June makes me think about lifecycle events. My wedding anniversary is in June. So is my parents’. As is my second daughter’s birthday. Lots to celebrate. Thank God. But it’s also the month in which my mother died, the opposite end of the spectrum.
Recently, I inherited some money from my mother’s estate. It’s been nearly three years since she died and final distributions of the assets of her estate have been made. In almost every room of my home there are other tangible reminders of my mother that we inherited as well; furniture, silver, books, photos, wind chimes, her owl collection, etc. As her yartzeit (anniversary of her death) is upon us, I got to thinking about her, as I do often and, with this final inheritance, what that meant.
My 16 year old daughter, my mother’s first grandchild, did an extensive report for school on auto immune diseases because she knew that Grandma Ruth had Lupus. As part of her research, I gave her a copy of a 2005 article she wrote for “Arthritis Today” which, in her memory, I take the liberty of reproducing in its entirety in the hope that her words, her courage and her positive attitude may help and inspire even one other person going through similar life struggles:
In 1975, I was 35 and diagnosed with Lupus. I had three little sons, a husband who was working very hard to establish his own business, and a new home in a new community. I was raising my boys and working full time in my husband’s office and running my home. At the time of my diagnosis, I was told the average life expectancy was seven years. Seven Years! Although I was very sick, my mind reminded me that I didn’t have time to die; I had to raise my children and help my husband’s business succeed.
“I don’t have time to die” has remained my mantra these last 30 years. Through the worst of times I have tried to maintain the conviction that I have Lupus but it doesn’t have me. I’m the one in control, not my disease.
So, after my diagnosis, I set attainable goals for myself. The first was to live long enough to be with my boys at their bar mitzvahs. That meant I had to live for the eight years it would take for my youngest son to reach the age of 13. Every time I struggled with various manifestations of my disease, every time I felt like skipping my meds, every time I wanted to take a day off from physical therapy, I remembered my goal. I made it to all three bar mitzvahs.
Then I set myself another goal: I would live long enough to help my boys through high school and see each one graduate. This was now a five year plan. I made it to all three.
The next short term goal was to attend all three college graduations. As Always, discouraging periods when I wanted to give up on my care and be lazy about my responsibilities to myself were overcome with the thought, “I don’t have time to die.” And I made it to all three graduations.
As my boys went off in different directions for further education and career development, I set a new goal. I wanted to dance at their weddings. And I made it. I welcomed three daughters in law into the family.
Now I have a new goal: to live long enough for each of my nine grandchildren to have his or her very own memories of me. Not hand me down memories from people who tell them I loved them, or how I crocheted their beloved crib blankets, or that I baked cookies, or that I hugged and kissed them. I want each of them to have their very own memories of whatever is important to them, whatever they will one day tell their sweethearts and their children most about Grandma Ruth.
I have the goal and the motivation, and I have no doubt that I will achieve this goal too. Maybe someday I’ll have time to die. But not today.
My mother did live to achieve her goals, albeit that she died far too early. She lived to welcome and love two more grandchildren, 11 in total. While the youngest, my son, does not have any personal memories of Grandma Ruth and all that he knows are, as my mother put it, “hand me down memories from people who tell them I loved them,” his blue wool blanket embodies all the warmth and love with which his Grandma made it for him. When he’s tired, cold, or just wants comfort from something that gives him that love, unconditionally, he wraps himself in it as if she were hugging him for real. Just like his Grandma Ruth loved him, his siblings and cousins.
My mother’s money did not make me rich, but the lessons and example of both my mother, and my father, who died ten years earlier, did. Her unconditional love, embodied in my son’s blanket but felt by us all, is still with us almost as if she were as well. I hope that I am able to transmit these things to my children. I hope that my children appreciate these without the cloud of illness and other challenges that my mother endured for most of her life.
I learned many things from my parents. This is my inheritance. This is what makes me rich. This is their legacy.
The one thing that they did not teach me is how to grow old. Hopefully, I will be given the privilege to do so, following their example to me, and giving my own children and grandchildren an inheritance that will make them rich too.
Jonathan Feldstein is the Israel Representative of the American Friends of Magen David Adom. He made aliya in 2004 and has pioneered the opportunity for tourists to donate blood in Israel.