Today was my mother’s unveiling ceremony. If you have never been to one, it literally is a ceremony where a headstone is unveiled and it is held within one year of the person’s death if they are Jewish. Planning it, from selecting the headstone, to writing the words that will live on long after I am gone, and planning all of the other details was, as I saw it, one of the last things that I could to honour a woman that I so admired. My sister, Michele and I decided last night, that I would say a few words. It was harder doing this than it was giving the eulogy at my mother’s funeral. The shock and numbness that I felt that day could no longer protect me from what I was feeling. There is a sense, on a day like this, of a wound that had never closed, reopening. Seeing my mother’s headstone reminded me that this loss is real, and now, it had a tangible aspect that it never had before.
I did not prepare or write down anything for today’s service. I just had a very vague idea of what I wanted to say. Some of my family, who could not be at the service, asked if I could blog about it; others who were there did not hear everything, asked for the same. Here is the gist of what I said:
“I first want to thank you all for coming out on such a cold day. Some of you, like my cousin, had to travel from out of town. My aunt is in from Ottawa, but I know that she had always planned on being here, for her sister. When coming up with the epitaph for my mother’s headstone, it was difficult to summarize everything that I was feeling in 5 words or less. Some of you many think, when you see it, that I was seeing my mother through rose-coloured glasses. That the words came from a child’s love for her mother. I actually took the words from Rabbi Chaim (Harold) Zelikovitz.
After my mother died, I showed my aunt my grandfather’s siddur (prayer book). It has to be about 100 years old. Harold had written a passage in it when my Zaydie died. She suggested that I should ask him to send me something about my mother, and here are his words:
Judith Zelikovitz Schneiderman returned her heroic, courageous and dearly beloved soul to her maker on 17 Adar 5778 (March 3, 2018). May she find comfort forever in the everlasting world. Rest peacefully. Never to be forgotten.
That is where the words for the epitaph – Heroic, Courageous and Dearly Beloved – come from. They seemed to perfectly describe my amazing mother who was exactly the person that I remember her to be.
We know that the loss of our mother does not just belong to me and my sisters. It belongs to all of you as well. You all miss her too. We wanted to make sure that we reflected that loss on her headstone.
I know how cold it is out, but I wanted to thank just a few more people. Emily, Narda, Grace, Julia and Angel – you all put the care in caregiver. You treated my mother like a cherished family member, not just a patient. You gave my sisters and me peace of mind and cared for our mother 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are forever grateful to you. My mother cared about you all too. She would be deeply touched and so appreciative of the turn out today, and we are too.”
I had the chance to speak with some of my mother’s very close friends and her dear cousins today. It was so touching hearing what they thought of her. One of her friends told me that my mother would have been so proud today – that everything was done perfectly. That meant a lot to me, but no matter how perfect it was, it will never seem like enough. Today reminded me of how I felt the week that my mother died. I wondered, then, how something could be awful and beautiful at the same time. That week, my family, including my cherished mother, were surrounded by people and with so much love, even as we were losing her. Today, we were once again, surrounded with love, but this time, we all had to deal with the pain of her absence.
When I asked the Rabbi, who officiated at the unveiling, months ago where my mother would be once she died, he said something incredibly profound. He said, “The best way to explain it is that your mother will be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.” That still makes perfect sense to me.