“My mom was smart, funny, completely nuts, and spoke her mind. She was a loyal ally who had your back 100%, but I pity the fool who dare cross her or her loved ones!”
With Mother’s Day approaching, I wanted to write a piece to memorialize my love for Naomi, who is my best friend, an amazing wife, and just the most wonderful mom to David, our 8 year old son. But, it also got me thinking about my mom, who passed away last November.
About 2 years ago, with my mom’s health starting to decline, my brother and I (and our terrific wives) attempted to convince my mom to move from Arizona to a nearby independent/assisted living community near us in Northern California. We knew my mom couldn’t take the winters in New Jersey, where my brother and his family lived. Once we got her to accept the reality that there were good doctors outside of the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic, we moved her to California.
My mom was smart, funny, completely nuts, and spoke her mind. She was a loyal ally who had your back 100%, but I pity the fool who dare cross her or her loved ones! My mom had no filter which was sort of unnerving because you never knew what she might say. After decades of studying her use of the English language and her tone, I got to figure out her own special language. For example, when she said something was “interesting” (which she said all.the.time), that was really code for I REALLY HATE IT. When she would begin a story that I heard about 20 times, I would say, “Mom, I’ve heard this story…” and she’d acknowledge me BUT keep telling the story! I’d often insert the punchline, and she’d tell me to “shut up” or just give me the finger (not in front of David, of course).
For 18 months, she had David over almost every Saturday for a sleepover– Free babysitting! My mom couldn’t understand why David loved having sleepovers every week. Really?! Pizza, too many desserts, lots of TV, going to bed late, AND hanging with his doting grandma who was wrapped around his finger… What’s not to love?
When my mom moved to California, Naomi was quick to initiate a tradition of Sunday family dinners. Naomi, my mom, and I got season tickets to the theater, and we would take her to movies. Naomi would often call her to check in or see if she needed anything when doing a Costco run.
Before my mom made the move to the left coast, Naomi spent so much time and effort on finding my mom a team of amazing new doctors. I loved seeing my mom and my wife become closer.
Once she made the move, I was very concerned that we would be part of a live re-enactment of Driving Miss Daisy. Thankfully, that did not happen. My mom quickly made friends, became a bingo aficionado, made planned movie dates with her new friends, and even started a weekly lunch club to explore local restaurants.
My mom was doing great and didn’t want to be a bother to us, but sometimes her not wanting to be a bother became a bother. Case in point would be a phone call on a Saturday morning, “Paul, could you do me a favor? Tomorrow can you take me to the emergency room?” My response, “Uuuuummmmm, how about I take you TODAY?” She quickly shot back, “I’m sure you have plans, and I don’t want to bother you.” I said I needed to call her back, and a minute later, I called back and simply told her that our plans got shifted around, and I’d be happy to take her to the emergency room. She said, “Terrific! I’ll be waiting outside in 15 minutes.”
That was her: Sydell Greenstone, but her gold necklace had a charm on it that said BUBBE. Before her first grandchild was born, she made it very clear that she didn’t want to be called GRANDMA, or Nana, or Memaw. She wanted to be called BUBBE.
“There aren’t many wives who would welcome their (sometimes crazy) mother-in-law to move nearby. And not just stop there, but regularly try to include her in our daily lives, but Naomi isn’t just any regular wife.”
Last November 2nd, Bubbe asked me to take her to the E.R., and I did. On the afternoon of November 3rd, I spent some time with her in the hospital. We chatted, laughed, and she seemed weak but OK. Before she kicked me out, we hugged and kissed, and told each other that we loved one another.
At 7am the next morning, my mom’s nurse called me to say that Bubbe had a tough night, and I should come to the hospital. Before I left, Naomi told me that if my mom was not conscious, I should talk to her, tell her how much we love her, and hold her hand. Her comment kind of surprised me.
I got to the hospital to find my mom unconscious, surrounded by many people in white jackets who were staring at her. I’m a regular Gray’s Anatomy viewer, so I knew this was not a good sign.
The main doctor told me the meds just weren’t working, and she was very weak. I calmly asked, “Days? Weeks?” He said, “Minutes… hours.” I notified my brother in New Jersey with the news, and I told Naomi, who rushed to pick up David from school to make their way to the hospital.
The medical staff silently parted like the Red Sea, as I sat down on a chair next to my mom. I remembered Naomi’s advice: I held her hand, and told her that we all loved her. I mentioned the names of her sons, daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren, and as I told her it was alright to go, she squeezed my hand, lifted her head for a moment and… she was gone.
I was calm. We knew this was coming, but we thought we had more time. Bubbe didn’t want to be a burden and didn’t want to spend months dying in front of our eyes. She died exactly how she wanted to, loved, without suffering, holding my hand and completely independent. A few minutes later, I was outside Bubbe’s room, near the elevators, waiting for Naomi and David.
The elevator door made that DING noise, and the doors opened to reveal Naomi and David. Once I saw their sad faces and tear stained cheeks, I lost it and hugged my son close and collapsed into my wife’s loving and safe arms. We were all just so heartbroken.
The funeral was in New Jersey, and my mom was buried next to my dad. As funerals go, it was great. We were surrounded and comforted by people who knew and loved us and my one of a kind mom.
Last Mother’s Day, Naomi, David, my mom, and I had a great brunch where we celebrated my mom and Naomi and the other amazing moms in our lives. This Mother’s Day, we’ll also have a great brunch, but we’ll carve out some time to laugh and cry as we talk about Bubbe (which we often do, anyway).
Although I didn’t need the 18 months my mom lived near us to prove how amazing she was, I am so thankful we had that time together, and that our son and his Bubbe became so close. There aren’t many wives who would welcome their (sometimes crazy) mother-in-law to move nearby. And not just stop there, but regularly try to include her in our daily lives, but Naomi isn’t just any regular wife. She is amazing and has shown me, through how she cared for my mom and nurtured our son (and me) through this difficult time, that Mother’s Day isn’t just about buying a Hallmark card, ordering some flowers, or going to a fancy brunch. Mother’s Day is about honoring Naomi and my mom (and all moms) for loving with reckless abandon, protecting their loved ones fiercely, and being grateful for the small things, whether it be Sunday family dinners or wacky bingo nights.
Happy Mother’s Day!