My mother, Phyllis Kahn Mass, passed away on Friday, June 1st. These past few days have been very hard for me and I know it’s not going to be easier for a long time.
My mother was a long time resident of Long Beach, NY. Her brother, George, still lives in the house that they grew up in.
She was born and raised in the Bronx and contracted Polio when she was a little girl. She was hospitalized for almost a year. No one could see her or be near her including her parents. After that, she went through a series of rehabilitation and was sent back to school. At that time, her friends and family were afraid to be near her because they feared that they would contract the disease too.
When she was 14-years-old, she met my dad at a local dance. They got engaged shortly thereafter and were wed at 18. By the age of 19, she had my sister, Lori. Four years later on my sister’s birthday, she had me and five years later, she had my brother, Ed.
My mother and my father struggled financially. My dad worked three jobs and my mom worked full time. I think her favorite job was working for Nassau County’s Visitor and Convention Bureau. There, she actually helped beautify our community.
Before she retired, she worked for the Department of Probation for Nassau County.
In addition to her work, she always gave back to the community. She was president of the PTA, National Council of Jewish Women and very active in many other charitable organizations. Until the day she died, she didn’t have much, but always gave to charity -- March of Dimes (for helping her when she had Polio as a child), City of Angels, American Lung Association among many others.
She was such a strong woman. She had been through so much in her life and yet, she was always able to bounce back. As my mother got older, her Polio came back and she, like so many others out there, contracted Post Polio Syndrome. She also had an immune disorder and had to get weekly infusions. Plus, she had terrible problems with her breathing. She had COPD and Asthma.
In her last years, my mother was like a fish out of water. Could you even imagine not being able to breath? Gasping for breath? She couldn’t breathe. And that’s what eventually killed her and that is why my family and I decided that if anyone wanted to make a donation, to make it to the American Lung Association in her memory.
She never complained. She didn’t feel well most of the time but with her happy upbeat demeanor, you wouldn’t even know. She cared about everyone. But if someone did something to her or to her family, she would never forget and that would be that. They were written off.
My mother was always my confidant. I told her everything. Everything from the littlest detail to the most important thing to me. I talked with her every day, sometimes more than once a day.
She was always interested in the things that I did and knew who all my friends were, especially at work. She knew my entire staff and asked about them often. She was the honorary grandma to them.
And talking about grandma, she was an amazing grandmother. She loved all her grandchildren– Stefanie, Jessica, Zoey, Derek, Max, Ben and Jacob. They lit up her life. She knew everything that was going on with each of them and they could tell her anything. She was a cool grandma. She was a very cool mother.
My fondest memory was my recent 50th birthday a few weeks ago. Since my folks moved to Florida nearly 15 years ago, I hadn’t celebrated any birthdays with her and it was her birthday too.
She had just gotten out of the hospital and was trying to recover. There were hospice nurses around the clock and she was upset that we couldn’t go out to eat because of her breathing.
But I didn’t care. I was so happy to have spent my 50th birthday with my mom and dad. It was so special. We talked and laughed and just had a wonderful time doing absolutely nothing. I will never forget it.
The night of my birthday, we were filming a video that my mom and dad wanted to make for the grandchildren when Lori came in the door. I was shocked but so excited that the three birthday girls could spend time together.
I couldn’t have asked for a better 50th birthday. It made me so happy to be with mom and dad. We ate a lot of Cold Stone Ice Cream, Yummy delicious Publix birthday cake and I even made my mom a lopsided vanilla on vanilla cake for her birthday.
Before I left, I told a couple of the women in my office that I didn’t want to go to Florida because I felt like this was going to be the last time I saw my mother. And you know what, it was.
I did book another trip this past weekend. I booked it because I wanted my Mom to spend some time with my kids/her grandchildren. The hospice doctors told me that the time was near, but I tried not to believe them. We booked a flight for 5:30 pm on Friday. But on Thursday, when I heard that my mom was so sick, I decided that I would change my flight.
As I was driving to the airport, my sister called hysterical. “I’m getting on your flight,” she said. “The nurse told me that if I want to say goodbye, I have to see her now.”
My sister, her daughter and I were on the plane. I was sitting in a window seat when suddenly the sky became one big rainbow. I wondered what that meant. I just wanted to watch it. I didn’t want my eyes to go off of it. It was beautiful. I flipped open my computer and turned on Facebook. As I wrote about the rainbow, my mother came up on my friends list. I went to her page and wrote on it.
When we landed, the three of us got a ton of text messages. We were told that my mother passed when we were still in the air. We were devastated. My sister screamed out, “Why couldn’t you wait for us?”
She didn’t wait but you know what, that’s okay because we said goodbye every day. My last conversation was the day before when she told me that she couldn’t wait to see us and she told me that she was proud of me and that she loved me.
I was lucky to have my mother for 50 years.
I often wondered what life would be without my mother? And now I know… lonely.