By Nina Betensky
It's been two years since my mother died. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't hear her voice in my head giving me unsolicited advice. In fact, I can't believe she is still telling me what to do.
There's her voice again saying "Oh Nina, just buy those damn shoes. You need them! And, if they fit properly, see if they come in three different colors."
Sometimes I hear her melodic laugh or her loud voice singing "Hi Nin!" When I called her - and I called her often - she picked up the phone in an excited voice, as if she hadn't talked to me in years. One would think she was receiving a phone call from a long lost relative or the Secretary of State, so great was her overflowing happiness to hear from her daughter.
My mother - everyone called her Bertie - is gone, but to me she is still present. As the anniversary of her death approaches, I find myself thinking about her cheerful and optimistic disposition. For her, the glass was always more than half full.
Take her cancers, for example. She had four different varieties, but she treated them - in her own way - simply as a nuisance. She never wanted to talk about doctors or hospitals or the pain she was experiencing. When her persistent cough refused to go away, she would simply excuse herself while coughing and apologize with a smile. When her hearing was practically gone, she just asked for everything to be repeated. When she couldn't walk as fast as she once had because her lungs weren't functioning to full capacity, she would make a joke of it and say that she was getting old, and to please slow down just a bit. When she was coerced into using a motorized scooter, she called it "time to go for a ride". I have a memory of one our many trips to the doctor's office when I said: "Wow Mom...your file is the size of a Philadelphia phone book!" Her response was a simple "Ha, at least I have a file!"
I remember how she was always there on the other end of the phone as a terrific listener and as a friend, but always as my mother. Many conversations would start with "Tell me a cute story about the kids" or "What's going on with your business?" She was proud of me, almost to the point of embarrassment. At times, she would casually strew magazines about her coffee table that happened to contain articles I had written five years before.
At this time of year, memories of my mother become especially vivid as I start to prepare for Passover Seder. Years ago, when the holidays were bestowed upon us, I made a point to enlist my mother to help me with the cooking. It wasn't so much that I needed the help, it was that I enjoyed renewing the bond that we had as mother and daughter.
My mother would burst into my house like a hurricane, her arms full of groceries and platters. She brought with her an energy accompanied by boatloads of love.
We cooked and laughed and shared stories and memories. As the kitchen and family room started to fill with the aroma of chicken soup and brisket, it also filled with holiday love. This was a moment that, for us, defined family. I felt a burst of pride when we would sit down for the meal, with my mother next to me at the table. We were a team, my mother and I, and this meal was our gift to each other and to our family.
It is difficult to change the scene. It is difficult to recall that two years ago I sat with my brother and sisters at Hospice by the Sea as my mother rested, in a near coma, as we cried and laughed and told her favorite stories.
My mother squeezed our hands and at one point, raised her eyebrows as if to say "You know kids, I hear what you are saying!" Her eyes were closed and her skin took on a translucent quality. Her breathing grew shallower. It was time for her to go. It was time for her to be with Dad. And so she passed away.
Of course I miss her every day, but when the holidays roll around, Mom is still there right next to me. She passed on her most famous recipe; the ingredients for happiness.