On a rainy Los Angeles day in October

Her name was Gahlit.

We were on a Yahoo group together, and we exchanged a few emails.  Her daughter did Mommy and Me at our preschool last year, so we met several times.  She was wiry, tall, and definitely a helicopter parent.  Like so many L.A. parents, she was hovering just behind her toddler as she climbed monkey bars or rocketed towards the edges of coffee tables (a precaution that… ahem… maybe a few more of us ought to consider).  This was one mama who took researching preschools almost as seriously as I do, although I suspect that I hold the record for researching preschools in the most locations.

I am pretty sure Gahlit was a total pain in the ass to those who got in the way of her doing right by her kid.  She took parenting mighty seriously.  I knew – we all knew – that she was fighting cancer.  Fighting it hard.  Because cancer was one of those things trying to get in the way of her doing right by her kid.

And, yes, I am writing about her in the past tense.

We all hang out in the courtyard before the noon pickup.  All us mommies who may not see another adult for the rest of the day hungrily grab seven minutes of adult conversation before our little succubae are released from their classrooms and we become preoccupied with art projects and car seat buckles.  We gossip, we comment about the weather, and we actually get to finish our sentences.

Yesterday, we talked about Gahlit dying that morning.  As the mothers began to gather, I sternly told myself this was not about me.  “It’s not about you,” I said to Me.  “Don’t go trying to make this your drama.”

There is, of course, nothing more delicious than borrowed drama.  When we try on someone else’s sadness for an hour or two, we can luxuriate in the deep, silky feel of it before tossing it into the laundry bin.  However, when a young woman dies of cancer, leaving behind a three-year-old daughter, there is no excuse for making it all about oneself.

Except when it is.

Walking back toward the classroom, I suddenly had the thought.  You know the one – what if I weren’t here for him anymore?  What if the three-year-old I was gathering was suddenly motherless?  And then I was crying.

Because, it will always be about me when I hear of a child losing her parent.  Not solely because I am incredibly self-involved, but because motherlessness is an unchangeable state of being.  The rest of that kid’s life will be shaped by this loss.  I oughta know.

My mother died when I was almost two.  I don’t remember her and apparently keeping track of the home movies she made for her daughters was far too taxing a chore for my father.  So those movies have gone the way of Chia Pets and Gourmet Magazine.  All I have to imagine my mother by are a couple of photos.

I don’t remember her, and for a long time, I never really missed her.  She was a phantom, someone who, had she lived, could have protected me from the abuse that followed, but who otherwise was pretty insignificant in the face of the very real assholes who went about raising me.  Then I had children and my mother became incredibly real to me.  Now I know how painful dying must have been for her.

She fought that cancer hard, my mother.  She was pissed at it.  Because it was getting in the way of doing right by her kids.  And in the end, it won.

It won and she couldn’t protect us.  It won and she died, leaving us in the hands of a man unfit to raise a spider plant, let alone children.  It won and my stepmother took over.

It won.  She could not stop it.  For all we try to control what happens to our kids, we cannot stop the cancers that come raging through our bodies, forcing us to abandon our children.  I am angry on behalf of the little girl I was and my mother and Gahlit and her daughter.

When I got to Benjamin’s classroom, I was busily making plans to marshal the forces of the internet to set up a trust or somesuch shit for that little girl.  Because maybe I could protect this one.  I have the knowledge – I know what comes next.  Because it is all about me.

And then there was a note in Benjamin’s cubby that he hit his head on the play castle outside.  “Is the castle OK?” I asked the teacher, because that kid of mine has a mighty hard head.

“He had a rough day,” the teacher told me.  “He hit another child.”  I got caught up in my own little drama, although the grand plans for Gahlit’s daughter were still reproducing like little amoebae.  We could post it on blogs!  And get press coverage!  People could donate!  So that she is protected against the vagaries of life with cold, hard cash.

When we got outside, it was raining.  It has been so long since it has rained here that Benjamin does not remember ever having seen the stuff, so we pretended to be trees and stood there, catching the water in our mouths.

I was back at the preschool a few hours later, picking up Zachary.  Due to the drizzle, Los Angeles was in a state of gridlock, with drivers slowing to a crawl as they talked into their Bluetooths (Blueteeth?).  This gave us a good, long time to chat in the car.  My kids love to talk to me in the car, because, hell, they are strapped in, but so am I, which means there is no escape for either of us.

The topic of conversation was the World Trade Center.  Just what I was in the mood for.  We got to that topic because he had discussed Columbus in school and I wanted to rectify some of the whitewash the preschool had given the conquest of America and he wanted to know how anyone can steal land which is how we got to guns but the Native Americans had bows and arrows but guns are more effective when one wishes to steal land and you can also use a bow and arrow to shoot a tightrope across the air between the twin towers like some dude in a book we read six months ago and did you know that’s a true story but the twin towers aren’t there anymore except in memory.  All before we were half a mile from the school.

“Most things don’t last forever,” Zachary informed me.

“That’s true, baby,” I replied.  “But you know what does last forever?”

“What?”

“If you love someone, that lasts forever.”  It’s true, somehow, I think.  If you hate someone, well, that evaporates eventually.  At least I’d like to believe it does.  Love, however, sticks around.  Even when a mama dies, the love she felt is still there, hanging out in a sort of cloud over the heads of her babies.  I am an atheist, a pragmatist, and a bit of a cynic, but I’m going with the Love Lasts Forever theory, despite the fact that of course love does no such thing because people die and love is lodged right inside the very perishable human body.

Love lasts forever.  When my mother died, she left her love behind and it’s still out there somewhere.  I have to believe that the love I give my children is more indestructible than the fallible, breakable body in which it is housed.

Thirty years from now, Gahlit’s daughter will still be feeling her mama’s love.  I have to believe that, and so does she.

26 responses to “On a rainy Los Angeles day in October

  1. I agree. There is nothing sadder than a mother parting from her baby.

  2. Thank you for this, Emily. That was beautiful.

    (I should also probably mention that it made me cry. A lot.)

  3. I so feel for Ghalit’s daughter and for all children who lose a parent way too soon– like you, Emily.

  4. You don’t know how badly I wish I could travel back in time and rescue little you. Could lavish the love on you that your mama would have.

    You are an utter delight. I’m so glad your kids have you.

  5. I’m pissed off that you don’t have those home movies. (Because apparently it’s really all about ME.)

  6. What a beautiful post. I’m grateful.

    Sometimes I feel blogging is like those videotapes – some kind of evidence of my love that I want out there in the world, just in case. Like… love insurance.

    It’s not reliable, though. Darn impermanence!

    I have faith that you are right.

  7. Sobbing at my desk, for the motherless child, then and now, for all of the motherless children, the fatherless ones too, life is a real bitch sometimes.

  8. She Started It

    This post is so, so beautiful. What a lovely tribute to your mother, and to your children.

  9. Love lasts forever. I can tell you truly it does because there is no way I could have lived through what I did with no love at all, and none was forthcoming from those around me. It had to come from elsewhere. We might discuss what that elsewhere was, and we might disagree on it, but Emily, we are both in complete agreement that Gahlit’s love has not disappeared and will never disappear.

  10. The idea of leaving my children motherless stops me in my tracks. It leaves me cold. I have to believe, on Gahlit’s behalf, that her love will last forever. That her daughter will still be feeling it in 30 years. And that it will be enough.

  11. I so often read your posts, and don’t comment because I just don’t know what to say. My heart goes out to that little girl and to you in your losses.

  12. Hi Emily,
    What a well written and honest accolade to my sister-in-law. Yes, you are correct that Gahlit could be a pain in the ass. She was a fighter. She already knew leukemia. It killed her brother. She was strong and independent and exceptionally smart. She fought hard and courageously for two years. She swore to make it to M’s 3rd birthday and she did – a week prior in a wheelchair and surgical mask. I’m truly sorry about your mother and the hardships you endured. It’s both normal and cathartic to relate to Gahlits death and mourn for the little girl you were and acknowledge the woman you are today. You own your losses. They do not own you. I just wanted to let you know that M has a wonderful daddy named Marc who is the kindest, gentlest and most loving father. He will tell M about Gahlit everyday and wrap his arms around her and protect her. M also has two sets of grandparents, eight aunts and uncles and five first cousins that love her in addition to Gahlit’s close friends. Additionally, M will have you and other Angels to look after her and knowing Gahlit she will no doubt be hovering closely.

  13. This is a beautiful post. And it’s NOT all about you. It’s about us. Thank you on this rainy southern California morning. Thank you.

  14. Carla’s comment got me crying all over again.

  15. I think love does last forever, and I’m an atheist myself.

    I’m so glad to hear the little girl will still have good people in her life who will remind her of her mother’s love and foster her through life.

  16. Hi emily,
    I grew up with Gahlit, knowing her from a distance, but in the same track of houses that took us from young kids into adulthood. I had not seen her since high school, so when I had heard about her cancer (through facebook) I didn’t feel comfortable to suddenly enter her life. It was a difficult decision, but one to respect her privacy.
    What you wrote was incredibly honest, and Gahlit was in good company and hands through your friendship. I miss her, again in a distant way…like a bright star in the cosmos. Much love!

  17. Emily,
    Gahlit and I have been friends since 3rd grade. I grew up 2 streets away from her family. We had the same number address, but different streets. (We met many times to exchange our mixed up mail.) My parents were friends with her parents. Elementary, Junior and high school, we were friends. I fondly remember her vacationing with my family as a teen. I had a perm and Gahlit, with her head of curls…well, we looked like twins 🙂 I spent many nights at her house with her beautiful family. Her brother, Ron, was a caring and funny guy, and he was very close to Gahlit. She was crushed when he passed away. I lost touch with Gahlit for about 8 years. We reconnected 4 ago at a gathering with friends. It was great to see her and catch up. She was full of life and was madly in love with Marc. The past 2 years I have been fortunate enough to have many occasions to see and support her. Her parents, Marc, Maayan, and her close friends kept her going these past two years. I treasure my emails and texts from her and am grateful that we shared a friendship. Thank you for such a moving message, Emily. I am touched by your own courage and Gahlit’s.
    I will miss making her laugh, that was my gift 🙂

  18. Jenifer Kalamian

    Hi Emily,
    I grew up across the street from Gahlit and have known her for 32 years. We called each other sisters because no one fought or loved like we did with each other except sisters. Just to ease your mind like her sister-in-law did, we have a special bond with each other’s children. I have three boys and she has my one girl. When she was pregnant she said to me that if her baby were a girl it would be like she was my daughter too. We talked about that again just last week and I expect to hold Marc to that and he has promised me he would. I have the stories of when she was a little girl, the first boy she kissed, why she was such a pain in the ass, etc. I will pass on the love of a mother to that little girl and keep the door open so that she will know more than pictures and video. Iknow Marc will too. My friend, Tammy, upon learning of Gahlit’s passing, said the best quote of all. “Gahlit was the prettiest badass we have ever known.” She was a warrior! She will never be forgotten.

  19. In case anyone lands here looking for funeral information, here it is:
    Thursday, 15 October at 10:45am
    Harbor Lawn- Mt. Olive Memorial Park and Mortuary
    1625 Gisler Avenue
    Costa Mesa, CA 92636
    714-540-5554

  20. Oh, bless it. This made my heart hurt

  21. It’s true, that the love floats forever. Somedays my mother’s love jumps up and seizes me in the oddest places, when I’m punishing one of my daughters, who are stubborn the way she was, when I’m looking for something, when I’m quiet and alone and thinking of her, and her fight, and how mean and angry she was towards her cancer.

    I imagine my children someday, as the 11 year old left alone, and I just can’t. I cannot fathom how hard leaving was for her, as I imagine it was for Gahlit.

    I will think of her tomorrow, her little girl and husband.

  22. I agree that love lasts forever. I think Harry Potter would agree, too. (sorry, that’s just what popped in my head, I’ve been rereading the series!)

  23. I only knew Gahlit by phone when I answered her ad for someone to help organize her house. Unfortunately I didn’t make it because I had a chronic sinus infection and I didn’t want to take chances and get her sick.
    I lost my mother when I was 8 to Leukemia and I felt a connection to Gahlit right away in out conversations. I shared my experience with her as the child of a sick mother and what I had gone through growing up. She had lots of questions about my feelings and shared what she was feeling about the disease with me. She often broke down crying when she spoke about leaving her daughter. It was probably the same feeling my mother had when she was very sick.
    I continues to check on her from time to time and she would give me an update on her chemo and treatments and tell me how frustrated she was and what a shitty disease she was dealt with. She also sent me a picture of her and her daughter at Disneyland and commented on her looks and that she no longer felt pretty.
    I was so sad to hear that she lost her battle. My heart and prayers go out to her family and may Gd watch over her little girl…

  24. This tale is like a punch in the stomach. Poor little motherless child.

  25. Richard Becker

    I met Gahlit in 1998 , and I liked her from the first minute I met her, strong woman. I lost my father to cancer 8 years ago, and when Gahlit called me and told me she was ill I was devastated.I put on a tough act with her on the phone, but I was just so pissed off, and saddened that she was so ill!!! She was a beautiful and loving person and I remember having conversations with her at Cable & Wireless years ago where we were both Account reps, and all she talked about was wanting to get married and having kids. She will be missed. God Bless her.