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Moving Out, Moving On

For many of us, home is part of our self-definition. That’s perhaps why moving shakes our inner world, stirring up anxiety and trepidation in some situations, or triggering hope and happiness under different circumstances

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Moving from the Memories

“Mommy, when I get married, you’re going to live with me, too.” My lashes drooped heavily as I lay half asleep in the cocoon of my mother’s arms.

“What’s your husband going to think?” My mother laughed, easy and light.

“He’ll love it, or I’m not marrying him.”

“Well, angel,” my mother said, kissing me goodnight, “we have time to figure out our living arrangements. You’re only five.”

Fast forward 20 years. I lay on my couch, snood askew, drinking a steamy mug of tea as my mother holds my newborn, lovingly stroking his cheek. “Mom, you know, you could totally live with me. It would be great. We could go out for breakfast and go shopping all the time. And you could bake bread with the kids.”

Mom laughed that easy, light laugh. “I don’t bake bread.”

“Okay, pecan pie or banana cake or whatever, all day. And you could fold the laundry like you’re soooo good at.” Idyllic images of non-stop maternal support overwhelmed me with glee in my postpartum daze.

“Angel, while it’s tempting to stay and be your personal shopper, baker, and maid, I think you’re doing great as an adult whose mother doesn’t live with her.”

I always harbored a secret (okay, not so secret) desire to live with my mom when she grew old and needed care. It was Hashem’s will, however, that Mom needed care long before she grew that old, and in the final stages of my mother’s terminal illness, I found my 30-year-old self making arrangements to fly Mom from Vancouver to Montreal to live with us.

Ten weeks passed in a painful, scary blur, and on Yom Kippur, my mother’s condition turned from terminal to palliative, with days to live. Without arrangements for a palliative care facility, I called our rav.

“The doctors say we can manage her passing at home, that they can send a palliative care nurse here.”

“No.” The rav’s psak was firm. “Until now, your children witnessed a sick grandmother, but they also witnessed exemplary kibbud eim. That was good. But your home should not be a place where people die. It’s too scary for your children.”

We brought Mom to the hospital. With no palliative rooms available, Mom was nifteres a few days later in the emergency ward.

Despite the switch to the hospital, I found that my home had changed for me. The house, bought with Mom’s counsel and support, stood as a painful monument of love and loss. My leather couch, a gift from Mom, was where I was sitting when I got the call that she was sick. I pictured Mom on that same couch, leg hanging limply off the side, breathing softly, shrouded in blankets, sleeping through my one-year-old’s first steps and my son’s first day of kindergarten.

But it was more than the couch; I sat shivah twice in my living room — for both my sister and my mother. In the hazy days of early, shocking grief, I grasped at distraction.

“Let’s move,” I blurted to my husband the day after shloshim.

Eyes soft with compassion, my husband gently reminded me that grief will follow me, even if we move.

“I know. But this isn’t just about Mom.”

And it wasn’t. My husband and I had been talking for a while about moving from our suburb to the central yeshivish neighborhood in Montreal, 20 minutes away, where our sons’ yeshivah is, where most of the kids’ friends are, and where I teach in a couple schools. Until then, we were torn; moving would mean leaving my husband’s parents and his brother’s family, his kollel and the school where he’s a rebbi, a community that embraced us for nine years.

I was scared to be in a new house with new things that my mother had never seen. But the house became an oppressive museum of memories of Shabbos dinners and birthday parties and cozy Sunday mornings with Mom when she’d visit. I’d walk from room to room, where she slept, where she ate, where she napped, desperate for connection. I needed to move.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 582)


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