Monday, May 1, 2017
My brother went to visit my mother, who has Lewy Body’s disease and lives at the Hebrew Home, a skilled nursing facility, last week and texted me a picture of her. The photo is hard to look at. She is lying against her white pillow, tucked under white sheets, having been bedridden for a few days because she was eating and drinking less and less. Skin stretched taut over her face, her mouth open and sagging, eyes closed, she looks nothing like the mother who danced at weddings, bar and bat mitzvah receptions, town celebrations, even when she ironed clothing as American Bandstand was on TV.
The painful picture, of my 80-year old mother who can no longer walk or feed herself, has to wear diapers, and exists each day in her wheelchair until she is put to bed in the late afternoon, brought back a flood of memories of the vibrant woman who was Beverly Bernstein.
Probably not coincidentally for she is on hospice now, both my brother and I have been thinking about her eulogy and what we might say when it comes time to say goodbye. In all honesty, my mother has been gone for a few years now. Even when she was able to respond with a perfunctory “thank you” or “I love you too,” the women strapped into the wheelchair was not really our mother, the one who sat with me when I was 12 and listened to me as I read her from the novel I was writing or rushed to my room in the middle of the night if I was sick or played word games with me before bed.
I could go on and on and on.
I’ve said it before: I had a complicated relationship with my mother. She once renounced being my mother; she was so neurotic at times (I wasn’t allowed to cross the main road near our home until I was 12) that she was the main reason I moved to California in 1987 to attend graduate school. I needed to be away from her. And all the crying she did in those first months after I’d moved, essentially asking me in tears over the phone or at a local diner when I visited the East coast, “How could you do this to me?” made me just want to scream.
But she was the one who rushed to my side in the hospital in 1988 when I had emergency ulcer surgery after it burst. She brought the newspaper each day, bonded with my roommate, who was donating a kidney to his brother fighting cancer, and just sat and talked with me as I recuperated for two weeks. She kept a diary the year I was in Israel in college and sent her daily musings to me every single week. She taught me to drive on the tobacco backroads of Bloomfield. She took me to concerts. She looked over every piece of school work, and every photograph I took.
So, now, at what could easily be the end of her life, the memories that pop up are almost all positive. Why not honor her as completely as possible for her loving legacy?