I fell a lot in 2014 – four different times since mid-August. Different injuries: broken glasses from when I fell on my face while carrying too many groceries up my front step, bumps on my head, bruises, and finally, this time, cracked ribs. None of these are fun, I am having trouble finding the humor in it, but I know there is some.
But the weirdest part of this is that it keeps bringing my mother to mind, as we approach her yahrzeit on Friday, January 2. She went through a period when she fell often, and with some dangerous repercussions.
One day, she got up from the kitchen table and seemingly flew into the refrigerator door handle. The family drove to the hospital for her to get her elbow stitched up. We made jokes. Even she laughed.
A few months later, she chipped an ankle walking down our front stoop, then the next week, with no brace on that ankle, the other one collapsed and she broke the other leg. Fortunately she was standing outside the hospital at which she worked, where I worked after school. That day, I arrived at work to learn that she was in the casting room, with our favorite doctor, the orthopedist. He and I started sharing broken leg jokes, until my mother ejected me from the room. Too soon?
She broke her arm one day in a fall, but assured me she had saved the (sealed) bottle of wine she was carrying.
It got so serious—or so often—that I stopped walking anywhere with her without holding her arm. She wasn’t going to fall on my watch!
And then, on January 2, 1982, at 53, she was dead. She wasn’t going to fall anymore.
I miss her every day, 33 years later. I’ve lived more than half my life without her in it physically. I am sorry my daughters didn’t have her for a grandmother, because I think she would have been a doting grandmother. I miss being able to talk to her on election nights. To spend Thanksgiving with her and her chopped liver and her red cabbage cole slaw that I never learned to replicate.
I am like my mother in many ways that make me smile (and proud)—my love of reading, my love of theatre, my love of language, my love of Steuben glass, my eagerness to talk about death (in a morbidly cheerful way), and my deep progressive politics and affection for the policies and programs of the New Deal.
For years, this time of year was hellish for me, as I awaited the day of her yahrzeit. Weeks in advance, I’d find myself falling into sadness, re-experiencing the pain of loss. I finally recognized that I had to just take January 2 off, and treat myself with a little compassion. Gradually, over the years, the weeks in preparatory mourning have shortened – to hours. And this year, for the first time, I am going to work. I am officiating a wedding for a wonderful couple, and I will be able to transform my mourning into dancing (figuratively, given the ribs) as a day of joy for them and their family. I am thrilled.
And maybe this year, 2015, I will be able to use my mother’s love and strength to help me stop falling down, and be able to present for others in the ways she needed.
May it be so.