On Thursday night, I stretched myself on a deck chair and listened to my brother talk to his new friend with the beautiful name. I looked at the tree in our yard that now stands silhouetted by a ghost. It stands still, and will continue to, without the caress of another's leaves against its own. The tree that is gone remains with us in its absence. Its living form is no more, but what remains is the roots, reaching down, like fingers holding tight. Under the shadow of the tree remaining and the shadow of tree that once was, I whispered in my mother’s ear “Be a butterfly, fly like the butterflies we grew as children, from chrysalis to beings of the sky.” I told her to be free to go, so she can land on our shoulders.
My mother died on Friday, June 17th at around 1:02 pm. Our “giver of Nachas” as my brother Michael called her, as he covered her cheeks and nose and forehead in kisses, left the temporal world while my brothers waited together on the deck. Petey laid on the couch beside her bed, and I, I curled on the landing listening to her last breath.
My brothers and I will mourn our mother for the rest of our days. We mourn the loss of the old woman she would be. We mourn all that she will not be here to share with us. I was lucky enough to have the clouds part on April 3rd for my wedding; she had been so sick in the months leading up to it, and yet on that day she glowed with love. I was resolute that our wedding would be big and full, a festival of love, peopled by friends and family, the community that we have built. I wanted her to see the people who would care for us when she was gone. It is not luck that my mother was surrounded with love from all over the country in her last months. She lived to give love, and everyone who knew her felt themselves to be the center of her universe, for she gave of herself completely, and with the utmost honesty.
I stand here, my mother’s first born, the only daughter of an only daughter. The words I say are for her and for my brothers, her boys, my best friends. My mother gave me the greatest gifts I have been given – the gift of her love, her moral guidance through the world, the love of books and animals and family and friends. My mother gave me my brothers and nurtured us three as individuals, as unique beings. What went for one, did not go for all, with one exception: her love. Beyond that, I am her mad, bad bibliophile, Adam her gentle soul and Michael her chef and her warm and loving boy. My mother will never know her our children, as her namesake, my maternal great-grandmother Blanche never knew her. But our children will know our mother, for we would not be Leigh Michelle, Adam Ross and Michael Henry without her. I will tell them to be goers and doers, I will teach them to do unto others, I will teach them that relationships require hard work that pays in piles richer than gold and pearls, diamonds and rubies. We will tell them stories of my mother the boxer, of her ‘fro she named Moishe, her love of flying low, particularly on the back of Petey’s jet ski, of her Sternberging little Paul Sternberg in the third grade, bloodying his nose for a forgotten wrong. We will tell them how she gave freely to those who were good, and sought to understand with compassion and forgiveness those who were not. Our children will know my mother, for she will be a butterfly on all of our shoulders, for the rest of our days.