This is my mom, Marcella Pollack, and today is her birthday.
In addition to her beauty, she was always healthy and strong; and if a doctor had not made a tragic mistake, I'm sure she would be here to celebrate with her 3 children and the grandchildren she never knew.
If she was here, my mom would be 82 today—exactly twice the amount of years she actually had. When she died at 41, my mother had only lived half a life.
At some point today, my phone will ring and it will be my Aunt Helen, who is 90 and has stayed close to me all those years, honoring the promise she made to my mother. I've always called her "Aunt Helen", but she's not my real aunt; she was a close friend of my mother's.
That my mother inspired a friendship that endures 40 years after her death is a testament to the kind of person she was. Her death had major repercussions on my life—365 days a year–and I could easily write a blog on this subject every single one of those days.
Every September 7th, for as long as I can remember, what I always have felt most, is incredible resentment and jealousy. It seemed impossibly unfair that my mother had to die, while all those other mothers got to live. And while I resented every mother on the planet, there was one person who got the largest share of my bitterness: my real aunt, my mother's sister.
She and her family lived in New York, and even when my mother was alive, we rarely saw them. After she died, the most obvious person to step up and step in, never did. Never called, never wrote, never visted, never sent a birthday card. This was my mother's only sibling; my link to my mother's past. That they were completely different in every way only made it worse. How could the universe take away someone who stood for everything good–and leave alive someone who was….in my mind, not half the human being my mother was?
The years passed, bringing more physical and emotional distance–even though my father stayed in touch with my aunt and her family occasionally by phone. In almost forty years, I saw my aunt three times: once at a funeral, once at a wedding (not mine), and once the day after the wedding—the only time she ever saw my children. My sister and brother, who didn't go to the funeral or the wedding, never saw her or heard from her at all.
Life went on; memories and hurts dimmed until my mother's side of the family was no longer a gash, but just a scar. Then, one day out of the blue last year, the phone rang; when I answered, someone said my name. That one word was all I needed to hear. The prickles rose as soon as I heard my aunt's voice,and I'm sure my voice sounded as distant as I felt.
She needed to tell me about some of her life's challenges—and how her problems prevented her from reaching out to us, her sister's children. And she needed something else. Because she was in pain, and I could hear it.
"Can you forgive me?" She was in tears. "For not being there for you? Do you think your sister and brother could forgive me? "
It was 40 years after my mother died. I could only imagine what demons had prompted her, and what it took to make that call. And through all the years of distance and resentment, I didn't hesitate for one instant to tell her how I felt at that moment.
"Of course I forgive you," I told my aunt. And I did.
There was no big reconciliation. No tearful reunion. A few weeks later, we talked once more, but I haven't seen her or called again. And now it's my turn to feel some of the guilt she felt all that time.
Even though she has been lucky to have so many more years of life, now I realize that September 7 must be as hard on my aunt as it is on me. So today, on my mother's birthday, I will talk to my Aunt Helen–when she calls me, as I know she will. And then I am going to call my mother's sister. To tell her that I am thinking of my mother. And thinking of her, too.