To paraphrase the Soup Nazi character on Seinfeld, "No Mother's Day for you!" That's because on Tuesday afternoon, April 29th, my mother passed away. And that was kind of a good thing because her suffering is now at an end.
During the past two years of her life Mom faded out in a fog of dementia exacerbated by a series of mini-strokes which robbed her of her memory, much of her personality and her ability to live life in any kind of vital way. My mother was the personification of vitality, so to have had that taken away was a cruel punishment.
"Who are you? I'm Alice. Where do you live?"
"Mom, I'm your son Howard, I live two blocks away."
"You look a lot like my son Lewis. How is that? It's uncanny."
Call it Alzheimer's or dementia, the effects are pretty much the same and this exit from the superhighway of life is becoming increasingly clogged with millions of Americans who overcame so much else in their lives but who ultimately are unable to defeat this insidious mind stealer.
My email is clogged with spam from florists, jewelers, chocolatiers and restaurateurs all reminding me that this Sunday is Mother's Day. Special offers besiege me all over the web as well but, alas, there is nowhere for flowers to go, no one to wear anything, no one to enjoy sweets and no one to fete at a special meal. The poobahs of online marketing didn't get the memo about my mother, yet these missives are in my face everywhere I look. It doesn't have a calming effect.
Alice Steinfeld (who would become Alice Barbanel) was born on August 30, 1934 at Long Beach Memorial Hospital on Long Island, New York to the exceedingly bright boulevardier attorney Lewis Steinfeld and his young, pretty and gregarious wife Lee. They were summering at Lee's parents' house headed-up by the larger than life "Big Harry" Schwartz who made a fortune manufacturing distillation equipment for bootleggers during prohibition.
Mom saw her first movie in 1939 at the Laurel Theater in Long Beach. It was The Wizard of Oz and the gleaming and glistening Emerald City would make a lifetime impression on her. In one form or another, my Mom spent her whole life trying to get back to Oz or to Wonderland. Everything she did was about making life wonderful, wondrous, beautiful and memorable.
She created beauty as a fashion designer in the '50s and '60s, as an accomplished artist in oils and watercolors into the 90s and in all the many kind things she did in a second career as a social worker. Mom was a very pretty woman but was not vain or materialistic, never snobby, never uttering an unkind word about anyone, not a gossip, always soft-spoken and generous to a fault with her heart to her immediate and extended family and monetarily to charity.
She was infused with a joy of life and constantly sought out ways to make others happy. Your birthday was cause for celebration on a magnitude of the Royal Family. In some ways she was like Julie the Cruise Director on The Love Boat, always planning fun activities for everyone. I have so many thousands of happy memories that it will take years to recall them all.
Mom loved me unconditionally and believed in me. She was the last woman on this Earth who loved me that way. There were others like my late Grandmother and an aunt, but they too are gone now. That leaves an enormous hole in my heart that I don't know how will ever be refilled as I'm unfortunately single again these days and didn't have children.
Whenever I was confronted by a setback or disappointment, Mom had a way in just a few minutes to make everything seem OK. She had unflagging optimism even for herself in the face of several bouts of serious cancer throughout her life. She beat that disease sometimes by sheer force of will and never complained, was never dour and didn't let it impede her life.
At the end she was battling with eye problems, serious weight loss from a lack of eating, pulmonary fibrosis as a consequence of chemotherapy, the loss of her ability to take care of her personal needs and for the last few days, a rampaging pneumonia. Thanks to my Dad's devotion, she was able to live the last year of her life in her own home, sleep in her own bed, wear her own clothes and be surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She was embraced with the kind of love she gave everyone else and as her soul departed this world, I felt a piece of me leave with her.
Because I live close by, this past year I'd visit Mom almost every day, even if for just a few minutes. When concluding my visit I'd always give her a kiss and tell her "I love you Mom." And almost until the end she'd kiss me back and from somewhere find the presence of mind to say "I love you too Howard." And so it is that a mother's love lives forever in your heart even if there's no more Mother's Day in your life.
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