By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

A mother's words


I’ve written many times about my mother. My mother who lived alone. My mother who taught me to love literature, my community, and myself. My mother who taught me to give back far more than I received. My brilliant, independent mother. 

But I’ve never written about her voice. About how she spoke, how she wrote, the words she lived by. And they were magnificent words. I have waited, months after her death, to write about her. It’s because of the difficulty that words have to truly encompass someone as large, as flamboyant, as full of life as my mother. And so I think it best to let her words speak for her, as she regularly spoke to me.

She was amazing, giving—sometimes to a fault, or at the very least, to a level so abundant, so over the top, that you wondered if it was real. But it was. It was who she was. When she wrote holiday cards to my children she told my oldest, “I love you, my darling, with my heart and soul. Please believe me when I say I want to be there for you whenever you need me.”

For my daughter she picked a card with horses on the front, and she told her that, “you light up a room with your beautiful smile and gorgeous eyes.”

And to my youngest she wrote, “I hope you will enjoy this Chanukah joyously. I love love love love you and even more where that came from.”

Could any gift be greater than a grandmother’s loving words?

When I stood at the end of her hospital bed, hours before she passed away, she looked at me, as I had tears in my eyes, and smiled and told me that’s how I’ve always been, ever since I was a child—that I always cried at goodbyes. And she assured me that everything was OK, which of course made me cry even more as I told her that here she was, in a hospital, and she was taking care of me.

It’s always a tragedy when you lose a family member, a terrible one when a child dies before a parent, and my mother had to deal with that when my brother Ray died seven years ago. But when you lose your last parent your world suddenly changes. You’re no longer a child in anyone’s eyes.  The safety net of uncontested, undeniable, constant love is gone. Even though there is no real safety net, for love is only modest protection from the hardships of life, all of a sudden something you counted on, something you relied on without ever thinking of it consciously is gone forever. The person you could always go to is gone. The one person who, in your mind if not in reality was always there to save you is gone. There’s no one left who will always say, David, have you lost weight? David, my handsome son. David, have I told you today how much I love you?

I miss her presence on Shabbat and family dinners on Sunday. I missed her voice this past Thanksgivukah. But mostly I miss her words, the words I’ll never hear again, that are only left to me and those who knew her in memory, in the recesses of our minds.

Shortly after my father died, he was posthumously honored by Israel Bonds. When my mother spoke at the event, she said, “Memory is a singularly free agent—not bound by time or space, it has a will of its own, and I have often been vividly reminded of events, which occurred long ago, with a clarity and a sharpness that makes them seem more like recent experiences. It is no small gift—this gift of memory—and we hope we leave behind, to be remembered and to be followed, our footsteps.”

I hear her footsteps even now, and all the words I knew she’d say, filled with a mother’s love.

And that’s the good word.

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