My mother died last August. This is the blog post I wrote shortly afterwards about the legacy she left:
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the recent death of my mother, Renee Eisenberg, at 84, brought our family closer than we’ve ever been. This makes me grateful, and it’s also something that would have delighted my mom.
Sadly, many other families have the opposite experience.
Death Ruins Some Families
In the video on our site called “Funeral Planning Can Break Up Families,” one woman painfully explains that her family was fighting over her brother’s ashes, “which haven’t even been scattered around yet.” Francine Russo, author of They’re Your Parents, Too!, wrote a wrenching Next Avenue article revealing that at her mother’s funeral, her sister wasn’t speaking to her and her father wouldn’t look her in the eye.
While interviewing people for her book, Russo asked a hospice priest why some families come together over a parent’s deathbed while others fight. His response: “The ones who fight? They think it’s all about them. They don’t realize, This is about Mom. She’s the one who’s dying.”
We All Came Together
Our family, thankfully, understood.
My 22-year-old son, Will, flew in from California to spend time with Nana in the hospital, where she was dying from pulmonary fibrosis. Although he and my 23-year-old son, Aaron, were feverishly working to make their deadline for a web video series competition (which they won), Will was prepared to stay with us in New Jersey until, well … none of us wanted to say it, but we knew: until my mom’s funeral and the subsequent days of shiva, the Jewish period of mourning.
Aaron shuttled back and forth from his Manhattan apartment to hold my mom’s hand in her hospital room and to tell her what he was up to, even when none of us knew whether she could hear him. His touching and, characteristically hysterical, eulogy at the funeral brought tears and laughs to us all.
My sister, Robin, and her partner Bean, cut short their long-anticipated New England vacation, moved out of their Philadelphia home and moved in with my wife, Liz, and me so they could see Mom as much as possible.
Every day, Robin, Bean, Liz and I switched off chauffeuring my dad and my mom’s live-in caregiver, Mary, from Dad’s apartment to my mom’s hospital room. We found ourselves working as a unit, funneling information to each other about the latest news from the many doctors and nurses, who sometimes had contradictory and confusing information for us.
Consulting with my dad, and mindful of my mom’s living will instructions, we jointly decided to move my mom into hospice-in-the-hospital. I like to think that our growing familial bonds helped prevent my mom from suffering, at least more than necessary.
Stories and Surprises About Nana
During Mom’s final weeks, camped out in her hospital room, Robin, Dad, Liz, Bean, our close cousins and I regaled Aaron and Will with stories about Nana, as we rifled through photos of her throughout the years.
We read aloud the weathered postcards that my mother and her parents received decades ago from relatives and friends. Our cousins Alan and Ron gave us the backstories, so even Robin and I learned a few new things about Mom.
We told Aaron and Will how in the 1960s, my mom’s relatives and our family would gather monthly in a Newark, N.J., hotel room for their “Abramson Family Circle” meetings, each one closing with a rendition of “God Bless America,” the words “and the Abramson Family Circle” always added in for good measure. Dad recounted how he and Mom first dated and how her father put on the heat to get the two to marry.
My Mom’s Memorable Words
Often, we laughed about my mom’s unique vocabulary and her sense of humor. My mom always called my sons “delicious,” up until the time she was no longer able to speak.
Close to the end, when a rabbi came to visit her in the hospital, my mother said something that will always make me smile.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Eh!” she responded, shrugging.
Bean said: “But Renee, three minutes ago you said you were feeling good.”
Mom’s response: “That was three minutes ago!”
She was one delicious lady.
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