The photo above: My mother Marion, my grandmother Ruth, and me in London, England April 2014
Roughly four years ago, I wrote a Mother’s Day article dedicated to my mother which spanned three generations: My granny, my mum, me and my sister Ruth:
I followed that up with an article about my grandmother Ruth and her incredible story:
I am sad to say that my beloved granny Ruth passed away on April 21, 2018 almost exactly four years after the above photo was taken. Amazingly, she was 95 years old, died peacefully in her sleep, in her own home, and was surrounded by loved ones. As far as dying goes, that is probably what everyone hopes for. Even though her quality of life was terrible for the past three years, her passing was felt deeply and mournfully by all of us and everyone who’s life she touched.
Granny Ruth has always been an angel in my life and one of my greatest guides and even though I was devastated to hear she had passed, the next day, I felt a renewed strength and could feel her right there with me. Not only that, but her death has bridged a gap between me and my mother Marion which has been incredibly healing. Watching my own mother lose her mother has given me a much deeper compassion for the incredibly complicated yet rich bond which many mothers and daughters share.
Through watching my mother navigate a relationship with a mother who lost almost everyone in the Holocaust and was deeply traumatized as a result- meaning she wasn’t very present as a mother for her three children which led to deep suffering for all of them; and to then witness my mother’s deep forgiveness of what her mother was unable to provide and to feel just the PURE LOVE she felt for her, was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
This example allowed me to let go of many grievances I had been holding against my own mother and made me see how I still had many- mostly unconscious- judgements against her for how she mothered me. Add to that the fact that I have been facing some really challenging issues in my own life of late; let’s just say I’ve become a lot softer and more receptive to the people I previously believed had harmed me in any way.
And guess who one of my greatest supporters, cheerleaders, and guides has been over my own recent “dark night of the soul”? You guessed it- my mother. Even after all the crap we’ve been through over the years, she rose immediately to my side when I reached out and asked for her help and replied: “Of course I’ll help you Esther. I’ll do whatever it takes to help get you through this. That’s my job- I’m your mother.”
Hearing those words alone on the other end of the phone from my mother- words I never expected to hear- was the beginning of my healing. I knew in that moment, that no matter what struggles we’ve had in our relationship, my mother would do ANYTHING for me in my time of need. She gave me the greatest gift and I will cherish it forever. After hearing her say those words, so much old pain and heavy, dark baggage fell away from me and lightened my load. At this point, I have no interest in dwelling on how my mum got things in the past WRONG but am now focusing on all the things she is doing, and has done in recent years, on getting it RIGHT between us- and there are too many to count. I feel much more peaceful, lighter, and a lot more loving and compassionate to the woman who gave me life.
I see and feel so clearly now, more than ever before, that my mother struggled raising me because her mother struggled raising her. Something else that is in 100% clear focus: my weaknesses and struggles are NOT MY FAULT. Fate handed me a serious case of multigenerational trauma- 32 of my relatives were murdered in the Holocaust and 4 (including my dear granny Ruth) escaped to Canada and survived. My grandmother lived from the age of 16 (when she escaped Latvia to flee to Canada) under the incredibly heavy weight of the blanket of ‘survivor guilt’. She never got over the fact that her life was spared, and most of her family members weren’t.
In other words, she felt guilty for simply being alive. As a result, she functioned like a human robot, never stopping to enjoy the little pleasures of life and constantly denying herself anything indulgent or rewarding. Her entire existence was focused on giving to others, being kind, and in my view- being the Jewish female version of the Dalai Lama. What she mostly spoke about was the existence of injustice in the world and what we could do to equalize things for all to live in peace. To say that’s a hard act to follow would be an understatement. I don’t even try anymore.
As a therapist, I believed she lived with the most severe PTSD for the rest of her life after fleeing the Nazis and was in the “frozen” stance for most of it. She didn’t fight nor flee- she froze. She was someone I would describe as not inhabiting the human body- there was barely any awareness of her five senses. She saw her body as a very practical vehicle to simply get the job of living done and spent 98% of her time hanging out in her head- she lived from ‘the neck up’ and was one of the most educated and brilliant women of her generation. She spoke and read five languages fluently, was a Biologist, read at least one book every 2-3 days, volunteered constantly, entertained non-stop and was deeply involved in political discussions and activism. She gave practically all of her extra money to charities devoted to helping others in need, marched in countless demonstrations and called on local politicians to act humanely to those who were disadvantaged.
What I’ve recently learned about motherhood from my mother and grandmother
Being a mother is most likely the hardest job on earth and is not for the faint of heart
I seriously question whether my mother and grandmother (and maybe all mothers) would have become mothers if they had any preconceived notion of what suffering it would bring in the future
All mothers are imperfect, flawed, and dysfunctional in some ways and that will affect their children
Note on last point: This is inevitable, unavoidable and perfectly workable. May I suggest to all new mothers that you start a ‘therapy fund’ when your children are small to help them with this fact later on
When you give birth, you are not given a guidebook and you pretty-much have to ‘wing it’ and therefore, we should be more compassionate to all mothers just for this fact alone
Despite the fact that your mother was either: the worst, so-so, or the finest mother on earth, you can always choose to see her as a spiritual teacher and will gain so many invaluable lessons and insights if you choose to do so
Despite their unique challenges and life circumstances, my grandmother and mother never gave up on their children and did their best to provide whatever they could to their offspring
For Granny Ruth
May your beautiful spirit rest in peace and may you be reunited with your family at long last. I feel you here with me in my heart and soul at all times and will never forget what you taught me. You are still my angel and I shall continue to consult you when I need your unconditional love and wisdom. Thank you for everything you gave and taught me.
For Mother Marion
I see now that it is no accident that we are mother and daughter. I will admit I was quite confused about this pairing growing up but as a wise woman, I now get the deeper meaning. You have been, and continue to be, one of my greatest role models of a brilliant, independent, deeply courageous truth-seeker and guide. You, too, live in my heart and I carry you with me wherever I go. Lastly, you are one tough nut and not to be reckoned with- you’ve taught me everything I know about not taking shit from anyone and fighting for what is right. Thank you for everything- especially being my greatest spiritual teacher.