Her Memory is a Blessing
by Deborah Baber
Temple Emanuel, New York, NY
At the end of October in 1984, I left Birmingham, Alabama after a fabulous, two-month stint working on a bound-for-Broadway musical while staying with my mother who resided there. Mom and I had been estranged for many years. But this visit was a breakthrough! We spent hours together talking, eating, laughing, living… and loving!
Two weeks later on November 16, 1984 at 2:30 am I had been asleep for hours. I was a single woman, an actress (a bartender, a hostess, a waitress!), living alone in New York City… and my phone rang. My sister’s voice, odd-sounding but strong said, “Mom’s dead.” She was 48. I was twenty years younger.
“Car accident. They think she’d stopped to fix a flat tire when a 19-year-old boy, speeding and probably high…” Her voice trailed off. “I’ve got to call dad.” I said. (Our parents had been divorced for years and it was the closeness I had long-enjoyed with our dad that had contributed to the rift between my mother and me.) My sister said, “Dad knows. I called him first because I knew that’s what you would do and you’re the only one of the four of us who’s alone.” The next few hours, days, weeks, and months are blurred memories. My sister was 4 months pregnant with her 2nd child and it was only after the birth of my nephew that I returned to New York to pick up the pieces of my life.
In my overwhelming grief, I found solace in reading about death anddying and about how numerous religions dealt with such life events. Wewere raised in a secular household with exposure to various religions.Our parents wanted us to have the benefit of choosing a religion shouldwe be so moved to do so later in life. While this seemed like a goodidea to them, I found that at 28-alone in New York City, I was bereft ofspirit, direction, and my mom.
Then, about 10 months later, something magical began to occur… the more Iread Torah and the more I read about Judaism the more I began torealize that what I’d been feeling and thinking for many years had aname. Wonder, awe, and joy entered my life again slowly replacing thedepression, grief, and anger. My mother’s death became a blessingenriching my life every day. And, God’s mysterious hand is on mine everymorning when I put on a necklace containing a charm that had been mymother’s. What is the charm that my mother had and that I wish I couldask her about? It is a chai… life!
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