Even After The Rituals, The Longing For My Mother Remains

Even After The Rituals, The Longing For My Mother Remains

When the comedian Louie Anderson died last January, I felt bereft. I had come to Louie fandom later in my life, through his portrayal of Christine Baskets, based on his own mother Ora, on the dark FX comedy series, Baskets. 

Christine was the first mother on television that reminded me of my mom, Lynn. In the series, Christine genuinely tries to support her dreamy, self-defeating son Chip (Zach Galifianakis)-even when she doesn’t understand him. 

There were obvious ways that Christine reminded me of Lynn-she adorned herself in bright colors and bold costume jewelry as my mom did. Christine was a Costco enthusiast and devotee; my mom could enter a TJ Maxx and emerge like she’d been boutique shopping in Manhattan or Milan. 

Even deeper, though, was Christine’s ability to encourage Chip on his strange artistic path. Lynn was a cheerleader for my own creative efforts, from the Dada-esque poetry I wrote for the high school school litmag to my self-scripted prose-poem about menstruation that I performed in college while dancing with a live bald python. 

Until I found my way, I was the struggling Chip to her grounded Christine. When Mrs. Baskets said, “I just want Chip to be happy,” I heard Mom’s voice, loud and clear. 

I watched the series back when Mom was alive, when she sent me texts with dozens of emojis throughout the day. Now, nineteen months after her death, I want to return and thank her for what her unconditional love meant to me. 

The world moved on from Louie Anderson’s death. I let go of my hope for a Baskets reunion that might give me another glimpse of Mom again. 

*** 

The ancient Jewish structure for mourning helped me to grieve through the first year when feelings of loss felt huge and at times, unstoppable. Time is marked for the griever with rituals of remembering in increments-the first week, the first thirty days, the first year. My mom died unexpectedly from complications of an emergency surgery in September 2020, so her pandemic funeral was with family only, outdoors at the gravesite, no meal together after. I delivered her eulogy masked and sobbing. There was loss within the loss when I couldn’t hug my siblings, father or nephews. Shiva on zoom, with family members and friends gathering each night from across the world in different time zones to share stories of Mom was profound and gave me a place to bring all of the feelings, even bursts of uncontrolled laughter that she would have loved.

From our respective homes, four hours apart from each other, my father and I started joining a weekly morning service over Zoom to say Kaddish, the prayer recited for loved ones we have lost. Last fall, a year after mom died, was another ritual moment: we came together for the unveiling ceremony of her gravestone. My parents’ rabbi asked us children and grandkids to share how we see mom living within each other. This time, all vaccinated, we held each other. My child gathered stones and we put them on her grave. 

In the Jewish tradition, when the year of mourning ends, Kaddish is recited on the yahrzeit, the anniversary of your loved ones’ death, and again at several memorial services held throughout the year. 

But each Wednesday morning, my Dad and I still meet for morning services on Zoom and when the rabbi asks us to put in the chat whom we’re remembering today for the Kaddish, I type wife and mother Lynn. One of the other morning minyan regulars who never met my mother has commented a few times, I feel Lynn’s presence here. 

I nod my head yes. That is what I’m seeking. 

*** 

I wear my Mom’s clothes: her t-shirts with glittered patterns that say things like Embrace Your Strength and her Isaac Mizrahi jeans, her many raincoats and hoodies, the sweatshirt she got when she was a movie extra in Denzel Washington’s ‘Unstoppable’, her silk blouse and dresses on the two or three times a year when I need to dress up. I wear her shoes: hot pink sneakers, and purple Uggs. 

I am taller than Mom was and my body is shaped differently but somehow the same size fits me exactly right. She is with me when I wear her things, even though the smell of her that was on them when I first sorted out all of her drawers and closets have faded with washing. 

I have one bottle of the perfume that she wore for the last few years of her life, fresh cream by Philosophy. It was nearly full on her dresser on the day that she never came back home. 

I wake up some days and spray fresh cream into the air, step in its mist, and breathe. I spray a little bit on my wrists and sniff it through the day. 

I think about the moment when I will spray the last of what’s in that bottle. I won’t replace it, it won’t be a bottle touched by her. I’ll put flowers in it and place them on my altar with the photos of my siblings and me, my teenage children when they were babies, my grandparents young and laughing, and mom and dad with the three of us when we are kids. 

When I wake up in the morning, I’ll say thank you, Mom. 

***

When I meet Mom in my dreams, it’s always fleeting. 

One night, on the deck of a train car, she held out her hand to me. I was walking through the train cars as the train was moving forward, but the train moved at a pace where I could not catch up to touch her. 

Another time, she came sitting in a gray wrought iron chair that we kept in the garden of my childhood home. When I saw her, she said, ‘Gab, what are you going to do about it?’ knowing that she was naming a problem that I had been avoiding. I knew, in dream time, that if I moved towards her and said anything in response that she would leave, so I tried to lucidly just stay where I was, at the edge of the garden fence, and be with her while she was sitting there in the green grass and azaleas, waiting for my response. 

I couldn’t stop time, even in my dream. I finally began to tell her what I would do, then, as I knew what would happen, I woke up and she was gone. 

This will be my second Mother’s Day without her here. She made fun of Mother’s Day, she called it a Hallmark day. We didn’t have special family traditions connected to it, though I remember always making her a card telling her how I loved her, which she loved. 

Seeing Mother’s Day coming on the calendar and making plans with my own family, I think to myself, this is not an extra grief day because Mother’s day wasn’t her day. Then I catch myself in that longing, wanting to laugh at Mother’s Day with her, again. 


Gabrielle ‘Ariella’ Kaplan-Mayer is a passionate Jewish educator and author. She serves as the Chief Program Officer at Jewish Learning Venture. Gabrielle teaches online writing workshops at the intersection of creative writing and spiritual growth.

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