The anniversary of my mom’s death was Saturday, June 9th and somehow the sadness of that didn’t hit me until this morning.  I woke up feeling very sad.

I opened the book “The Tools” where I’d left off and it talks about sadness…which is like having a black cloud over our head, which then blocks out all the sun.  That’s how I was feeling.   The antidote, they say, to the black cloud is gratitude and also connecting to a source, a higher power, or whatever that means to each of us.

It helped me to read that, but I still felt blue, so I took myself to Friends In Deed at noon.  It turned out that the topic of the Big Group at noon is grief.  So I had a good cry and now I have to deal with Lucy, who’s got so many health issues it’s hard to know where to begin.

Ah, life.  I am so grateful!  I am grateful for summer coming!  I am grateful that I had a good night’s sleep!  I am grateful for humor!  I am grateful for health!  I am grateful for dancing!

I can feel the black cloud opening up.  I really can.  Not fast enough, but it’s opening.

This is a difficult post for me to write. But maybe it will help me to deal with the feelings I have and will continue to have for probably quite some time. I can’t help but cry as I type because today, Zoe and Steve packed up the car and set off on their trip to California. Zoe came back from San Francisco to go through her belongings and Steve has been busy selling equipment and also packing. He will be spending part of his time at the property in Laytonville and also part of his time in Spain.

And I will remain in NYC, my home. And my dogs are here with me. So the family that we worked so hard to create and to nurture has not survived and as with many families we are all moving on to our own lives. I have no idea how all of this is going to eventually turn out. I know that tonight, I feel very sad and alone. And I also miss my mother. She was there for me all my life and now suddenly, in just the past eight weeks, she is gone. It’s almost too much in some ways and it’s also probably exactly the way it was meant to be. A clean slate, a new beginning, a letting go of the past and an acceptance that there will be a completely new life coming up in the future.

Living in the present sometimes doesn’t feel so good though. I wish I could skip this part. Over the years I have watched so many friends go through divorces and seen their pain and tried to empathize, but I think it’s just something you can’t understand until you are actually going through it. The loss of a parent, no matter how old that parent, no matter how prepared you thought you were, still hurts.

I do know that I am not alone with these feelings. There are so many people who have more stress than they’ve ever had. People losing jobs, homes, marriages, friends, fighting for their lives, trying to keep their health insurance. I guess the gift in all of this is knowing that we are simply part of humanity and life can be challenging and also beautiful.

Today is a good day for the two journalists who left North Korea with Bill Clinton. I am happy for them and so relieved for their families.

And I will make myself something to eat and watch a movie and sit with Lucy and Lola, my somewhat smaller, but still beloved family.

I keep recalling when I gave birth and thinking that what I’m going through now feels incredibly painful, but also in the end, I think it will be worth it. I remember when I gave birth it hurt so much and I didn’t have an epidural (not because I didn’t want one, but because by the time we got to the hospital I was already eight centimeters dilated, so it was too late.) In the middle of the pain, as the contractions intensified, I had a few moments of thinking, never mind. Let’s not do this, keep the baby inside me, skip the birth, let me just stay pregnant forever.

If you’ve never had a baby, I’m sure you’ve worked on some major project, or work effort, or some health issue, or care-giving, or something just felt too difficult. And it’s not like once you’ve finished, or had the baby, or recovered, or whatever, that it’s easy. There are always struggles and in the middle of the pain are glimpses of what will be and hanging onto that keeps me breathing and moving through the pain. And I haven’t even mentioned the grief I’m experiencing about the death of my mother.

Maybe I could get an epidural now?

One of the important lessons I learned from my mom’s passing is to ask for help (which I’m not good at) and listen to advice from people you respect. My friend Judith suggested that I write something about my mother to read, some remembrances. So I wrote the following, which described Helen pretty well, I think:

What can I say about my mother that I haven’t already said?

When I was growing up, I often longed for a different kind of mother. I wanted the television mother, Donna Reed, the mother on Father Knows Best, the kind of mother who wore nice dresses and aprons and baked cookies. That wasn’t my mother.

My mother couldn’t wait to get back to work and work she did, full time, bookkeeper, accounts receivable. I can just imagine the phone calls my mother made to people who hadn’t paid their bills on time. And I would re-enact them except that there’s a rabbi present.

You can imagine them: “Where the blank is your blanking payment?” She was very good at her job. She should have worked for the mob. She learned a lot of vocabulary words from her oldest brother Abie, who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

My mother had two very handsome older brothers, Abie and Jack, which made her very popular with her girlfriends and she had a beloved younger brother David. David died when he was 13 or 14 – he got into a fight. I’m sure that absolutely shattered their family. And then ten or fifteen years later she lost her beloved mother, our grandmother Rose, whose greatest joy, besides her children, was to go to the movies.

My mother often complained (loudly) about my dad, Lew, who was as eccentric in his own way as my mother. They truly were both characters (and great material for me as a writer.) They are now immortalized in two plays.

I think in their own way they loved each other. I know he adored her.

On the weekends, all the fathers on our block would get out their lawnmowers and mow the lawns and my mother would mow ours. One summer she dug up the entire front lawn to put down sod. New lawn in squares. She did it by herself. My father knew where the car keys were and where the couch was, he had no interest in getting his hands dirty.

She had a full time job, she did the gardening, the cleaning, the cooking, the laundry and she had very little help. Dale and I had enough to do with studying for school (this is me being sarcastic).

My mother hated to travel – she always said there was no place like home – and then when I moved to California and she finally came to visit, she fell in love with it and always wanted to come for a couple of weeks. That’s when I moved back to NY.

When my father died nineteen years ago, we all thought, “Oh, no, how’s she going to live alone?” It took her a year to adjust and then at 77 she entered one of the happiest periods of her life. She became a volunteer at the hospital, drove her 1987 silver Honda Accord all over town, had Sunday brunch with her friends, Maddie and Lenore, did crossword puzzles, watched Judge Judy religiously and continued gardening.

She did really well for a long time, until she started to get sick a few years ago. And then she fought for life with an amazing ferocity, through countless illnesses and two hospices stays.

My mother had certain beliefs that were fairly unshakable. She hated people from the Bronx, they were too fancy, she said. My father’s family was from the Bronx. She was Brooklyn all the way. She was a solid Democrat, but felt sorry for Richard Nixon when he resigned. She believed that it was important to always look your best no matter how bad you felt. Lipstick and red cowboy boots were essentials. She believed that you can judge a book by its cover.

She loved men but not OLD men and once, about six months ago, she informed me that she and a twenty something year-old very handsome aide at the nursing home were engaged to be married. She wondered should they announce it in the NY Times? And would I mind? And she didn’t even really have dementia. Maybe they were engaged? Maybe he thought she was rich?

My mother taught me to be myself. To not care about what people think of you. To do what you love, and do it with passion and enthusiasm. To be honest (except when you play solitaire, then you can cheat). To work hard. Harder than anyone else.

And to never never never give up. They attribute those words to Winston Churchill, but I think it was really my mother who said them first.

Mom, it’s time to rest. It’s okay. You’ve earned it.

At the end, the Rabbi reminded us that my mother had lived almost a century. And that was an amazing accomplishment.

I am filled with so much gratitude this morning, for all the love and support I received yesterday. My friend Jodi said, “don’t be alone.” So, Barbara came over and spent the entire day with me. We talked and worked on a proposal I’m doing (with lots of help) and we sat in the park with the dogs, had lunch and talked with Zoe. Jodi also sent out an email to a group of friends about my mother’s death and I got phone calls all day from everyone expressing love and support.

I posted the news on Facebook, since I have so many old friends who did know my mother and I got many kind words there too. People are coming to the funeral – when my dad died we had hardly anyone there. I know that the numbers don’t matter, it’s who is there and how they felt about the person who’s died, but my friends are coming to support me and I am so grateful.

I have found, in my semi-old age, that pretty much nothing is as important to me as feeling part of a community of friends. No amount of money, no job, no success, all of it is great and I would love abundance and recognition and a beautiful home and travel – and I am so deeply thankful for my life and the connections I feel with friends I’ve known for forty years and friends I’ve know for six months.

Loss is always sad, but as my friend Bella says, challenges come in three’s and I hope that is true. I could use a little rest for awhile. I did just think about next week and what I have to do and for a moment I said to myself, “Maybe on Monday I’ll go see my mother…” And then I remembered that I no longer have a mother to see…except in photos and in my mind and in my heart. And on the stage, when she inhabits me.

The biopsy on the mass in my mother’s intestine was confirmed to be bone cancer, which spread. How much it has metastasized is not yet known, but tomorrow morning I meet with the hospice people (for the third time in four years.) I don’t think she can cheat death this time. My mother is so strong and amazing, I have to say it’s been a privilege to witness her struggles and her determination these past five or so years. She’s had a good long life and my prayer is that she not have to suffer.

The losses feel overwhelming right now, but I have so much comfort from dear friends and my family. As Pema Chodron says, “this very moment is the perfect teacher.”

Here’s a story from “When Things Fall Apart.”

I have a friend dying of AIDS. Before I was leaving for a trip, we were talking. He said, “I didn’t want this, and I was terrified of this. But it turns out that this illness has been my greatest gift.” He said, “Now every moment is so precious to me. All the people in my life are so precious to me. My whole life means so much to me.” Something had really changed, and he felt ready for his death. Something that was horrifying and scary had turned into a gift.

I wish for my mother a peaceful death.

Yesterday they finally did the endoscopy and found a large mass in her stomach. They cut a piece of it to biopsy and won’t know the results for a week to ten days. My mother doesn’t realize much of what is happening to her, just that she is in a hospital and people won’t leave her alone. They are constantly taking blood, giving her sonograms, IV’s, nebulizers. I have asked that they not disturb her unnecessarily. Still, they have to cover their asses with tests before doing anything. She gets angry and curses sometimes, but mostly she is sleeping and occasionally moaning and saying “Mama.” Interesting how often people call for their mothers when they are in discomfort. I frequently heard that in the hospice when my mother was there a few years ago.

Today they are doing surgery on her leg to put in the plate and hold the femur fracture together. The past few days have been really difficult. This is definitely an exercise of one day at a time. I feel terrible that she is going through this. I assumed that she would never have to go to the hospital again. The nursing home she has been living at for the past three years has hospice care and “my plan” was she would eventually die there, peacefully, with minimal medical interventions.

But we all know how plans go.

Well, there’s no denying that this is a difficult time for me. Last night I went to a place called Friends In Deed. It was created almost nineteen years ago in response to the AIDS crisis and it has grown over the years to include any serious illness and caregivers, essentially helping anyone who is grieving about pretty much anything. I went there a couple of times when my mother was in Jacob Perlow Hospice a few years ago and it helped. They have what is called “The Big Group” – it’s based on twelve steps principles of sharing and anonymity, but there is a leader, unlike AA or Alanon meetings.

It’s a safe place to open up about what’s bothering you and I like the leader of the evening sessions, Cy O’Neal. She started FID, along with Mike Nichols.

I don’t honestly remember much of what I said when I shared, I think I mostly cried. And I did try to write down what Cy said. I think it was something like this:

It does seem that the old adage “when it rains, it pours” generally is true.

When you look back on a really traumatic situation from your past, you realize that as bad as it was, you also got something really important from the experience.

In my case, a few years ago, when everything else was pretty much falling apart, I eventually got a solo show out of it, the knowledge that I am pretty strong, that most friends are there for you when you need them, that I have a relationship with something, I’m not sure what – but it’s a power greater than myself (not a guy with a white beard – but something). I learned that feelings move through you and it’s better to feel them than to avoid them and that my mother and I have a deep connection of the heart and even though she has driven me (and pretty much everyone else who knows her) CRAZY sometimes, I will always love her.

That stepping up and taking care of someone who is ill is worth all the sadness and the anxiety. In the end, you know you did what you had to do.

And if you need to take the time to grieve, it’s okay, it won’t last forever.

I’m not so good with crying, I’ve always been able to express my thoughts but actually crying or showing emotions has been uncomfortable for me. But now I seem to have no choice in the matter, so I just let the tears come.

And I want to add that I am grateful for all the support and phone calls. It seems like almost my entire high school class has been sending me love on Facebook. I don’t remember some of them and I am amazed at their interest and I’ll take whatever I can get. And although sometimes I think this is too hard, I know I’ll get through it.