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No Longer Afraid of Turbulence May 24, 2013

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I expected this mother’s day to be hard, but I calmly deleted dozens of FTD emails that came to my email box and smiled when I saw my beautiful mother’s face popping up on a facebook reminder to “buy her a gift.”

Considering how close I was with my mom, I was shocked by how little pain I felt after her death this January, and by how easily I was able to return to normal life, work and fun.

She would have wanted it that way. More than anyone I ever met, my mother detested funerals and other formal events like graduations. Though she was not rich, she would rather cut a check for the expenses of a funeral for a friend in need than to formally confront a subject that she felt made life less fun: dying.

My mom was so good at life, she didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about death. I’m a bit more morbid. Here are some of the surprising things I learned about myself, life, love and death through her sudden and premature departure.

1. Death gave me a chance to feel Love is Not Linear: Time is linear, but love is not. When my mother died, I cried myself to sleep that night and couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. I thought it may be like that for weeks. The next day I leaped out of bed, rather to attack the mountain of work that comes with the death of a loved one. In the weeks that came, I tried to figure out why a daughter so close to her mom could start smiling, eating, giving chess lectures, playing poker, drinking with friends so quickly. I realized that as cheesy as it sounds, I hadn’t really lost a mother. I still had a great mom, I just couldn’t call her anymore.

2. Atheism Didn’t Hurt Me: I thought the optimistic line of thought described above was reserved for the religious, who may believe that they’ll actually get a chance to see the departed again. I identify as Jewish but don’t really believe in god and do not think I will ever be able to hug or see my mom again, except in dreams. And yet I still felt immediate solace that she lingers on in her work- she was one of the first female chemistry professors at Drexel University, and founded a program to bring cutting edge science equipment to under-funded Philadelphia schools. Mom was always so devoted to gender and racial equality and I love this drawing, which a student drew after one of her grand displays of chemistry experiments to schoolchildren.

Her friends and family will always remember her “open door policy”, her seemingly boundless generosity and her passion for sports and cooking.

I felt like a different person right after her death and I think I instantly became more like her. At least the guests at her wake said my rendition of her coconut custard pie tasted more like something Sally would make than my own notorious cooking.

3. I’m no Longer Afraid of Dying, Especially on Planes: My mom hated flying and always wanted me to call her after landing. A couple months after her death, I was on a particularly turbulent flight and realized that I was far less afraid of dying than before, both on that plane and in general. One of my biggest nightmares before mom’s death was perishing in some freak accident and then imagining my mother finding out about it. No longer a problem! This may sound twisted & morbid (sorry dad!), but this lighter feeling is not all bad.

4. I’m lucky have Greg: It’s great if you have the same thoughts on death, money, property and other related issues as your siblings. Since that’s nearly impossible, it’s good to get along so that when disagreements arise, you can deal without resentment and with love. I was never more grateful for my friendship with my brother than after the death of my mother. My dad was also great- we were all so proud to see over a hundred girls participate in the Dr. Sally Solomon Memorial chess tournament held at Drexel this April.

5. I’ll Say Something Next Time: I was so happy about the outpouring of support from friends, co-workers and family, many of whom had never met my mother. Before my mom died, I sometimes debated whether I knew someone well enough to offer condolences, and occasionally decided that approaching the subject may make the person feel uncomfortable. Now I’ll always err on the side of saying something, even if it’s just a stock “my thoughts are with you.” Most people call in the first days or send notes in the first days or weeks, so if you forget, you can be a friend to talk to when there are not as many around.

6. Small Things Didn’t Nag Me: On January 16, I was at a friend’s house just two blocks away from my mom’s place, eating sushi and catching up with my best friends’ lives. We wrapped up around 10. I thought about walking over and saying hi to Mom—she was a nightowl and always liked it when I dropped in unannounced especially when armed with leftover California rolls. I thought again. I was starting to feel a bit sick and I knew Mom had just gotten over a flu, and didn’t want to give her another bug. I went straight home.

My mom died the next day.

One of the things my mom’s death taught me was that it’s not important for everyone to “say goodbye”. I thought the sushi story would bother me for a while, but again, logic prevailed and rather than haunted, I was consoled that I lived in Philadelphia for her final years, and was able to see her so frequently.

As spring finally bloomed, the same friends I met that bitter winter night posited, this time over beers, that my life in games helped me approach the worst event of my life with optimism. There’s no sense in dwelling over a poor chess move or an untimely bluff, especially when you are in the midst of the struggle.

I think mom would have smiled to see how fully I share her belief that life is too short for formalities you don’t believe in, or to play along with grief that you don’t actually feel. I smiled rather than cried thinking of Mom this Mother’s Day and I thank her for passing on to me whatever combination of strength and serotonin made that possible.


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