Things Change. Feelings Change. I Change.

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.

One year.

Me and my birthmom.  Our first meeting.
Me and my birthmom. Our first meeting.

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.

Things change.

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.

Me and my mom mom, the one who raised me.
Me and my mom mom, the one who raised me.

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.

Things change.

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.

My birthmother as a teen.  She's in blue.  And pregnant with me.
My birthmother as a teen. She’s in blue. And pregnant.

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.

My Last Conversation With My Birth Mom. Part Two.

My birthmother and I.  Our first meeting.
My birthmother and I. Our first meeting.
I said I didn’t remember my last conversation with her, but that isn’t exactly true.  For truly, the last one — the most recent — was on Sunday, Mother’s Day, after her funeral.

After I met my Uncle Thom for the first time.  The one who called me when she was dying and when she did die.  Who I knew from Facebook and with whom I share a special connection.  Who, after we embraced, said, “Come, meet the rest of your family,” and introduced me to uncles and cousins and spouses while I wept behind my sunglasses.

After I met her friends from the Daughters of the American Revolution.  The ones who told me how happy they were for our reunion.  The ones who knew every nuance of our story.  The ones who said I looked “just like my mother.”  And whom I felt no need to correct with terms like “birth” or “biological mom.”

After I introduced myself to the minister and he threw his arms around me and pulled me to him.

I hadn’t made it to town in time for the viewing.   The funeral was closed casket.  My Aunt Julie made arrangements for me to see her at the funeral home after the ceremony.  Before I went in, I called her and asked if I might tie a red thread around Pharen’s wrist, like the one I wear.

I explained in Kabbalah, mystical Judaism, this thread represents protection.  That one wears it on her left wrist, the pathway of the artery to the heart.  That one was placed on me after my Jewish divorce so that I would be reminded of what I am moving toward.  For me, it is greater love.  I didn’t know what it would be for Pharen.

She gave me her blessing and suggested I ask the director for help putting it on her.

We slipped the thread over her clawed hand and I tightened it.  The skin of the dead feels strange.  Rubbery.  I didn’t like it.  I felt badly about that.  And then the director left me alone.

The thread didn’t go with her outfit.  She was dressed in a gorgeous beaded suit, with a beaded clutch in her clutch.  She had chosen this outfit some time ago and had discussed it in detail with Aunt Julie and I — all the way down to the pantyhose.  I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.  Though born in Detroit, she had become a Southern lady, after all.

I told her that I met the rest of the family.  That I was staying with my friend April, who I had met last time I visited.  That I would be seeing the boy we had talked about.  That he and I had fallen into a beautiful and loving friendship, yet still I was anxious I might not see him.

I told her about meeting her friend Ely.  That I said she had great style and she said I did too.  That we discovered we shared a few things in common.

To all of this she said, “I know.”

I apologized for the times that it was hard between us.  The times I put up walls.  The times that I was afraid.  Afraid she’d jump into my skin given half a chance.  I did not apologize for the boundaries I learned to set for myself.

I apologized that the red thread didn’t match her ensemble but mentioned I thought she would like the idea of us having matching bracelets made of string.

I told her I called Robert, my birthfather, and let him know of her passing.

And I sang to her, just like I did in the hospital and on the phone.  Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.  Gypsy.

“You come from far away with pictures in your eyes…”

And then I pulled up a chair and I listened.  She told me she loved me about a thousand different ways.  And she told me that I knew what to do.  And that was all.

I left knowing that it had all already been said — when she was alive.  And if perchance I had forgotten something, that I could tell her anytime.  And if I”m quiet and lucky, and if I believe, I will hear her response.

Likely another, “I know.”