My mom z”l passed away on Tuesday April 18th, 2023. This past Sunday, about 10-15 very dear friends of mine came over to help pack things up. The only consolation on a very, very difficult day was the presence of these kind individuals, helping me sort through three and a half decades of our family life.
In fact, their presence so radiated throughout the house that had known so many wonderful family memories that it temporarily obscured the pain I was experiencing. While I found a moment to cry in my mom’s old bedroom, most of the time I actually felt reasonably good. But that’s the nature of trauma. It comes in waves. It ebbs and flows. And can sometimes hit you when you least expect it.
Some of my friends in their 20s and 30s have lost parents, though fortunately most have not. Of those who did, very few have experienced what I did this past weekend because usually there is a second parent to help with managing the deceased parent’s belongings, medical bills, and house.
Several friends have asked if I have anyone to help me. And to a degree I do- I have several relatives and family friends who’ve stepped up to help out. And I have a top-notch group of close friends who’ve time and again gone out of their way to help me.
But here’s what people need to understand: some things only I can do. My friends and family can’t decide whether to keep my childhood books, my stuffed Ernie that my mom repaired countless times as his dangling cotton-filled arm repeatedly threatened to dismember, my mom’s mosaics, my high school yearbooks, my mom’s records, or my family photos from Japan.
My friends and family can’t sign legal or financial documents, or do something as dark but necessary as designating my *own* beneficiaries.
What my friends and family can do – and some of them really have been doing – is to provide unconditional love. To go out of their way and make spending time together a priority. To be a phone call away. To help pack up my mom’s house. To check in on me.
To those people who’ve been making me feel loved – thank you. Nothing can replace the love of a mother, but the kindness of a friend goes a long way to soothing my soul during this difficult time.
Touching the objects of my childhood was not easy. Some of them reminded me of my loving mom, some of my toxic father, and some of myself as a young boy. That child-like part of myself that I had tucked away for years, hadn’t thought of in what seemed like millennia. At times it made me smile. And at times, it made me want to cry.
Where have the years gone? How I can honor my memories of my mom, of my step-dad, of myself? Where is the justice in buying two parents within 5 months of each other? How do I give up my childhood home so soon after?
These are all impossible questions to answer. But the only question that haunts me from morning to night – and sometimes in the middle of the night – is a simple one: “Where’s my mom?”
There are many answers to this question, both literal and metaphorical. And while I know I carry a part of her with me wherever I go, the answer to my question of “where’s my mom?” is “not here, not again in the flesh.”
Nothing put this answer into such stark contrast as packing up her belongings and my childhood home that we shared together since I was three years old. Because as those belongings cross the threshold and depart that house in the coming months, it’ll hit me with greater force. My mom is gone.
Mourning is a process. My period of shloshim is over. I continue to recite the mourner’s kaddish each night for my mom’s soul. And each night I have a little conversation with her – I do believe she’s in touch with me. And it doesn’t make it any easier to not be able to call or see her here.
To the people here in this world who are accompanying me on this journey: thank you. I can’t put into words what comfort it is to be able to rely on you. My mom taught me relationships, not things, are what matter. So I’ll take this message to heart. The things we packed were important, but the most important thing from last Sunday can’t fit in a box, and that is your love.
Miss you momma.