A Letter to my Mom
You were a mother, a saint of a mother, but it would be a dishonour to speak of you as such a one-dimensional figure. Throughout your life, so many people, especially those who loved you, considered you only in relation to themselves. As a mother or a daughter or a sister or a friend. Indeed, these are the associations that we engraved on your tombstone. Perhaps this is simply a human ill- perhaps we are incapable of loving or understanding another soul completely and separately from the love for or obsession with ourselves. Perhaps it would hurt less if I didn’t know how much of yourself you had to give up in order to fill these roles. Always carrying the burden of another. Always moulding yourself accordingly to lighten their load.
I don’t want to honour you as an extension or a reflection of myself rather than the whole, indomitable, impossibly beautiful soul that you are. But I find it so difficult because our beings were so wrapped up in one another. I am an extension of you as much as you were of me.
You were a dreamer, a thinker, a philosopher, you wanted to change the world for the better and you spent your life searching for the tools with which to do that. You were so curious about the world around you. You were the most amazing teacher but you so loved being a student. And you made me all these things. All the things you loved about me, you made me.
I wish I had helped you. I wish so badly my ego and my stupidity and my harshness didn’t prevent me from taking your hand and saying, “Come with me. We will figure this out together.” I wish I had showed you the patience, compassion and lightness of spirit you had always shown me. Instead, I would grow frustrated as you stayed stagnant because you did not know the next step, cruelly calling it inertia rather than fear.
I keep coming back to one of your favourite books, The Giving Tree. Like the tree, you gave every part of yourself to us to the point where I feared you would be depleted. Your love was bottomless, endless, unbridled. Like the tree, like magic, it made you happier to know simply that we were happy. Even so, I hate the boy in the book so fiercely right now. Despite knowing how deeply the tree loves him.
I hear you whispering in my ear to be kind to myself. That in showing myself cruelty, I am showing you cruelty. That the best way to love you is to show myself the compassion and forgiveness and love you surely do. I make a note to remember this: Love of self is love of Ima. Even in death, I am guided by your philosophy of love and joy.
My beautiful Ima, you drank life in giant gulps. You experienced every moment of this life with such intensity, such truth. You connected to every part of it so deeply. Every hug, every thunderstorm, every conversation with a stranger, your laughter, was bigger than life itself. You are bigger than life itself. It felt as if your little body could never contain all the love within you. The bigness of your love. The passion you felt for every moment. It simply poured out of you, beyond your control. You didn’t seek to control it.
Thank you for never seeking to control it. It was my greatest lesson and the greatest gift you cultivated here. You made everyone around you experience the world through your eyes. In this way, with the immense power of your laughter, with the depth of your pain and the heights of your joy, you gave us the opportunity to touch that subtle place on the horizon where raw humanity meets heaven.
You taught me to trust my intuition and my spirit at least as much as my rational mind. To always remain connected to the spiritual, to the divine, because that is where truth lies. Beyond proof. Beyond my senses. You taught me to trust that. To trust that this body is not you, but merely a vessel that remains. That the comfort of your smell, of your hand cupping my face, of my head resting on your chest and listening to your heartbeat comes from your essence and not from this body. That you remain with us. I trust you today. I trust everything you have spent your life teaching us.
But I am so afraid, Ima. I am so afraid of living in a world devoid of you. I am so afraid of losing myself because I don’t know where you end and I begin. I’m afraid I’ll never be whole again.
Who will I tell my dreams to? Who will drink in every detail and want more and sit with me for hours analyzing and thinking and considering the meaning. When life seems insurmountable and I can’t find an answer, the only thing in the world that brings me comfort is the sound of your voice. I am so afraid I will never know comfort again.
You’re the only person in the world I could message, “Ima, I cooked fish tonight all by myself!” And rather than responding, you’re a 30 year old woman, you respond, “That’s wonderful, my love. What kind of fish? How did you cook it?”
I am so afraid to never know such massive unconditional love again.
Every dream I have ever dreamt for myself is interwoven with you. When I dream of having a child, I dream of the look in your eyes when I tell you, of you holding them in your arms and raising them with me.
So, how do I survive this? In my mind’s eye, I let the timeline of my life unravel and witness the events you won’t be a part of. And as I lean into this reality, agreeing to believe it for a moment, my heart nearly explodes under its weight. So I pull back, not yet ready to engage with the possibility that this is forever, uncertain what it would look like if I became ready.
I take comfort in your lessons. I speak to you through the love you demonstrated. My child will have the honour of calling you safta and I will tell them about you every day. I will give them the patience, the pure unadulterated joy, the playfulness, the deep comfort, the understanding that you gave and taught me. You are with my children already and you love them ferociously, I know.
I pray to God that I gave to you even a fraction of what you’ve given me. But now I will give you the most difficult thing I will ever have to give. I will let you go to be with those you loved and ached for. Your yearning for them always occupied a chamber of your heart, the only part I could not penetrate. I’ll watch as you take hold of your parents’ hands as a little girl, looking back at me briefly and then walking onwards. I’ll watch as all that love in you is finally free to take up the infinite space it needs, no longer constrained by the borders of your small body.
But I only ask that you come visit me. That you guide me and help me find peace. My heart is breaking from this unbearable pain. But it is also expanding and exploding with love for you. My mortal body cannot contain all the love I have for you, just as you showed me.
When we were kids getting ready for school, you would wake us up so gently, taking the time to wake us with kisses and hugs and songs. Never turning on the light. The world could wait. You would not let us be jarred from our slumber. You would gently lift us from our dreams back to the warmth of your arms before facing this world.
As we got ready for school, you would play Leonard Cohen. And every time Leonard Cohen’s song, Dance Me to the End of Love, would play, you would say, “The only thing I ask is that, no matter what, you play this song at my funeral.”
We laughed at this Ima-ism. “Why your funeral!?” “Just do it.” “Ok, Ima.” And then you would lift your arms and sway and sing to Leonard’s voice, your head tilted towards the heavens as if elevating gracefully. Like an angel.
And so we put these words on your tombstone as well: Dance Me to the End of Love. Because you always knew the truth in Leonard’s words. There is no end to love. There is only dancing. Forever.