It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and it’s Chanukah, and I’m writing this from my uncle’s house and thinking about family, which is difficult. My mother died a couple of months ago. She’d been sick for the better part of a year. Thanksgiving last year was the last time I saw her when she was healthy.
I resemble both of my parents quite a bit, but how I look like Mom is more obvious at first glance: pale, dark curly hair, smiling at strangers.
I grew up in a small town. Smaller than you’re thinking. No, still smaller than you’re thinking now. That small. I have a complicated relationship with my hometown, but as a kid, all I wanted was to leave, to go somewhere no one knew me. Because it was a tiny community, and everyone knew me. Every teacher I had had already taught my sister, four years earlier, and everywhere I went, people knew my mother. Strangers would stop me to ask if I was Ruthie’s daughter at the post office, the library, the pharmacy.1 So, as you can probably imagine, looking like Mom was not my favorite thing the world while I was still desperate to forge my own identity.
When Mom went to the hospital for the last time, right before entering hospice services, I was overwhelmed by the weirdest feeling. The hospital staff was doing a great job taking care of her, but they didn’t understand. The woman in that bed wasn’t Mom. They didn’t know Mom. Mom was vivacious and kind and energetic. She was a caretaker, not someone who needed to be taken care of. And it was the weirdest thing, thinking, These people don’t know how much I look like Mom.
There was a snag with the paperwork we needed to get Mom into hospice services — we were missing a referral from her oncologist. I’d been losing my mind, sitting in her hospital room and trying not to cry, so I jumped at the chance to run over to another hospital wing and do something. I got to the right desk to ask, and all I’d managed to say was, “My mother needs –” before the woman behind the desk interrupted me. “Are you Ruthie’s daughter? Your mother is such a sweetheart. How can we help?”
It was such a relief to be recognized by a stranger.
Last night, my uncle commented, “From this angle, you look just like Ruthie.”
That’s a relief, too.
I miss you, Mom.
- And, on one occasion that is only hilarious in retrospect, I was pinned as Mom’s daughter by the cop who knocked on the car window while I was in the backseat with a dude. Just imagine the mortification of pulling on a hoodie and squirming in place while the officer squints at you through a flashlight beam and then asks: “Is your mom Ruth who used to work at the hospital? How’s she doing?” ↩