On Feb. 22, 1985, my mother wrote me a letter. I have not read it until today.

On that cold February night, Mom came into my room. She patiently waited until I was off the telephone, and then handed the neatly folded letter to me.

Knowing how emotional I’d be, she said, “I know you won’t talk about my death, so I wrote this.” Little did she know I would be too frightened to open her letter for more than 30 years.

We started to hug, but stopped ourselves. We weren’t getting along. We never did.

Mom quietly left me alone in my room. We never referred to her death again.

I was on a cleaning kick this winter. While going through my bottom bureau drawer, I came across the letter. Remembering so vividly what it was about, I nearly threw it out. But I didn’t.

“Dear Saralee,” she wrote. “Regarding the inevitable, I would like a proper funeral at Levinson’s Funeral Home.”

Thank God I had arranged that. The funeral room had enough seats for hundreds. Yet, there were only a dozen or so people there.

My mother had lost friends because she was hard to get along with. Her family had stopped talking to her. How sad to still “see” that giant room with only a few people in the first row.

After her pathetic funeral, where the rabbi went on and on about how great her life was, we all gathered in my parents’ home. I’ll never understand why people were laughing and seemingly having a good time, all the while eating fancy, catered hors d’oeuvres and drinking whiskey out of sparkling crystal glasses.

At the “party,” everyone had a small piece of torn black cloth pinned to their clothing. This symbolized that our hearts were torn. It seemed unfitting, given the festive mood.

My mother wrote, “Request Ner Israel Rabbinical College to say perpetual Kaddish for me.” She wanted to be remembered with this yearly candle and a prayer. So little to ask for. It’s such a damned shame I hadn’t read her letter.

At the end, she wrote, “I love you dearly.” And signed it, “Mom.”

She had never said those words to me, nor I to her. I created such heartache for my mother. There were times when I had the gall to stop talking to her.

Yet, underneath my mother’s and my relationship of anguish, I believe there was gracious, enduring love.

I held her letter to my heart before I looked up the words of Kaddish and silently said them to myself.

“May there be abundant peace from heaven and life upon us and upon all Israel.”

I lit a small candle. At least on this day, someone will have remembered my mother. Then I carefully put the letter back in my bureau drawer, where it will remain for the rest of my life.



Nationally syndicated award-winning columnist Saralee Perel can be reached at sperel@saraleeperel.com or via her website: www.SaraleePerel.com.

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