It’s funny how one phone call can clarify big life lessons. It’s not even 9 a.m. and I just finished an hour of Facetiming with one of my best friends in Brooklyn. As she packed her son’s lunch, I drank my coffee and nursed my baby while we caught up on everything from work to kids to our mental health.
When I called this same friend a year ago to tell her that my mother had died unexpectedly, she burst into tears on the phone. A few days later she and her husband, also one of my best friends, left their son to be with me in Boston, where my family lives, as we all said goodbye to my mother. It was apparent to me in that moment that they were making a great effort to be with me, but it took me much longer to appreciate the real gift behind their presence: to accept help and to let go of the things that just didn’t matter.
Needing help is uncomfortable for me, and having help arrive without asking for it is even more uncomfortable. I have always prided myself of being the one to do, to fix, to support in times of need. In this moment, help arrived in quantities that were hard for me to digest. Friends drove, flew, and walked to stand next to me. People called and sent food and flowers and memories. I tried to take it all in and accept it with gratitude, but those days and weeks are a blur that is only just beginning to become clear.
I flew back to Israel two weeks after my mother passed, back to my husband and kids, back to a life she had never witnessed, and it put distance between what had just happened. In some ways, that distance protected me, and in other ways, I felt isolated. I thought that once we told people that my mom died, held a service, and sat shiva, the support would have run its course. It didn’t.
In the 12 months since my mother’s death, my friends and family show up every day. They do simple things like call, Facetime, or send links to things they know I will appreciate. They also do big things, like send cards and packages and even visit us here in Israel. They open their homes unabashedly when we visit the US and drive distances just to have dinner together. They do things that continue to astound and shock me, things that I know I would do for them, but somehow feel overwhelming in their goodness.
My emotions are mixed and my feelings compounded because just months before my mother died, my husband and I moved our family from the United States to Israel. As this was our decision, I felt even more the pressure to maintain my friendships, to be the one to call, write, and visit, to make sure not to forget a birthday or a due date. One of my concerns with moving to Israel (and there were many!) was being so far from the network of friends and family that I had built over more than three decades. Would our relationships survive the distance? Could I be a good enough friend to truly maintain the closeness that existed before I changed country and time zone?
It was the combination of the move and the loss of my mother that taught me to truly try and live in the present. As this is more art than science, I focus on the trying. The revelation that life is not a give and take, but an ongoing ebb and flow of needs and ability, allows me to be open and receive help and love in all its many forms. In many ways, I feel like I have operated under the assumption that each life stage would come with an achievement: graduation, marriage, pregnancy, children, promotion, etc. While some of these things have already come to pass, this year has taught me to stand still and be grateful for what exists today and in this moment.
Mainly, I now understand that it is OK to receive the love and support of my partner, my friends, and my family, and know that I don’t owe them something in return. There is no scoreboard in these relationships, keeping track of who called who last, who sent a gift, who visited; these relationships are a living, breathing thing that can always be impacted and that love is not wasted in the giving.
I would in no way choose for this to be the way that I learned these lessons. If it meant that I could call my mom or sit on her bed and laugh even for a moment, I would be happy to be a less evolved person. My mother was funny and honest and true and did not waste her time on things that didn’t matter. She also valued her friendships and love of family above all. As the dust clears, I am grateful that she continues to teach me, even in her absence.