Mothers and daughters. We may argue and disagree about many things - yet we are forever bonded in a way that cannot be shared between fathers and daughters, or siblings, or friends.
When a parent dies, well-meaning friends, colleagues, and loved ones provide their sympathy and other words of comfort. Most often the love and kindness they bestow is appreciated and helpful. But grief is a path we must travel alone as we embark on a journey towards comfort and renewed strength. How we travel that path is highly personal. It may include sharing our feelings with others, crying inside or outwardly, reaching towards religion. There are as many ways to grieve and heal, as there are personalities among us.
When my mother, Ray Katz Gold, passed away last year, my journey took me down a path that was surprising, comforting and enlightening in ways I could never have imagined. I had lost both parents in just two years, my dad to progressive supranuclear palsy after years of bravely fighting this rare and untreatable illness. I was utterly devoted to my dad. He was my hero - a hard-working person who stood tall, spoke with a clear and confident voice - and provided a role model of entreprenuerism and self-sufficiency. I was daddy's little girl - regardless of my chronological age.
So growing up, and as I reached adulthood, I thought my strength and tenacity came only from my father. But I learned after Dad became so ill, that much of my strength and purpose also came from Mom. I learned that despite their separate "family roles," they were a team, a strong team - and I was the result of that teamwork.
During my father's dreadful illness, my mother was constantly at his side, tending to his every need. She never failed to rise to the occasion during many crises. After dad passed away, my mother and I grew much closer, spending hours and hours burning up the phone lines between Fair Lawn and Chicago. I began to know her in ways I never imagined - to understand the depth of her knowledge of life, her varied interests, and her spiritual strength.
Most people knew my mother as the wife of Larry Gold, or as a daughter - the youngest and only daughter in a family of six children. They knew her as the mother of three children, and later as a grandmother to my sister's two sons. Mom loved her traditional family roles, but there was so much more to Ray Gold that she yearned to express. During our long nightly talks, I learned that it bothered Mom how most people didn't realize that beneath the caretaker and cook, mother and daughter, wife and sister - she was an intelligent woman who kept up to date on current events that included local and national politics - and feminist issues of the day.
My mother was also a talented artist. When I was a young girl, Mom would spend hours with me drawing fashion figures of elegant women. She had a great sense of color and design that she expressed in many works of art. Her once nimble fingers crafted beautiful needlepoint, and she crocheted blankets and pillowcases that are our family heirlooms. Her paper sculptures of people and animals were thoughtfully framed and sold in a local shop near my father's shoe store, with others given lovingly to family and friends.
As Mom grew older, she stopped working with paper sculpture because her arthritic hands could not manage the delicate maneuvers of the tiny scissors and other materials
nor could she withstand the fumes of the glue that would hold the sculptures together. As my father grew more ill, in those rare moments that weren't given to his care, she was a voracious reader of cookbooks
not just the recipes but the history and culture behind the menus. "I read cookbooks like other people read novels," Mommy told me more than once. Over my desk I keep one of her favorite recipes, "easy chicken fricassee," on which she wrote, "Made - very good - next time I will mix dark & light chicken." I don't think there was one recipe among her collection to which she hadn't added her own special touch.
After Dad was gone, Mom still insisted on living life on her own terms, and sadly to her physical detriment. Although Mom had never lived alone, she wanted to remain in her own home, in her own way -with the loving memories of my father and their life together enfolding her. It was not an easy path for Mom to follow. But she was determined to do things her own way. It was her path, and that was important to my mother. She was far stronger and more determined than I had ever realized.
In the months following my mother's passing, I found it very hard to write. A book I was writing languished. Articles and editorials didn't get beyond the first two paragraphs. I began to realize that it was my mother's strength that had helped me face the grief of losing dad. Now, they were both gone and regardless of a satisfying career and personal
home life with Jerry, my partner of 25 years, I felt like my soul had been torn from me and I would never again find peace. I kept thinking of my mother's artwork, looking with fascination at the care with which she placed each tiny piece of paper onto her canvas to create a lifelike picture. Her needlework that I gently touched, hoping to feel the softness of her hands as she worked so carefully on every stitch.
Among the artwork tucked away in our New Jersey home, I found boxes of vintage beads that she had been saving for one of her projects. I set aside the marketing book I was writing and began to work with the beads - and it seemed to soothe me - and to help me deal with my grief.
In looking through craft magazines, I found new ways to work with the beads, and began stringing them on to carved pewter bookmarks. I added to my mother's bead collection and used them to form the basis for colorful ballpoint pens. Soon I had dozens of these "products." I gave several as gifts to loved ones, as memories of my mother. Then I thought, my mom sold some of her artwork. Why couldn't I sell my pens and bookmarks? Why couldn't others give these one-of-a-kind designs as loving gifts? Or collect for personal use?
I felt a sense of energy again, and I imagined my mom and dad encouraging me - as they had always done. I know my mother would have really loved the bookmarks to use in her collection of cookbooks. And the pens, well, they would have been carefully placed in the shoeboxes my father used to store his collection of ballpoint pens - hundreds of them that I also found carefully packed away in our New Jersey home.
To market the pens and bookmarks, I took the artisan name of Miriam Bat-Rachel: My mother's Hebrew name (Rachel), joined with my own (Miriam), and then adding the Hebrew term Bat, meaning daughter of. I created and mailed a press kit, and started calling on several local shops. Imagine my delight at seeing the pens and bookmarks displayed in two top-notch boutiques in the high-rise malls on North Michigan Avenue - colorful and creative items that my Mom would have enjoyed using and collecting.
I've slowly been able to get back to writing my marketing book, and ideas for new publishing projects are starting to take shape. I've even set the plans in motion to create a series of children's picture books that use my dad's wonderful photography to celebrate his love of animals and zoos. But my beaded pens and bookmarks will remain an important part of my creative life as a tribute to my parents as well as a remembrance.
My mother and father set a beautiful example of great strength, courage and love throughout their lives. They understood that life is indeed a journey, and often a journey in the midst of trouble. Life takes us through conflicts of passions and conscience, the disappointments of business and false friendships, and the tragedies of poverty and prejudice. But life also takes us to unknown places in the heart and mind that are filled with wonder and creativity. My parents gave me the gifts of their love and strength, and the encouragement to explore those unknown places - and so I am.
Generally, I am a very private person. I've confined my writing to marketing, healthcare education, and women's advocacy issues. But it is my hope that my personal journey will inspire others. I will miss my parents forever, and not a day goes by that I don't think of them with a mix of joy, sadness and cherished memories - and the creative process is but one way I chose to honor them.
Written in loving memory of Larry and Ray Gold. (c) 2003 Marion E. Gold. Reprinted with permission.
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