A Tribute to My Amazing Mom by Jori Lichtman
In just two weeks, I’ll be the same age my mom was when she lost both of her parents – 38. Her dad, who was way ahead of his time, getting his daily fiber fix from apples and oatmeal (never the instant variety!) way before All Bran Bars saw the light of day, suffered a heart attack at the age of 70. Six months later, her mom, a smoker on the other end of the health spectrum, lost her battle to pancreatic cancer at the age of 60.
Approaching the age my mom was when she became an orphan, I know how incredibly lucky I am to have both my parents with me (and as a very big part of my life!). While she is not famous and she is perfectly imperfect, she is one of the strongest people I know.
My mom was a full-time English teacher for 25 years and has been an active supply teacher for about 20 years. In her late 60s, she still wakes up at 6:00 when called for a supply position, driving from Bathurst and Lawrence to as far as Maple for a day’s work. As a devoted reader of fiction, she became my official proof-reader 30 years ago when I began writing short stories, and she still boasts that title today. Not a paragraph is published without her eyes on it first. In high school and university, when I panicked about exams and essays, she listened to and comforted me – often very late into the night. Looking back now, especially as a mom myself, I can see just how exhausting I was! But if she was tired — which she no doubt was — she never showed it.
You could also call her The Good Wife. She has stood by my dad through many ups and downs. And she has shown incredible strength in the face of a terribly sad and difficult situation – being shut out of her son’s and his family’s lives, which translates into not being able to see two of her cherished seven grandchildren. In her own blog, she has shared charming stories of the five grandkids she does see (often!) and most recently wrote a funny and touching piece that brought friends and family to tears and giggles, to honor her late father, my Zaidy Dave, who passed away 30 years ago. She is currently working on a blog to honor her mom, Helen, and mark 30 years since she’s been gone. I have no doubt it will be equally special and touching. My Kleenex is ready.
My sister, Elissa, who is 2 1/2 years older than me, has also always felt a very close bond with our mom. They speak almost daily, and she solicits our mom’s opinion on everything from kid stuff to friend stuff to fashion stuff and everything in between. In Elissa’s words: “I can always rely on her to speak the truth — which is quite refreshing when you have to tiptoe around others. And it’s amazing to have a mom who is as in love with my kids as I am and truly appreciates their inner beauty and sweet, unique features.”
Maybe because she learned early on that life is short and shouldn’t be wasted on negativity, my mom is forgiving, kind, and abundantly generous with her time and affection. Oh, and she never holds a grudge. One minute, we may be arguing, but the next, we say, “I love you.” That’s just the way it is and always has been. That’s something, she insists, she learned by example. Her mom and dad just wouldn’t allow each other or their kids to EVER go to bed angry. It just did not happen in their home. Not a bad rule to enforce.
Living just minutes away from my family, she is there for us literally whenever we need her.
Perhaps this piece would be most appropriate in May when Mother’s Day love is in the air, but if you ask me, there’s no better time like the present to broadcast my love and appreciation for my mom. And the truth is, I’ve never asked her these types of questions, so in some ways I feel like I’m learning about my mom for the first time. So here goes, a window into an incredibly loving and strong woman…my mom.
What was it like to be an orphan at 38 years old and how did you find the strength to keep going?
Because my parents died within such close proximity, time wise, I felt I didn’t really have the wherewithal to mourn each of them deservedly. I was raising a young family of three kids with a husband who was not around a lot…and when he was, he was often counterproductive. Fortunately, he’s a much more “hands-on” Zayde. So I really had to be “in the moment” and be there for my kids in the best way I possibly could. I remember saying to myself: Cheryle, you can lie around in bed all day and mope about your lot in life. Or you can get up, teach your classes, and enjoy the camaraderie of the kind and sensitive staff with whom you work, the many devoted friends who have become your incredible support system, the glorious family you’re raising to be the very best they can be, and you can thank G-d for your lot in life. It was only later on that I realized just how hard I had taxed myself with personal expectations, deciding this past year to write blogs/legacies about both of my parents.
What do you miss most about your parents?
For me, this is a two-part question/answer. I have always said I miss what you, my children missed. You missed having the most devoted, adoring grandparents ever. Their grandkids were their raison d’être. Fortunately, you had them for a while, until you were eight, and your sister and brother were going on 11 and 12. But they really were your champions and cheerleaders from the time you were born.
For me personally, I missed the everyday interactions and communications. To this day, when I become overwhelmed by a problem, I ask myself: what would Mom say, advise, suggest? Or Dad, depending on the situation. I would like to add that Mom always held the practical point of view; Dad held more idealistic views. So, for affairs of the heart, during those confusing and often difficult teenage years, I could definitely find balanced sources, though not necessarily balanced outcomes.
What do you love most about being a Bubby?
My precious grandchildren arrived kicking and screaming, filled with wild and wonderful curiosity, and their innocence and candor never cease to astound me. When I watch them, listen to them, embrace them, I can never get enough of them. Perhaps I am obsessed, but in a good way. They give me strength, boundless love, joy, comic relief, and cherished pearls of wisdom. How truly blessed I am!
What 3 pieces of wisdom can you share with your kids and grandkids?
1. Always keep learning. We can never know enough, ask too many questions, satisfy one’s fiercely inquisitive nature. As a teacher of 46 years, I try to learn something new each day. And I almost always tell my students that they have something to teach me…because they do. Even when I’m not mindful of the learning process, I know I am learning something. I read somewhere that teachers don’t teach for the income; they teach for the outcome.
2. Positive thinking may sound cliché, but it’s a terrifically powerful tool. There are times when you may think you’re entitled to that ‘pity party’. Don’t go there. The sun will come out tomorrow or the day after. You know it will. Remember that.
3. Always count your blessings. You likely have more than most. Enjoy them, treasure them…and while you’re at it, make more, find more. They’re there…if you look hard enough.
Mom, happy non-Mother’s Day! We love you so much and we are all so lucky and blessed to have you.
Jori Lichtman is a 2015 Momentum Trip Participant with the Village Shul.