I Am Not There…
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mother, Blanche Mahler Blumenfeld, who died four years ago just two days before her 89th birthday. Her father, Simon Mahler, also died at age 89, and her mother Eva Schoenwetter Mahler passed away at around age 92. (We don’t know exactly because we discovered that Eva always told people she was four years younger than she really was since convention at the time of her wedding in 1921 dictated that wives should be younger than their husbands.)
When my father died in 1998, my sister Susan asked me to deliver his eulogy at the funeral on that excruciatingly hot and dry Nevada August day. I was visiting friends in London when he died, and during the flight to Las Vegas, I had no difficulty transferring thoughts to paper, which I read later at the cemetery.
Though I pride myself as being a fairly good writer, this time when Susan asked me to write our mother’s eulogy, I simply could not find the words to what my mother truly meant to me. She was such a large part of my life and my consciousness, and she remains so to this day. She was more than my mother, for she was my best friend and confidant. I couldn’t even imagine my life without her.
Though our society discourages true closeness between mothers and sons, and students at my schools often ridiculed and bullied me for it, I am proud to have been “a momma’s boy.” I am proud to have been her son and her friend.
Mom was certainly not perfect. She was actually far from it, and her imperfections were what most endeared me to her. She was not always the best cook. No matter how hard she tried, she could not make a pot roast without burning the bottom (which for me was always the best part). She made Susan and me eat cow’s tongue, which still to this day makes me nauseous whenever I think of the cow’s taste buds touching my own.
She never liked to watch movies with British actors because she said she didn’t understand “foreign languages.” She considered chocolate as her primary vegetable, and she regularly ate her required daily servings. She hated to drink water because “it had no taste,” so she weaned Susan and me on Pepsi, and then later DietRite Cola.
She complained whenever having to go out in snow, but she loved to watch it fall from the window. Her favorite trees were White Birch and especially Weeping Willow because it reminded her of her childhood home in Brooklyn. She wept the day the great Willow toppled in her front lawn during a storm.
She loved to swim, and practiced constantly to beat her older brother, Jack — the only person at summer camp who swam faster. She loved Eva and Simon, Jack and her younger brother Charles (“Chickie”), and she never recovered from their loss. Often, when calling for me, she often slipped and called me “Jack” or “Chic” by mistake, but there was no mistake because they were always part of her soul.
Mother never felt comfortable with the title “matriarch” because she said she never asked to be the last one remaining, and the last one left behind.
In my mother, what you saw was what you got. She was the most genuine and honest person I have ever met. She could not tolerate falseness or hypocrisy, and she could see it immediately when displayed in anyone around her. She had a voice, and she certainly used it. She stated and defended her positions firmly and with conviction, and always with compassion.
My mother was very bright, creative, and she had a number of talents: she could carry a good tune, she could have been a fabulous beautician if she had wanted to pursue that career, she gave great neck rubs with her strong fingers. She loved beauty, Mario Lanza records, the color blue, sugary snacks, bagels and Jewish rye bread with Philadelphia cream cheese, Guilden’s mustard and Helman’s (Best Food’s) mayonnaise, her own kosher dill pickles, chopped liver, and manicotti. She loved people, and she loved life itself.
Though she might not have been the best at some things, there is no doubt that she was the best mom.
My mother’s life was rarely easy and often filled with constant struggles. We never had much money, and to say that my father was difficult to live with would be an understatement. Mother, though, lived with grace and integrity, with a wonderful infectious sense of humor, and without complaint. She was loved and is loved, and she will never be forgotten.
There is a concept in Jewish tradition known as Tikkun Olam — meaning the transformation, healing, and repairing of the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place. My mother made the world a better place just by being herself. She brought joy and compassion to all she met. I never heard anyone voice anything but praise for her.
I say Shalom to you mom, and I say to you, go in love and in peace. I know you are still looking after me in death as you always did in life.
Photo Credit: Getty Images