Latest update: June 12th, 2012
It’s been a year now since my mother passed away at the age of 98. In my writings, I try to focus on better ways to understand family dynamics, how to deal with our children and become better parents, spouses and friends. I believe most every event we experience in our lives gives us something to learn from. Even more so, I have come to believe that events we cannot make any sense of when they happen have some potential to make us better people – including those we deal with on a regular basis: our friends, children, parents, etc.
In this two-part article, I would like to share some of my memories of my mother, and to connect those memories to learning about better relationships.
I hesitate to say that my mother was a very special woman. Not that it isn’t true, but rather I don’t want to minimize the millions of other mothers who are, or were, special to their children. Thank G-d my mother had a very full life – a life of giving to others and caring about everyone. As this year of aveilus (mourning) comes to an end, I can’t help but reminisce about the good and bad times, the happy and the sad.
My mother was born and raised in the state of Georgia and my father in Germany. I remember growing up in Georgia during the days of segregation and learning from my parents to look beyond the popular beliefs of the time and see the good in all people. I remember our nanny who practically raised us and how my brothers and I loved her as much as she loved us.
I remember my maternal grandparents (and the impact of never knowing my paternal grandparents who were slaughtered in the Holocaust). They were extraordinary. For as long as I could remember my grandmother was an invalid. In those days they weren’t sure why she couldn’t walk, but I remember hearing that maybe she had multiple sclerosis. I remember how my mother used to go over to my grandparent’s home on a daily basis to assist my grandfather and the caregivers. I remember being in the third grade and moving in with my grandparents for almost six months while our house was being built. Years later my parents had added to our home and my grandparents and my mother’s aunt came to live with us. As a child, I never realized how much of a strain this was on my parents.
The love between my grandparents was something rarely seen, even today. My fondest memory is seeing them sitting together in front of the television, my grandfather in a large comfortable chair and my grandmother in her wheelchair, holding hands. It still amazes me that I can’t remember them ever arguing or raising their voices to one another. Every day my grandfather would put my grandmother in their old Studebaker and they would go out for a ride. And their love encompassed others – I always felt special when I would go with them.
When we were very young my father managed an abattoir (slaughter house) for a Jewish family in the small city we lived. After the plant closed, my father began working as a traveling salesman. My mother was always busy with us boys, and shopping and taking care of her parents and aunt. She never complained, and even found time to volunteer in our small Jewish community. Life in a small southern city wasn’t easy. My parents always struggled. Yet, somehow, I remember them always being there for others. Whether it was my grandparents, our extended family, my father’s employees, colleagues or family friends, everyone seemed to come to my parents if they needed help.
As a teen, I was always curious and searching, though I didn’t know what I was searching for. At some point I told my parents I wanted to go to military school. Though they couldn’t afford it, they borrowed the money and I went to military school for my last three years of high school. It was there that I became very curious about my yiddishkeit. My parents identified strongly with Judaism, but we had very little real knowledge. My early life was surrounded by prejudice and racism, yet my parents always stressed the importance of equality. With the help of my religious paternal aunt and uncle who lived in New York, I enrolled in one of the only yeshivas for boys without a background in Judaism on the day I graduated from high school.
I remember calling to tell my parents after I met my eishes chayil, and how they totally accepted her and her family before even meeting them. They insisted on making a vort (engagement party) for us in Georgia. Oh, what memories. Until her final day, my mother took great pride in calling my wife “her daughter” – as she used to say, she loved her as if she had given birth to her.
I remember enrolling in Yeshiva University as a freshman, though older than all the other boys. About two years later my younger brother (number three out of the four boys) came to join me in New York. Soon he became ill and my mother came to New York to help take care of him. I remember my brother going into remission and meeting his future wife. Like yesterday I remember my wife and I finding out that the cancer had returned and privately meeting with his future wife and telling her that she had many reasons not to go ahead with the wedding. She refused to call off the wedding and she and my mother nursed him into his final days.
My mother was always proud of her family. She also loved having birthday parties and having as many family members as possible join her. She would say people always come for sad events and should equally come to celebrate happy occasions. She made herself a seventy-fifth birthday party and taught us to celebrate the good times.
My mother was always strong during the difficult and sad times. She nursed my two brothers and father in their illnesses but never got over burying them. Nevertheless, she was a real trooper and hid her grief to be strong for others.
In her ninety-eighth year she beat pneumonia twice. She always said that she would know when her time was up – and she did. People would ask her what she attributed her many years to. Though she was not raised in a religious home, she would always say that Hashem knew what He was doing. We learn in the Torah when one honors parents the reward is a long life. She was certainly proof of this.
My clients and family have often heard me say that people learn what they live and live what they learn. As I reminisce, I realize that this is how I was brought up.
A famous saying that many of us have seen goes like this:
“G-d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.”
Perhaps this should be labelled the “Parent’s Prayer” for we need to keep this in mind as we raise our children and deal with the trials and tribulations of daily life.
In Part II of this article, I will share with you ways and means of finding serenity and wisdom in this crazy world we find ourselves living in.
Mr. Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. He is also a family therapist and certified specialist in Anger Management and conducts many therapeutic workshops in various topics. Regesh runs many programs helping families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. To arrange a speaking engagement, contact Mr. Schild. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.regesh.com. See our second website specific to our enhanced anger management clinic at www.regeshangerclinic.com.
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