradation of 24 hour nursing care.
I didn’t attend the funeral and I am spending the traditional week of mourning here in Israel instead of the US with my family. I was not with her in her last moments. I was not even on my way to her, as my siblings were. I had planned long ago that I would mourn here, surrounded by my children, husband and community.
My brother warned me a few days before, after my mom had her heart attack: “You won’t get a second chance at this. Be sure you are making the right decision.”
About seventeen years ago my mother and I had a tremendous fight. I angered and hurt her terribly and I, in turn, was hurt that she so didn’t understand me or my values. A friend gave me this suggestion:

Write to your mother every week. Share your life with her in detail. And in every letter, find something, large or small, to thank her for. Because parents never get enough gratitude.

Parents never get enough gratitude.
So I did it. I wrote a letter a week, a real letter. OK, I printed it on our printer but I had to sign it, put it in an envelope, address and stamp the envelope, and mail it. No email available to us in Israel then. I did this for almost a year, until I became pregnant with my first child, and we moved house. It had a profound and unbelievable impact on my relationship with my mom.
Strike that. It created a relationship with my mom where before I wasn’t sure I wanted one.
Through the years my mom and I shared so much! I didn’t always agree with her advice. She often didn’t understand my point of view. But we communicated and we loved one another and we tried.
In the past few years, as my mother tried to fight the aging of her body because her sense of self was so young, her energy went to preserving her independence. Just before her heart attack she was still living alone. She walked with tremendous difficulty but she still drove, went out with friends, sent emails, made phone calls and did her own shopping. The Sunday before she died she went to theater! She tried to baby herself without giving up on living her life as she wanted to.
Her inward focus made it more important for me to listen to her than to talk to her. At some point I started calling her daily. It became something we both looked forward to, and if I didn’t call mom soon enough, she’d call me. “Just to hear your voice” she’d say.
From my perspective, everything I did in my relationship with my mother in the last year of her life was based on observing the mitzvah of honoring my mother to the best of my ability. I gave her from all my resources, because I felt the obligation of honoring her to be paramount.
Now that she is gone, it is a tremendous comfort to me that I feel that I did my best in this mitzvah. And that I can give her a shiva totally devoted to her honor and praise. She will be with me in everything. Sometimes she’ll be that little voice telling me I’m making a mistake. But she’ll know that, just as she always expected from me, that I’m doing my best. And I’m deeply grateful that I don’t need a second chance.
May her memory be a blessing.


A Soldier's Mother said...

Second chances are only needed if you mess up the first one. You and your mother both know that you didn't do that.

This is a wonderful lesson for all of us...and even though, Baruch HaShem, my mother is relatively healthy, I've been trying to call her that much more often in the last few days. This mitzvah too is shared with you for helping to inspire it.

May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may you know no more sorrow.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

I'm so sorry about your mom...

המקום ינחם אותך בתוך שאר אבילי ציון וירושלים

Jack's Shack said...

I am sorry to hear about your mother.

Baruch Dayan Emet.

efrat said...

Devra, I enjoyed reading your posting.

First of all, your mother was very attractive and I see your strong resemblance to her.

Your friend gave you really great advice, and it's amazing how you were able to completely turn a situation around, despite the distance. As you say, if you can get the relationship working and strong, then a second chance isn't necessary. How admirable.

May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion.


Anonymous said...

wow, how touching, and yes that advice to write her was something you shiuld be grateful to hashem that it came to you through your friend.
המקום ינחם אותך בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
may her soul rest in peace and may you know only simchas from now on

Anonymous said...

May her memory be a blessing...

Thank you so much for such a beautiful piece...I trust that other people will gain so much from the love you showed not only your mother, but from the present you gave yourself.

On another note, it is so good to see that the kids are growing up! I miss you all and pray to get back to Jerusalem soon...Love Rachel Hughson