Remembering Elizabeth Louise Portolan (z’l) – My Mom

Today is my mother’s first yahrzeit. Can a deceased Italian-Catholic woman have a yahrzeit?  Well, since her formerly Italian-Catholic daughter is now an Italian-Jew, it is my only way to honor her memory. Although I have to say, I may take some creative liberties to appease some of my family members.

My mother died on October 11, 2011. We actually believe she died on October 5, 2011, while having lunch at a local restaurant she, my dad, uncle and aunt had gone to in order to celebrate my father’s birthday. It was there that my mom went into cardiac arrest, slumping down on my dad’s shoulder and being lowered to the floor, unresponsive. Miraculously, there was a nurse in the restaurant at the same time who witnessed what was happening, rushed over and immediately began administering CPR while the paramedics were on their way.

When the paramedics arrived, they used the paddles and epinephrine on my mother THREE TIMES before they got her heart to start beating again. This is the time—according to our family mythology—where mom was in “God’s Negotiation Center” explaining the reasons why she needed a few more days, which she received. Mom came back, much to the surprise of my “former paramedic” brother, much to the relief of my “not ready to lose her” sister, and with enormous gratitude from me, “the 3,000 miles away” older sister.

Things started off well enough. Mom seemed clear about where she was. She was eager to go home (mom hated hospitals.) The doctors were optimistic. I was kept informed of her progress and was making plans to come out to California to assist with her recovery after she was released.

But the terms of “the Negotiation” clearly must have meant leaving us, not to go home to her house in Murrieta, CA, but to go to that Home with a Capital “H” up in the clouds—if you know what I mean—as I suddenly got a frantic call from my brother telling me that if I wanted to say goodbye to mom, I better get on a plane right now and head to California. That is how I found myself traveling on a red eye from Boston to LAX on Kol Nidre last year; sitting in a hospital ICU on Yom Kippur holding my mom’s hand telling her that I loved her, that she was a great mom and that whatever she needed to do was the right decision; sitting with my sobbing sister explaining that we must not be selfish and beg mom to stay if by doing so would require her to live a life of pain and suffering;  and supporting my brother, the medical power of attorney for my parents, who had to discuss the most painful decisions about DNR, medication adjustments and hospital room transfers with our dad and then sign whatever papers were required to make it happen.

All of this sounds like any family’s worse nightmare. However, my sister, brother and I had been a bit estranged for some time prior to this. Not in an “I am never going to speak to you again” way, but if my mother had died suddenly on October 5, we all agree that our relationships would have suffered. Our mother was all that was holding us together.  During those extra 6 days mom “negotiated,” my brother, sister and I, along with our father, came together as a family in a way that bonded us forever. During those 6 days, we each put it all out there, our hopes, our fears, our anger, our sadness, and trusted that the other person would hold that feeling, understand it and take care of it and us. And that is exactly what happened. We were there for each other in a way we had not been since probably when we were very small children.

It was beautiful. It was and is such a gift as that trust continues to this day. Our deepest sadness is that mom had to leave in order for it to happen. But we understand, and so treasure it all the more.

Tonight, my siblings, my father and some of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren will gather to remember mom. Because I am who I am, I needed to prepare a little “ritual,” involving a candle and some poetry. We will say the “Lord’s Prayer” , because that is what my family is comfortable with—and I can handle it. I have been saying the Mourner’s Kaddish for my mom every time I have been in a synagogue, standing up with the mourners at every opportunity. It has given me more comfort than I can say.  I believe my mom appreciates it.

This morning I went to the cemetery with my dad to visit my mom’s gravesite. He put a rose at her grave site. I, of course, placed a small stone there.  When we got back in the car, I said to my dad that I feel like the only spiritual one in the family. He said, “You got that from your mother. She was very spiritual, but she hung around me too long.” (They were married 61 years.)

Thanks, Mom. I’ll put that in my pile of gifts that I thank you for every day, along with your lasagna recipe and the ability to cook for 100 or more people and not bat an eye.

Happy reading,

Kathy B.

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4 Responses to “Remembering Elizabeth Louise Portolan (z’l) – My Mom”

  1. liz suneby says:

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Lisa says:

    Kathy-
    Tears, but good memories. I loved Liz! Cannot beleive it has been a year. I know those bonds you speak of very well, as we would gather at my brothers bedside so many times, holding on to each other, the trust, the faith and friendship with my family is what still holds us all together and we thank John every day for the family bonds, love and support he gave us. I know Grandma Liz did give you all a special gift, you must be like us, very special lucky people to have someone love you all like that. These gifts truly are the priceless ones.

  3. Nancy Wolk says:

    This was beautiful. Thanks for sharing. The feeling of loss does not go sway, but neither do the comforting memories.

  4. This was a very moving story. Thanks for sharing. I understand how important familiar rituals, be they Jewish or Christian are at time of mourning.
    Leanne

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