On Nov 12, 1987, I skipped home from my bus stop after an exciting day of 2nd grade and slammed the door on my way in.
“Mommy? Moooomy! Where are you?”
There was a man on the phone in the kitchen. I ran right past him on my way up the stairs to find my mom. “Probably just a repair man,” I thought.
“Lora?” He yelled back. “I’ve got to go. She’s home.” It was my Papa Al. This was strange. Why would he be here? “Lora, sweetie, your mom was in an accident. She’s in the hospital right now.”
“Can we go see her?” I asked. “I need to tell her what I did at school today. I always tell her what I did after school.”
“No, I’m sorry sweetie. We can’t go see her right now.”
I never saw my mom again. She had been in a head on collision in her car hours earlier and died at the hospital. She was 37 years old.
The next day I sat in the front row at her funeral. I remember the rabbi talking about how young she was. I remember staring at a plain wooden box. I remember hearing that my mommy was in that box. I remember my Grandma Ida squeezing my hand so hard that it hurt. I remember hearing my dad cry so loudly that it echoed through the room. I had never heard him cry before. I didn’t like it. They lowered that box into the ground and everyone shoveled some dirt on top of it. A man asked me if I wanted to shovel a little dirt. No, I did not.
Over the next several days, we had numerous people come to our house. In the morning, men from synagogue came over to pray with my dad, grandpas, and uncles. They told me we were Sitting Shiva. All of the mirrors in the house were covered with sheets, and we wore torn shirts. I wanted things to be back the way they were. My Grandma Ida stayed with us for a little while. She held my hand and told me that she loved me. I remember her lying in bed with me one night quietly crying. I hated seeing her sad like that.
A few days later, my cousin Jeff, in an attempt to cheer me up, told me that maybe my mom would come back some day. Wait, what? He had heard a story about a time that someone had been buried when they weren’t really dead.
“Whoa! She’ll be trapped in that box in the ground!” I shouted.
“Don’t worry about that,” he said, sensing my apprehension. “There are always security guards walking around cemeteries. They’ll hear her. They’ll get her out”.
Now, as crazy as that sounds, keep in mind Jeff was 10, so he knew pretty much everything. He had the best ideas… like setting an alarm at midnight during sleepovers so we could raid the kitchen and pig out on junk food, or using discreet hand signals to coordinate trips to the bathroom during boring parts of Shabbat services. We’d meet up and explore the labyrinth of musty halls in the synagogue basement.
So, maybe he was right. Maybe my mom could come back. And besides, this possibility was the only thing that made the giant knot in my stomach go away. So, I believed it. I held onto it.
For the next year, I imagined my mom walking through the door. Her clothes were dirty, her hair was a mess, she seemed frazzled, but as soon as she saw me, she ran over and scooped me up in her arms. “I’ve missed you, my sweet girl”, she said. Sometimes I just sat there staring at the door and waiting. There had been countless days of school since she left me that I needed to tell her about.
About a year after my mom’s death, Jeff was over playing, and the doorbell rang. I rushed over to answer it. Sigh, just a package. “I thought it might have been my mom”, I explained. “Do you still think she might come back? Remember, you said that sometimes people come back?”
“What? Oh, Lora… I… shouldn’t have said that. Aunt Bernie’s not going to come back. I mean, someone told me a story once, but that…it wasn’t real.”
“But you said it could happen. It still could happen… right?”
“I was wrong. I’m sorry”
I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. I started crying, like, really bawling. It was the first time I had cried about my mom since I lost her. It was the first time I realized that she was really gone. The tears kept coming and just wouldn’t stop. I was 8 years old and finally understood.
Today is my 37th birthday. I’ve been wondering about this day for nearly 3 decades. What would my life be like at 37? Would I have my own children? Would I still think about my mom every day?
As it turns out, I have two precious boys that are my whole world, and I do, indeed, still think about my mom every day. My oldest son just started preschool last fall. When he comes home, I ask him what he did, just like my mom used to do, and he eagerly responds. I listen intently, and my heart is full because I know somewhere out there, my own momma is listening too.