37 Years is not Enough

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.

This is me sharing “37 Years is not Enough” at this year’s Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh on May 12

On My Mom’s 67th Birthday

Today would have been my mom’s 67th birthday. I spend an unhealthy amount of time wondering what would be if she was still alive. Sometimes, I wonder in what ways my life would be different.

Would I still have been a veterinarian?

She worked so diligently to set up regular play dates for me. Grandma Ida insisted that I needed to be social. After she died, the play dates went away. They had to. My dad’s single father lifestyle didn’t allow for things like that. I wanted friends so badly, but I was so shy. I had my brother, my cousins, and a couple neighbor friends, but I mostly felt alone. So, I talked to my cat. All the time. Pumpkin was my BFF and therapist. I’d tell her all about my day and feelings while scratching her neck and stoking her back. She’d purr loudly and writhe around in ecstasy, fur flying all over the place, as my nose got progressively clogged, my eyes itched and watered. My allergies flared, but still I endured the discomfort to hang with my Pumpkin, affectionately known as “Kitty”. I told her I was going to be a vet when I grow up. Maybe if I had more people friends, I would have chosen a different profession.

Speaking of professions, would I have even pursued college or a career at all?

One of my biggest struggles since having my own children is managing a work and home life balance. I love my work and have always followed my passions; first with pursuing a career in veterinary medicine and then specializing in pathology. Of course, she would have supported my passions, but maybe she would have also given me guidance about a passion that I had no idea was inside of me: motherhood. I didn’t know how much I wanted to be a mother until I became one, and my career path was already set. I had no idea that these little people would become my everything, my world. But I’ll bet you knew, my sweet mama. I’ll bet you would have told me. Perhaps I would have changed my priorities earlier in preparation for this part of my life.

Would I have married my husband?

Chances are I would not have. There is no doubt that my mom would have loved Chris. He is a sweet and caring husband, a great father, so intelligent and hardworking. But it’s naïve to think that the stars would have aligned for us to meet given how different my life would have been. I suspect I would have a husband and children, but not the ones that I have in this universe.

Sometimes, I do wonder how my life would be different if my mom was still here, but honestly, I don’t like to think of my life without my career, Chris, or my boys. These experiences and people in the life I’ve lived without my mom make me the person that I am. So, instead, I prefer to imagine my life the same way it is right now, just with her in it. I picture her having a close relationship with Chris and me. I envision the joy in her eyes when she walks into our house and her grandsons run over to give her a hug. I see her pulling them onto her lap to read them The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the 3rd time in a row. I hear her voice on the other end of the phone comforting me when I’m upset. I feel her long thin fingers wrapped around mine as we walk along the North Shore trail hand-in-hand. This may not be how it truly would be, but you, my momma, are the one thing I miss in life the most.

Happy 67th birthday, Mommy. I love you now, always, and forever.