I recently received a packet in the mail from my synagogue, alerting me that the anniversary of my birth mother’s death is this month.
I should have remembered, for so many reasons. But mostly, because the Mother’s Day card I sent her last year arrived on the day of her funeral. It was delivered after the service, while her sister, brothers, nieces and I cleaned the house, preparing it for sale.
The past three years, the time that I had known her, I struggled to find a card. I didn’t think of her as my mother or my mom. I already had one – the woman who raised me. But biologically, she was. No question about it. And I knew it would mean a lot to her to receive it. So I bought her one each year. Something not too schmaltzy. Not too love-y dove-y.
But last year was easy. We had had a tremendous healing that fall – when I flew to Charleston for what I thought was to say goodbye. In a sense, it was, as I never saw her again. However, she lived for another six months and during that time we spoke fairly frequently.
When her brother phoned me last May to tell me she had died, I felt sideswiped.
My job back at the house was to toss everything that either wasn’t necessary or someone didn’t want. Notes on a criminal case she was following and perhaps hoped to write about. Minutes from meetings of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Charleston history. Credit cards that had never been activated. (As I write this, I look at my own on the table next to me.)
All of it, and so, so much more into big, black garbage bags used for lawn and leaves. One for shredding. One for tossing.
I came downstairs when I ran out of garbage bags and saw the card on the counter. I knew my own writing. I said nothing.
I went to the store for bags instead. While I was out, I texted my friend – the man who had captured my heart when I visited six months earlier – and confirmed our meeting the next day.
The Southern Svengali.
I fell head over heels over head for him. And when I left, I was certain I would never see him again.
I was wrong.
I saw him the next night. People around us asked if we had known one another forever. It seemed that way.
Although I longed for more, our romance never moved beyond hours-long make out sessions on my first visit. And while intellectually I knew better, I was convinced I would never get over him.
I was wrong about that too.
We had a falling out after my birthmother’s death. He took exception to the moniker I had assigned him. He latched on to the deceptive characteristics of the Svengali character, while I chose to focus on the Svengali as teacher – the one who pulled out the artist inside, as he had me.
We haven’t spoken in nearly a year, although we have exchanged a few kind messages. He left Charleston for the winter, and I didn’t know about it for months as I had stopped visiting his Facebook page. And I fell head over heels over head for someone else. Which is all a complicated way of saying I did get over him.
It is important for me to notice the changes, because lately it feels like nothing has changed. Including me. At times, I feel as sad and unsteady as when I moved back to Chicago in the late summer of 2011, just after my divorce. It is a feeling. It is not truth.
It hadn’t occurred to me that my heightened bout of sadness and dis-ease, at least in part, may be connected to the anniversary of my birthmother’s death. It is a comfort to recognize. To realize that the feeling of going backward may be connected to the act of reflection, of turning back.
The good news is, I don’t have to stay back.
Inside the packet from the synagogue are several items. The words to Kaddish – translated as “holy,” – the ritual prayer of mourning, praising God. A showing of gratitude amidst pain. And suggestions for honoring the deceased through Tzedakah – an obligation of charity, righteousness.
I see these rituals as a reminder of what the Buddhists call “right action,” or what 12-Step programs call “doing the next right (or indicated) thing.”
I used to believe I would think my way to happiness, contentedness or change. That if I only dug deep enough I would finally “figure it out.”
What I’ve learned, and then forget and re-learn, is that things change. Period. That includes my feelings and my perceptions.
And that I change when I avail myself of the suggestions contained in the packet from the synagogue. What the Buddhists and the 12-Steppers and all the spiritual traditions espouse – prayer and action.
I do different. I feel different. I become different.