“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”
– Dante Alighieri, The Inferno.
The connection between a mother and daughter is visceral and, even at times, violent in its sheer passion. These past few days I have gotten to understand my mother as a friend, a lover, an artist, an aide, through the sorrow of all of you. But let me put those titles aside and tell you about what you already know, that she gave up everything she could just to be one thing: my mother, and Jacob’s.
My mom always spoke of my early years with a swelling pride, tears in her voice. She never, never put me down. My birth was so easy she could have thrown a party, and when all the other mothers gave away their babies to the nurse, she held me in her arms and wouldn’t let go. When I think of my earliest years, I feel enveloped in her warmth and her white glow. It was so rare for us not to be hand-in-hand: me, the curly-haired little sidekick; she, the most stunning, stylish woman in any occasion.
I remember bragging that my mom was my best friend. She would shake her head.
“I’m not your friend, Ariella,” she said, “I’m your mom. That’s different.”
At the time I couldn’t understand: why didn’t she want to be my friend? It took some time to comprehend, but she knew well before me that being a mother is something holy, and to be holy is to be distinct. As you can all see from the crowd assembled here, Mom was never against making friends. But I am not her friend: I am of her, from her. I am her daughter.
And I wish you could all know what it was like to be Roneet’s daughter. So many movies, so much singing during long car rides. She was the Kiki Dee to my Elton John when we would perform our rousing rendition of “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart.” We sat at every play and musical with hands clasped and eyes watering. We talked about the days we would live in a penthouse in New York, where we would hold spontaneous dance parties and I would be married to Timothée Chalamet – who she very much supported as husband material – and she would teach me how to raise my children. She would bathe them in the sink like my Safta bathed me. When we passed through Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus or any of her domains, I would have to physically restrain her from buying everything in sight. “That’s your Oscar dress,” she would say. It was never a question that she would be my date on my first red carpet event, because it was never a question to her that there would be a red carpet event to go to.
I’m not going to lie to any of you – you who by virtue of being here are all my family. It wasn’t always easy. Her love often manifested in an obsessive force that could stagger me backwards. I often felt an uncontrollable anxiety about meeting her seemingly endless expectations. I did not know what I know now. To be able to scold someone, you must have a great respect for them. You must be able to see them as they can be, even when they cannot. She always wanted more for me than I could ever want for myself.
But, Mom, I’m speaking to you now. Show me the way, because I am lost without you. If I had known how finite our time together would be, would I have done anything differently? And it takes me to the depths of my soul, but I can tell you I would not. Because although we fought like feral cats, we would say “I love you” a dozen times during each phone call. When I was suffering from depression in high school, you were the one whose bed I would crawl into, you were the one whose hugs sustained me. You told me I was so special and beautiful – the mirror to a self I could not even yet see. The only thing I wish I had done more was tell you how breathtakingly beautiful you are. In all the pictures I see of you, your joy floods out of two dimensions.
I cannot see you as not here: in the absence of a physical form, your spirit takes to no borders. You will become more than a memory: you will be a concept, a mantra, a muse, for you are the love that moves the sun and stars. And when I have a child I will never let her down. And when I write I will write to you. How I wish to God you were still here to see what I’m going to do, because if you thought it was going to be meaningful before, you have no idea what it’s going to be like now. I have no idea.
I will never understand why I had to lose my mother without even a warning. I am sick. She knew better than anyone: life is cruel and absurd, but in the wood the animals writhe and the flowers bloom even when we are too in the dark to see. I can hear the music of her voice still, telling me don’t cry, wash your face, take a shower. There is still so much time to dance. In our last phone call I asked her how one gets over pain, and she said, “I don’t know, people survive all sorts of things.”
Mom gave me my name for a reason. I am a lion*, and she is my song**. Whoever sees me will know I will never be without her. And you should know, Mom, that because I am so broken I am also open. Enfold me in your love; make me a part of the whole of the universe, and I will be able to sleep again knowing that when I see you, you will hold my face in your hands and call me your darling.
I love you so much. Thank you and God bless you.
*Ariella means Lion Of God.
**Roneet means Song.