The 20th Anniversary of My Mother’s Death

Source: © Beverly Sklaver

March 6 will be 20 years since my mom passed away. I recently prepared a slide show of photos of her ranging from when she was a young woman to right before she passed away. I set the slides to Josh Groban’s song “You Raise Me Up,” and invited close family and friends to view it and also asked anyone who wanted to say a couple of words about how they remembered Mom. I thought it would be a nice testament to her memory.

In some ways, it seems like 20 years and in other ways, it seems much more recent. I know both my brother and I miss her every day. My biggest regret is that I was still so ill when she passed away and she didn’t live to see me recovered, as a healthy adult. I do believe in some way she is aware of what I am trying to do with my entrepreneurial venture and I know she’d be proud of me. I know she is watching over me because every time I need money, money shows up in one form or another. I think it is her telling me to keep going.

© Beverly Sklaver

Source: © Beverly Sklaver

I know as a young girl and woman, I didn’t appreciate how unique and brilliant she was. In the 1950’s she worked as a computer programmer for Remington Rand on the UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer I, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer designed for business application produced in the United States). She left to have me in 1961 and my brother 18 months later. When my father lost his job due to his alcoholism when I was 13, Mom opened a needlepoint and knitting store in our neighborhood. Once I asked her if the store made a profit and she answered, with uncharacteristic sarcasm, “We eat, don’t we?”

When my parents divorced during my senior year in college, Mom returned to her first love: computer programming. She graduated from a certificate program where she updated her skills and worked for a company that held focus groups. After six months, she received her first performance evaluation and when she didn’t receive all “Excellents,” she quit. (Now you know where my perfectionistic tendencies originated.)

Mom started her own custom software development company out of her home and later took office space downtown. The company proved to be successful; my brother joined her in the late 1990’s and took it over after she passed away in 2002 from pancreatic cancer.

© Andrea Rosenhaft

Source: © Andrea Rosenhaft

After her diagnosis in December 2001, she was given six months to live. She lasted three. She was bedridden for the last month of her life due to a gangrenous foot. I was up at her house in Connecticut most of the time, caring for her and commuting to my job in Westchester, New York, from her house. She had the means to hire round-the-clock help, but the master bedroom was downstairs and she was afraid no one would hear her if she needed help during the night, so I slept with her in her king-sized bed. I was happy to give something back to her as she had given me so much.

When she died, I think everyone in our lives expected me to fall apart. I don’t know how I didn’t. My mom had been my best friend and we had spent every weekend together. We had an enmeshed relationship and it cost me other relationships and friendships with people of my own age. When she died I was adrift.

In the Jewish faith, on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, we light a yahrzeit candle. It burns for 24 hours. This year, my cousin — my mother’s sister’s daughter — made me a beautiful etched glass to hold the yahrzeit. It’s etched with a design on all four sides: a Jewish star; my mother’s name, her birthday, and the date of her death; her name in Hebrew; and a giraffe, because my mom collected giraffes. I will treasure it forever.

There have been countless times over the past 20 years when I have wished for the opportunity to talk to her, to seek her advice, or to get a long hug or a quick kiss. She died too early at 68, and I don’t think there is any doubt that smoking contributed to the diagnosis of cancer. Mom chain-smoked Lark cigarettes, lighting the tip of one cigarette from the end of the one she just finished.

She smoked about four packs a day and she was a workaholic/perfectionist — all coping mechanisms to deal with a daughter who was severely mentally ill. I’m not saying she didn’t have other stressors in her life. I don’t believe she ever forgot I’d tried to kill myself and I know she lived in fear of another attempt being successful. I didn’t cause her early death, but I believe the stress of my illness was a contributing factor.

Jeri, we love you, we miss you, and we look forward to celebrating your life.

© Andrea Rosenhaft

Source: © Andrea Rosenhaft

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