My mother was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the lung in December 1993.
She died on August 1, 1995. In between those two dates, she struggled with
the disease, braving major surgery, radiation treatments, and three forms of
chemotherapy. She was stoic, and never talked about death ... not until the
very end. (She had stopped smoking in June 1974. I do not want to think about the irony here.)
She was extremely bright and articulate, with a deadpan sense of humor -- as well as a wackiness that rarely showed, but was priceless. She cared a great deal about our family -- she came from generations' worth of Jewish matriarchs and martyrs. She had a steel-trap memory and remembered song lyrics like you wouldn't believe. Although she did forgive (after a fashion), she never forgot. She was an excellent listener (and retained every detail). When she walked into a room, you noticed; she had a great deal of charisma and style. (Her wardrobe was full of classics, all of which I inherited.) She inevitably wound up running anything with which she got involved, and would have made a fantastic lawyer. She was also the most opaque and intensely private person I have ever known. Ever.
Needless to say, it was not easy being her daughter. She would have added that it wasn't easy being my mother, either.
A few years ago, I went to a Council luncheon, honoring its past presidents. Many of her old friends were there, and they were spooked by how much I looked and acted like my mother. When I was a child and teenager, I hated that about myself. I've since made my peace with it. (Especially because, like her, I hate surprises, and I know exactly how I will age.)
I wanted to create some kind of tribute to her, some kind of
document. This is a beginning.
Things that mattered to my mother:
Her family, and family history
The National Council of Jewish Women (of which I, too, am now a member)
Queens College, where she was Phi Beta Kappa
The film Red River, which I think she saw 22 times
American history, specifically the Civil War
Dressing well. (She claimed she hated shopping, however.)
The Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore
Cornell University and Columbia University
The theater, mainly through TDF
Singing (she had a beautiful voice)
Traveling -- she went to Venice, Florence, and Rome the autumn before her diagnosis
Yiddish, her first language
The Social Security Administration (it's a long story)
The University of Wyoming, where she got her M.A.
Erasmus Hall High School
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, before it changed
Montgomery Clift, Maximilian Schell, Farley Granger, and Paul Newman
Ballroom dancing -- she and my father were the best dancers I've ever seen
The magazine art of Jon Whitcomb
Staying warm, all of the time
P.S. 161 in Brooklyn
Tempura, not sushi
Mallomars, the Official Cookie of the New York Jew
American Heritage Magazine
Sha-Wan-Ga Lodge, in the Catskills
Tic Tac Dough (October 1959) and Jeopardy (January 1972) (and speaking of which...)
Yves Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche perfume
Knitting, especially anything with cables (and if it didn't have cables, she made sure that it did)
New York Magazine
Esther Williams, swimming, and sexy black one-piece bathing suits
The New York Times and Newsday, which she read every day -- and did the Times puzzles in ink
The cast recording of La Cage Aux Folles
Soon I will try to figure out what her Keirsey rating was. I am guessing she would have been an ISFJ
The Jewish Daily Forward or, as her grandmothers called it, the Forverts
Not because she loved it, but because she had a "party" once: Tupperware
Building model boats
The Jewish Week, especially (the discontinued) "Ask Helen Latner"
Chocolate of all kinds, but especially Turtles
Appropriate behavior in all social situations
Liver and onions (we ate liver every few weeks; she loved it)
New Hyde Park High School
Mah Jongg -- I have inherited her set
Left-handedness (many of the other important women in my life have also been left-handed)
Torvill and Dean's Olympic-winning "Bolero" routine
Finally, here is a wonderful quote, adapted from Garrison Keillor's Salon advice column:
You are the continuation and resurrection of your mother, having picked up so much of her in 34 years, and so you go on, as her living legacy to the world. You'll miss her every day of your life and there's no getting around that. But she gave you precious gifts and you bear them onward.
Thinking about it that way helps a lot.
Find out how I cheer myself up.
Here is another perspective on losing one's mother
Go back to my family.