MARRIAGE


marriage“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Unknown

My husband came home from work today, after hanging out with some guys at the bar to watch the Masters, and said “I think we are becoming a minority.” Knowing my husband as I do, I could have gone in so many different directions with that comment. I looked quizzically at him and, as has happened hundreds of times in the 21 years we have been together, he realized I had no idea what he was referring to. “It seems like we are the only ones left married,” he said smirking. I laughed, knowing he was being facetious but I also stopped for a second and took in a deep breath. He is right. Maybe it’s because of our age, maybe it’s because of where we live, maybe it’s because of our circle of friends and acquaintances but, whatever the reason, it seems like every day we learn of more and more couples splitting up. Today he learned about yet another and, as is always the case, it sends chills down your spine. You can’t help but wonder if one day it will be you. I cannot deny that there have been moments – more than I care to admit – that I wondered if our marriage would survive.

I entered into marriage completely clueless. I had no role models. I had no reference point. Frankly, I had no interest in getting married. I had determined, at a pretty young age, that I wanted to have a fantastic career and would not submit to giving up my dreams for any man. And, I certainly did not want to have kids. Sure, I was a feminist. I was also broken from all that I had experienced in my childhood that I couldn’t even imagine a reality where I could be happily married. By the time I was in college, my mother had been married and divorced 3 times and was on her way to her fourth. My father had 2 under his belt and my sister, 14 years my senior, had just split up with her husband. She would go on to marry 2 more times. I wanted nothing to do with all this. I was not interested in participating in this ritual that seemingly always had an unhappy ending.

I was a serial dater after I got out of college. I would meet guys, date them, break up, find another, date them, break up, find another and the cycle went on and on. Nobody lasted more than weeks or maybe a few months and the relationships never went very deep. I had so much intimacy with all of my gay boyfriends that I never felt needy in that way. If it were not for sex, I would have been content to hang with my gay posse forever, collect some cats and become a living, breathing stereotype. I simply did not see a pathway that would ever lead me to wedded bliss. I had a great career, was starting to make some money and had, what I believed to be, a relatively glamorous life. I worked for a major movie studio optioning books for movies so I spent my evenings going to plays, movie premieres, parties, fancy dinners – all surrounded by the largest group of gay men imaginable. I guess, perhaps one of the reasons I could not see the pathway was because there were not very many suitable candidates crossing my lane.

I met my husband when I was 24. When I think about it now, I realize how I was still an emotional amoeba. I simply knew nothing about the world yet I had lived what felt like 5 lifetimes sorting through the turmoil of my family’s drama. We met as friends – he and I were both dating other people (he was living with someone!) so there was no pressure on the relationship. He seemed like a nice enough guy and, much to my amazement, I found myself quickly intrigued by him. The relationship became romantic very quickly and, after we sorted out our other conflicts, we started dating for real. Both of us being somewhat impulsive, dating lasted about two minutes before we fell remarkably, passionately, overwhelmingly in love. He was my soulmate. I could not imagine how I could spend one minute away from him, which was extraordinarily difficult since he lived 3000 miles away on the other side of the country. We managed to find ways to see each other several times a month and each visit was filled with anticipation – heart-racing, soulful expectation. And every goodbye was marked with tears, sometimes painful and gut-wrenching, because we could not imagine how we would be able to fill our lungs with oxygen without the other to move the diaphragm. We so quickly became a symbiotic unit and every thought I ever had about not wanting to marry went out the window like a paper floating away in a brisk March wind. My fears or uncertainty about how I could sustain a relationship seemed foolish and immature. Here I was madly in love and all I could think about, even at the tender age of 25, was how fast I could begin my life as his wife.

We got engaged in less than 6 months and just a little more than 2 years after we met, we walked down the aisle in a lovely spring wedding and began a whole new chapter in our lives. We set out to right the wrongs of our parents. We vowed to do it differently. We committed to break the cycle. We blindly, ignorantly, whimsically set out on what seemed like a perfectly paved pathway together.

Next month will be 19 years since that lovely spring wedding. 19 years – nearly two decades! In contrast, his parents’ marriage lasted 13 years, my parents stuck it out for 15 before they separated, my sister’s ended at year 14. There was a moment, several years ago, that we realized that we had hit some magical milestone in our family. We were officially the longest married couple. We made a toast. And returned to our blissfully banal life. We have expanded our symbiotic union by two with sons that keep us grounded and focused and remind us why we decided to enter this extremely challenging and complex obstacle course.

In 19 years we have had more than our share of fights and far too many moments, through tears, that we each gritted our teeth and questioned our beliefs. That perfectly paved pathway has revealed many cracks, uprooted roots that have pushed up the concrete and we have tripped and fallen many, many times. We have been challenged to find the intoxicating love that left us in tears when we could not be together every moment of the day. Now the tears were rage-filled and that love was nowhere to be found. Well, actually, it was buried beneath piles and piles of hurt feelings, unkind words, bad choices, anger, resentment and all the wonderful things that are often hallmarks of long-term relationships riddled with financial woes, exhaustion from child rearing and general disappointments that life did not turn out to have the fairy tale ending you dreamt of. For some couples that is where it all goes awry. For many, the challenges become too untenable and the relationship dissolves. For us, we had many sleepless nights, raging battles and days where we could barely look at each other because we loathed the sight of the other but we pushed through. Perhaps the fear of splitting up was more overwhelming than the notion of trying to tolerate each other another day, but we persevered. Despite our efforts to hold it together, I was certain we were doomed. Everyone around us seemed so happy. Their marriages looked so healthy. Everyone seemed to be having sex ALL THE TIME while I couldn’t muster the energy to even think about it most of the time. Everyone appeared to be blissfully in love, even after the trials of marriage had weathered their bond. They all seemed to have a healthier, stronger, more powerful attachment and I didn’t see how my marriage could ever compare.

The joke was on me, of course. Sure, some couples seem to have the good fortune of peaceful and loving relationships and personalities that are not like firecrackers with short fuses and a lit match. Many couples, however, put on a good show when everyone is looking in order to make the pain of their own unhappiness less visible in hopes that it will make their misery more manageable. They sweep it under the rug and put on a good face, hoping no one will notice, existing in silent desperation. For me, I had to learn to stop looking around for comps and spend more time looking at my own relationship and understanding what it needed to work properly. When I searched my soul, I knew I loved my husband on the deepest level and could not imagine a life without him. I needed to focus in on that and stop worrying about the window dressing. None of that shit mattered.

As I watched so many friends delight in the sparkle of new relationships after their marriages ended and they were reborn into these new loves, I had to dig deep to find a way to reconnect with the man who changed my life and brought peace to a war-torn girl. I doubted, I questioned, I ached, I cried, I searched, I begged for mercy. And then I fell in love all over again. This time, I fell in love with the old pair of shoes lying in the back of the closet that I had forgotten were hiding out, stuffed underneath some boxes of new shoes that were so shiny and inviting. I slipped into those shoes and they felt warm and comfortable, and my feet knew exactly how to mold themselves into the leather. They were perfectly suited for me. I exhaled and I opened my eyes wide to find that nothing ever changed between my husband and me. We still loved each other deeply – in fact, we were much more in love than we had ever been but we had lost our way. We fell victim to the complications of life. We stopped paying attention, took our eyes off the road as the car careened into the woods. It was a bit dented but still ran pretty well and just needed someone to get behind the wheel and steer it onto a new road.

I love my husband more today than I ever could have imagined that pretty spring day 19 years ago. I look into the eyes I have stared into millions of times and I see our lifetime together. Soon we will be together longer than we have not. Now we fit together like two puzzle pieces that slide together so easily. There were days we had to shove ourselves together, taking a second look to see if, in fact, we were the right pair of pieces but, now, it is easier. Sure, we still take each other for granted at times and we still have trouble finding time and energy to have quiet intimate moments but I know, without any uncertainty, that there is no one else I would travel the road of life with. We are a real story, a 3-dimensional, full-color, reality of married life. We are imperfect, we hurt each other, we make mistakes. And, we love each other with everything we have. And we fall in love over and over again.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY


motheranddaughter“The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.” – Unknown

Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday.  And, Friday marked one year since she passed away.  As I have shared in this blog before, her passing was an event that did not hold much significance to me at the time because I felt I had said goodbye to her many years before.  Despite that, this past year has left me with the need to do a lot of reflection to help me come to terms with my feelings about this complicated relationship in order to begin a healing process resulting in forgiveness and transcendence from decades of trying to love someone who was fundamentally incapable of experiencing or giving authentic love.

This is a journey I did not enter into willingly.  In fact, I had my mind all made up when I learned that her life was nearing its end that I was relieved and ready to move on to the next phase of my life – a life without having to look over my shoulder and wonder when the next onslaught would occur.  I welcomed the freedom that came from knowing that the hurt, the humiliation, the constant anxiety about when she would next strike out would finally come to an end.  When I got the word that she had died, I texted my best friend to let him know and he immediately called me in bewilderment, wondering if he should console me or plan to take me out for a celebratory toast.  He gently prodded, fascinated by this highly unusual circumstance of someone losing their parent and not immediately  kicking into the rituals of mourning, honoring, etc., and asked “How do you feel?”  Of course, he knew that the feelings would be complicated.  He implicitly knew that I would be struggling to find words to make sense of the emotions, even in my own mind.  At the time I was quite laissez faire about the whole situation, resolved that I was ready to start anew.  I had prayed for an escape from the grip she had on me and suddenly my wish was granted and now I had the time and space to react and redirect myself.

In the year since my mother’s passing, I have had a metamorphosis of sorts.  In my own way, I have undergone a process of grieving and realigning myself without the force of my mother’s mental illness driving an undercurrent in my life.  Despite the fact that I had terminated my relationship with her nearly 7 years before her death, I was still struggling on a daily basis, balancing my indignation and my guilt while continuing to fear her wrath, her scorn, her outbursts intended to try to regain a connection with me.  She patented the art of attempting to have bad behavior rewarded with attention.  It took great resolve and discipline to not take the bait.  As an adult child, I still yearned the love of my mother and wanted nothing more than to wake up from a seemingly bad dream and find myself in a fairy tale, basking in the glow of love showered upon me by my mommy.  I never lost the wish, the unwavering desire to curl up and be loved and nurtured in a way that I understood was a gift meant for other little girls, simply not me.

As I worked through the process – one that I intentionally pushed to the background to be a backdrop to everything else that was going on in my life – I began to see answers and understanding emerge around me like giant thought bubbles bursting over my head.  I knew when I began the journey of healing that I would never truly understand my mother.  I acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that her actions and behavior would never make sense to me.  I did not have all the puzzle pieces.  I was missing huge chunks of her history that informed who she became as an adult.  I did not understand the demons that she confronted as a young child and had no way of understanding the role they played in the destruction of her life.  I never had a clear sense of the roots of her mental illness.  All of that, however, was intellectual masturbation because none of it mattered in how I felt.  And, frankly, for the better part of my adult life, I spent my time trying to understand, trying to solve the equation.  How I felt was always secondary.  I knew I was a victim of her illness and I knew that our relationship was ultimately detrimental to both of us.  I woke up one day and realized with crystal clear certainty that we were better off without each other than with.  And I walked away.  As my therapist has explained to me so many times, I nearly erased myself from existence by abandoning the most primal and pivotal relationship in my life.  I annihilated myself by rejecting my mother.  And, at the same time, I gave myself life.

I have struggled over the past year to find my way with this.  Life has presented me with seemingly unending complications to derail my focus and challenge my own mental stability.  I have struggled with my own purpose, my intentions and my truth.  Losing my mother without ever closing all the loose ends left me with a complicated web of questions and emotions that I knew I had to tackle when I was ready and in my own unique style.  No one – absolutely no one – could help me make sense of it.  I was living an experience that not a single person I know has ever experienced.  I was alone on an island left to sort out a big giant tangle of ropes in hopes that, when untwisted, I would be able to toss them out to pull in my raft and return the land of others.  I had hoped that by whacking through this mess I would suddenly feel differently, look like everyone else and be able to return to life feeling more complete and more connected.

It’s been one year and two days.  367 days of quiet contemplation.  8,808 hours of attempting to locate a lost piece of myself in order to better fit into my world and begin to blend in with everyone else.

Guess what?

I failed.

On the bright side, I am beginning to forgive my mother.  I am finding ways to have compassion for her and understanding that hers was the road less traveled – and not in a good way.  No one would ever sign up for the cruise that she took in her 82 years. No one would willingly leave the earth with a scant few by their side, having more regrets than joy.  Four marriages, three children, four grandchildren and her passing was barely noticed.  I feel sad for her.  I grieve for a life that was lost to an illness left untreated and an unwillingness to relent and accept that perhaps the darkness that she lived with was not simply the way it was meant to be.  I take no comfort in my righteousness that she deserved what she ultimately received.  I wish, I truly wish, I could have made a difference for her.  I wish I could have saved her and brought her to my island.  I tried so many times to heal her with my love, thereby, hopefully, healing myself.  However, it was always short-lived.  She thrived on chaos and manipulation.  She needed to break things down and then attempt to put them back together in order to feel like a savior.  She needed to be a victim and find blame in everyone else.  She did not know what it meant to forgive.  She only knew how to hold a grudge and suffer as she exhausted limitless mental energy feeling anger and resentment, ironically usually targeted towards those she most frequently hurt.

For me, today, I am learning to get beyond all that and am starting to understand the impact of her life and her behavior on me.  I am not a victim of my mother.  I am a product of my life experience and it is my choice to continue down the pathway she led me or to take a detour and find my own lane.  She is not a compass for me – a fact that pains me greatly because I believe so deeply in the power of motherhood and the role we play in guiding our children to their own paths while standing by to guide them to another and another as they need us to.  Nonetheless, my mother is all around me.  She shows up in my life in the form of other people that create struggles for me – the narcissists that invariably make their way to me; the angry, damaged and pained individuals that sniff me out falsely seeing me as a safe harbor.  I am simply not that port and I am learning to accept that about myself.  My job is not to rescue anyone but to provide an atlas built from my own painful journey.  I am not a walking support group and I have come to accept and, in fact, insist, that I am not here to be pitied or protected or, quite frankly, understood by anyone because we can never truly understand the complexities that make each of us unique.  Instead, I am here to give love, receive love and hope to leave a legacy that includes inspiring and empowering others to live a more meaningful life.  And, for that, I thank my mother.  Without her, I am not sure that these lessons would have made their way to me.  I am not sure that I would have the courage to look at life the way I do.  I have no certainty that, without my mother, I would have broken down and been rebuilt in a way that provides me with my own brand of power.  I am not perfect and I struggle to make sense of things every day but I feel grateful to have the opportunity to tackle life and connect the dots in the way that I do. As with many things in my life, I would never go back and change history.  It all informed my place today.  The road could have been easier and my choices could have been better but it is all about the journey.

This morning I talked to my best friend again and shared with him a piece of my truth that has crystalized for me.  I have spent so much of my lifetime trying to adapt myself to fit into the world in a way that would enable people to understand me better.  I have twisted myself up so painfully trying to blend in and make sense in other people’s worlds.  However, today, my own gift to myself on my mother’s birthday, I committed to allowing myself to be me.  367 days after my mother left the earth I am finally becoming the person I am meant to be.  And, after 45 1/2 years of life, I know I am just getting started.

Happy Birthday Mom.  I wish you could have gotten to know me.

LEAP FORWARD


This morning I thought I would be clever and use the Leap Day as a metaphor for a post about moving forward in our lives.  Somehow, I thought I was the only one who would have such a remarkable idea and, before I could even formulate the opening words in my head, I stumbled across a plethora of posts using the same concept.  My favorite, without a doubt, belongs to an old friend (and great blogger) who summed up perfectly, in my mind, how to embrace this extra day of the year.

I am not about to let my lack of originality hold me back because I still believe there are important messages to be shared today.  I mean, how can we not recognize something that comes around only once every 4 years?  What I love about Leap Year is that this extra day is intended to help the universe catch up.  It is the extra day that allows us to balance out the calendar and ensure that we do not get too far ahead of ourselves.  I am also choosing to use Leap Year as a course correction day for myself and honoring it as such.  Like most of us, my life has its highs and lows and I try to be conscious of when I am experiencing each.  I try to appreciate the highs and ride them like beautiful and strong white caps and I try to ease into the lows, nurturing and comforting myself as the tide pulls back and I am sitting quietly on the sand.  My goal, always, is to keep some type of balance and appreciate that with every high there will be a low and vice versa.

I heard someone say recently that reflection is one of the most powerful tools of change.  If we can allow ourselves to spend some time in healthy reflection, holding the mirror close enough to see things clearly but not too close that we lose perspective, we can ensure ongoing learning, change, and growth.  I am choosing this  bonus day – as my friend has referred to it – to reflect and, hopefully leap forward.

We are already 60 days into 2012 and it feels as if the year just began.  I am still getting adjusted to writing 2012 on checks and I can almost still smell the pine needles from the Christmas tree.  Yet, at the same time, these 60 days have propelled me forward and provided a sense of peace and calm that I had not expected.  During this short 60 day timespan, my mother passed away.  It is a very matter-of-fact statement because, sadly, there was no heartbreak in the loss itself.  My mother and I had been estranged for many years due to a lifetime of conflict and abuse.  When I made a decision so many years ago to separate myself from her in order to begin my healing process, I began a journey of mourning for the mother I never had rather than the loss of a loving mother.  Several weeks ago when I learned of my mother’s death, I reached deep within my soul to search for pain and loss that simply did not exist.  I challenged myself.  I judged myself because I did not understand – despite having processed these feelings for so many years – how I could be so calm and unemotional about what would otherwise be a tragic loss.  There were and continue to be no clear answers because of the complexities that surround my relationship with my mother.  Regardless, I needed to conduct the exercise to test my feelings and endure whatever came my way.

I try to look at every situation in my life as a learning opportunity.  I cannot always appreciate when I am in the midst of a crisis or in pain but, usually, upon reflection, I am able to capture aspects of the situation that have pushed me forward in my journey.  While I certainly can be accused of over-analyzing stuff in my life, I am confident that my analysis generally leads to knowledge and growth.  In the weeks leading up to my mother’s death, I feared that I was not being truthful with myself about my feelings and that I would be unpredictably emotional when she finally died.  I explored and processed these fears, continually challenging my thinking and ultimately realizing that I had to trust myself and that only time would reveal my true feelings because there was simply no way to rehearse such an event.  Despite the overall sadness about the loss of a life and the additional sadness about a life wasted courtesy of mental illness and severe narcissism, I was uplifted by my own fortitude and the fact that I actually had clarity about my feelings.  For the first time – perhaps ever – I had complete confidence in my ability to know myself and trust myself.  That was an extraordinary outcome and a silver lining to an otherwise unpleasant and tragic occurrence.

Since there was no mourning period after my mother’s death and because it was difficult to share with others this complicated passing, I decided to take some solitary time to reflect and gain strength.  While I would never have chosen to have the mother I did or the relationship I did, I accept that this was my destiny in this lifetime and, if I did not learn and grow from it, it would be a wasted opportunity.  I have often said that I would actually not change anything in my life because it has helped me to be the person I am.  It is the same philosophy I use when thinking about my husband.  I love him deeply but anytime we are facing hard times and I question or doubt our relationship, I think about my children and recognize that, without him, they would not be who they are and I would not want to choose another option.  This is the life I am meant to have, those are the children I am meant to have so I need to accept everything that goes along with that.

Today, as I reflect on the last 60 days and try to leap forward, I must focus on what will catapult me ahead.  It is the people who share the journey that propel me.  Some I have chosen and some have chosen me.  Family has a different meaning to me than most and I find love and comfort in those around me who can appreciate my unconventional circumstances.  I enjoy the process of understanding how people come into your life and exploring why some are such perfect fits and others are jammed in because you want to squeeze them in.  And, of course, there are others that simply take up space that you could really use to free up.  As I often do, I want to honor those who are along for the ride.  Despite the fact that I might have always been a motherless daughter, I am not alone in the world and I am grateful to those who give me the strength and courage to grow and test my limits.  I only hope I am and continue to successfully pay it forward.

 

 

BLESSINGS


I have been waiting a long time to write this post and, it being Christmas, it seems fitting because it is about a very special blessing in my life.

It began with a series of texts over the summer when my best friend Staci informed me that her mom Sandy was suddenly having some unexpected health problems.  She had been diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma nearly 3 years ago and all was looking pretty good.  She had one of her kidneys removed and that was all cleaned up.  They did find some nodules in her lungs, which is actually quite common with this type of cancer and had been treating her with chemo in the form of a pill.  She had been switching treatments over the past year because she was having some adverse reactions.  We saw her on a trip down to Florida over Spring Break this past April and, despite the fact that she had lost a bit of weight, she seemed her normal, wonderful, bubbly, self.

I was in a car with a co-worker on my way to a client meeting in Westchester in late August when Staci called me nearly hysterical telling me that her mom was dying.  The doctors had been trying to figure out what was wrong because she had to be admitted to the hospital several times due to fluid building up in her lungs.  They drained them, sent her on her way and back she went.  I had said to Staci so many times that this was normal and that she was sick but it was not fatal and they would fix her all up and she’d back to normal.  “Just hang in there, it’ll be fine.”  Easy words from me.  She is not my mother.  Well, that is not exactly true.

Sandy lived across the street from us when I was growing up.  Her mother and my mother were best friends for many years.  Because her mom had her when she was so young and my mom had me when she was so old, we were daughters of friends yet Sandy was old enough to be my own mother.  I was just sweet little Tammy.  The youngest of all the children on the block.  Sandy’s own sister Tina had been the one to name me.  When my parents found themselves in a stalemate over my name (my Italian father wanted Jospehine, my Jewish mother wanted anything else), in walks teenage Tina to see the new baby.  She had been singing the song “Tammy” which was very popular due to the series of Debbie Reynolds movies in the mid 60s.  My mother loved the movies and loved the name.  My father had other feelings but Tina prevailed.

Sandy gave birth to her first child – my best friend Staci – when I was 3 years old.  Staci and I grew up almost like sisters with me looking out for her and adoring her like she was my very own baby.  I was a forgotten-about child because there was so much drama happening in my family and my mother was an undiagnosed narcissist who was incapable of caring for her children in any meaningful way.  I did not have many friends and, while being a very pleasant and loving child, I was lonely.  Staci became the object of my affection and that love affair has carried on for 41 years.  Because Staci and I were inseparable, I spent a lot of time with her family.  Plus, of course, our families were very close so there were many opportunities to spend time together at bbqs, family events, birthdays, etc.  But Sandy kept a special eye on me.  She knew things were not good in my house and she genuinely loved me.  She did not understand the pain behind my eyes but she saw it there and felt compelled to help me.  I’ll never understand what motivated her but I will forever be grateful.

When I was in grade school, Sandy was the one who came to see my school shows.  She was the one there when I lost a critical spelling bee (I was a nerd, indeed) and was outraged that the 5th grader got an easy word while, I, a 4th grader, got one far more challenging.  For months, even years, she would curse the administration for their unfair practices.  I got over it long before she did.  Sandy protected me from the world.  She knew she had to – maybe because she felt someone had to or maybe because she did not know any other way to be.  I am guessing the latter.

When I was in third or fourth grade, Staci and her family moved away.  It was time for them to move out of their small apartment in Queens and settle into their Long Island suburban life.  In the 70s, this was the absolute fulfillment of the American dream.  I was lost.  My best friend/little sister was leaving.  What I did not know is how much I was losing by no longer having Sandy there every day to serve as my advocate and help to stave off the effects of what was happening in my home.  Sandy tried to look after me from afar, inviting me to come out to visit for weekends and during school holidays.  My mother would never drive the 30 minutes to their house so, often, Sandy would drive back to Queens to visit her mother, who still lived down the block from us, and take me back to Long Island with her.  I did not know I was being rescued and I am not sure I truly realized it until well into my adulthood.

Life went on and I struggled with the challenges of my home life.  Sandy never said a bad word about either of my parents but I always knew, despite the fact that they had been a part of her life since she was a teenager, she was not happy with them.  What I learned years later is that her anger and frustration over the way they treated me overshadowed any positive feelings she had about them.

I grew up, graduated from college, came back to NYC and Staci and her family were still very central in my life.  I did not communicate with them as much as I had before I went away to school but they were always a very important part of my life.  It was sort of complicated for me because I knew her family was not my family but I knew how much I desperately wished they were.  When I met my husband and got married things changed dramatically.  I went to see Staci and her family in Long Island the day I got engaged because I wanted to tell her parents right away.  We drove out there and surprised her mom who cried as if it were her own daughter who was getting married.  Staci was my maid of honor and Sandy was a bit part of my wedding.  Staci’s dad danced with me to, of course, “Tammy”.  When I became pregnant with my first child, I called Staci’s mom on my way home from work right after we got the confirmation call from the doctor’s office.  She cried.  I cried.  Our relationship was changing.  She was finally becoming my mother.  She was there for me in ways no one had ever been before.  When I came home from the hospital after giving birth to my older son, I immediately called Sandy (who by this time had migrated down to Florida as all good Jews do) and revealed all my fears to her.  She assuaged them, assured me all would be ok and told me to call her if I needed help.

Both of my children have loved Sandy and her husband because they have been loved consistently by them from the minute they took their first breath.  My husband will tell you that Sandy is his mother-in-law.  Sandy loved him from the minute she met him and welcomed him into the family without a second thought.  In this new phase of our life as parents, Sandy became a bigger and bigger component of our lives.  She was the one I called when I needed advice.  She was the one I sent photos to.  She was the one we went to visit every summer and called on all the holidays.  She became my mother.  Perhaps, as an adult and as a parent, we dealt with each other differently and understood each other differently but, whatever the reason, we found a special place in each other’s lives that was exactly what I needed.

Throughout my life, Sandy told me that I should write.  She told me that I have lots of stories to tell and that one day I would write a book about the craziness in my family.  She assured me that this would be the catharsis I needed to move past the pain.  She believed in me.  She supported me in a way that no one else ever had.  Last June, I learned that my father, who I had been estranged from since the early 90s, had passed away.  Sandy immediately reached out to me and said “I am not sure what you are feeling but I want you to know that I love you and I am here for you.”  I’ll never forget that.

There are millions of examples of how I was rescued by Sandy and I keep them safe in my heart.  She helped to open my heart.  She helped me to believe in myself and love myself and helped me to understand what it is to be loved by a mother.  She was also a model for me on how to be a good mother.

On that day in August when Staci informed me that the doctors thought Sandy might have several months left, I could not catch my breath.  How would I ever be able to process this?  How could I lose her?  How do I deal with this?  I need to support my friend and be strong for her but I wanted to curl up in a fetal position and shut out the rest of the world.  My mind was flashing with images and the pain was something I simply did not know how to cope with.  How do I explain to people that this woman – my mother – is dying yet we have not biological or even adoptive connection?  Would people understand?

It was towards the end of our summer vacation in North Carolina two weeks later that, after daily conversations with Staci, she informed me that the hospice that Sandy had been moved to following a complete deterioration of her condition, had called them to come back in to say goodbye.  It was happening.  She was going.  I stood in the bedroom of our beach house and sobbed like I had never sobbed before.  I never got to say goodbye.  I struggled with the decision to leave my family behind and try to go down to Florida to see her or simply ride out this time with my kids and jet down there once she had passed.  I will always question my decision but know that Sandy loved me no matter what I chose to do.

On Labor Day, I got up really early and went to the airport to make the difficult journey down to Florida to say goodbye to this woman who probably knew how much I loved her but might never have heard the words so clearly come from my mouth.  I was all alone because the kids were set to start school the next day and it was simply unrealistic for us all to go down together.  I sat on the plane for 3 hours and wrote a eulogy.  It was heartfelt and I was certain it would evoke lots of emotion from the crowd.  I ultimately threw it away and told my story.  I shared with the mourners how this little girl was saved by a woman who, for reasons unbeknownst to me, felt that I was worth it.  Every second of the eulogy I gave ripped a deeper and deeper hole in my heart but I knew I had to say the words, feel the emotions.  I ended my remarks by saying “I will miss you every day for the rest of my life” and truer words have never been spoken.

On a day like today and, frankly, any day, I try to remember the blessing of Sandy.  She helped me to be the person I am today and she did it without asking for anything in return.  She was rewarded by being loved by me and my family – eternally.  I can never express in words how much she means to me.  The most bittersweet moment came when I walked in to meet with the rabbi with Sandy’s two lifelong friends prior to the service.  He wanted to walk us through what was going to happen as we were the only three who were going to give remarks during the memorial service.  He looked at us to identify each of us and said “you’re the stepdaughter, right?”  My heart swelled.  Finally, I was her daughter.

God bless you Sandy.  I hope everyone can be loved as much as you loved me.  Thank you.