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Death is All Religions

A year ago on Mother’s Day I watched my sister-in-law, Julie, hug her mother in the kitchen. I walked in by accident. They were embracing and tears stained their cheeks. “I love you Ma,” Julie said almost shaking. Her mother, Fran, had just been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Julie has twin boys with my brother. My nephews were just under 2 years old at the time. Julie kept saying she felt like she was starring in a horror movie, she had so much to ask her mother, so much she wanted to say.

This year, one week before Mother’s Day, we lost Fran. The end was so painful for her. Julie was running from work to be by her mother’s side and back home to see the boys. Fran slipped away holding her husband Moshe’s hand. Death is all religions, it is every faith and it shakes us. I didn’t have the opportunity to see Fran before she passed, but her kindness spoke to the kindness of every faith. Here is my love letter of adieu for her:

Dear Fran,

When Nathan and Jacob were born I was pregnant with Helen. Adrian and I drove to the hospital to meet the boys. Nathan was in the Nic-U and Julie was shaking from the C-section. Adrian and I weren’t married and our religions are different (Jewish and Mexican Catholic). We definitely stood out in the medicinal blue hospital room full of Ashkenazi Jewish relatives. You hugged me and then reached over to hug Adrian. Then you said, “come meet the baby.”

You held Jacob for a long time. Then you placed him in the bassinet and looked at him. Julie and the rest of the family went to the Nic-U to see Nathan but I stayed behind with Adrian. Both of our faiths forbid us–because of superstition–to see sick children. Or maybe I made that up? Maybe we were just afraid. But you stayed with us, Fran. You spoke to us and laughed with us. Most of all you treated us like family. You made us feel at home.

When the boys were almost 3 months old, Helen Rose was born. She was our first. You called me right away. You were so excited to meet a little girl. You were even happier that the boys would have a close cousin and that our families were growing together. Family was very important to you. You were Jewish but your faith was life. Your faith was kindness.

On Helen’s first birthday you gave me a bag of brand new outfits for her. On holidays you always had a small gift, a card and a smile. I can’t bring myself to give away one pair of pants Helen still wears. They are too short on her but they were a gift from you and so when she wears them I am reminded of how gracious you were.

Once, you bought me a big bag of chocolate covered pretzels because you heard from Julie that I loved them. When our second child was born you were very sick. You didn’t want to continue chemo. You just wanted to feel better. In those painful moments, those terrifying moments, you sent a card with a check for baby Alma. When I spoke with you on the phone to thank you, you said, “Family is all we have. It’s the most important thing.”

Julie said you really suffered the last few weeks of your life. I think what must have hurt the most was not being able to see your grandchildren. Chemo exhausted you and when chemo was over, cancer exhausted you and at the end of a year of sickness, life exhausted you. Death came as a comfort when in your last few days all you could do was moan in agony.

I do not know what it is like to lose a parent to cancer, although I do know a lot about losing a parent. Even so, I never had to see my father suffer the way Julie watched you fade away. But with that being said, my father left his mark in the world. People still speak about him and every Mother’s Day, every holiday, we will speak about you. We will remember your spirit, the way you made our own lives richer, how in the face of death you still sent cards, you still asked others how they were feeling.

MourningYou did not want a funeral. You refused the traditional shiva, the seven Jewish days of mourning following a death. But Adrian and I have lit a candle for you in our house. Both of our faiths require a mourning period and although we respect your wishes, we want to celebrate your life. The Sunday before Mother’s Day when I found out you had passed, the trees were in full bloom. It drizzled in Brooklyn and the streets were silent. We love you Fran, and we remember you. Your soul lives in our many faiths, the memory of you lives and lights our home. May you rest in peace. Happy Mother’s Day.

Con mucho amor,


Anna Keller

Anna is a writer and teacher who lives in Brooklyn with her family.


Author: Anna Keller