Sweetest Heart - Debra Alt
When I stop to think about what it means to have lost my Mom four years ago, I start all over again missing the richness of her presence. Her constant gift of compassionate and reliable love was profound in its scope and in the way she was embroidered into so many aspects of my thoughts and highest visions. She was my truest friend in a world where the loyalty of friends ebbs and flows, and sometimes even betrays. She became my friend, or perhaps it’s that we befriended each other, somewhere around the time she defaulted to trusting me to care for my siblings. I was 8 when she taught me how to use metal diaper pins and I began the journey of caring for my sister in many respects, alongside of her.
I don’t remember when she started sharing her thoughts and feelings with me. It was as if we could feel each other on the deepest level, one that deepened or raised in consciousness as we both aged. It did feel as if we grew up together in many ways, as we were only 20 years apart. Our gap in age narrowed the more I was drawn to befriending her closest friends, of which there were quite a few. I was taught the value of sisterhood by the loveliest example. I was attracted to being with her whenever I could when she was hanging out with her friends, as it felt so good to be where others were naturally drawn into her circle of warmth and beautiful Luba-ness.
Luba, Russian for love, a name that always felt like a cherished sound from a part of the world my ancestors were from ~ a mysterious place I knew of only through stereotypes and grainy brown and white photographs.
I wrote my mother a song the year she turned 60 and my daughter had her first birthday. My daughter’s other grandmother turned 75 then as well, I found it sweet that they all shared a birthday month in January. At the time my life was filled with new motherhood and the seeds were planted for my first CD, “A Spirited Mother”. I arranged for her to come to the recording studio with my daughter to sing background vocals on the song. Thanks to that inspired day, her voice is forever digitalized for whenever I long to feel and remember that sweet voice, that sweetest of hearts.
The years after my father died in 2007 were tough as her grief compounded my own, and it accelerated the already natural reversal of parental roles, the ones of caregiver and receiver. My husband at the time had likened our relationship to one told of a mother and daughter in a Nazi death camp, who argued over who should eat the only bit of bread left for any semblance of possibly life saving nutrition. A bit dramatic perhaps, and yet it captured for me the essence of how we cared for each other.
Luba was romantic and she did try dating after a few years in an attempt to fill some of the cavernous gap left by her husband of 53 years. Sadly these varied and sometimes troublesome journeys segued into a relatively rapid decline through a rare blend of leukemia and lymphoma.
She died on her own terms, as she lived most of her life. She was her own person, despite her powerful husband who dominated her world at the same time he aimed to protect her tenderness and strength of character. She chose to die in the room my brother’s family had set up for her to call home whenever she needed a dose of her grandchildren. As we gathered to say our goodbyes, my sister asked her to send us a sign to let us know she was alright on the other side that she was slipping away toward. Unwilling to admit to any belief of the possibility of being able to do that, in sheer exhaustion she acquiesced to my sister’s suggestion of her favorite flower. Since then, sunflowers have not only shown up in inexplicable ways, they’ve become family lore added to the legacy of a woman who has been an exquisite source of life affirming inspiration.
On her tombstone, we had inscribed ~ always a song in her heart ~ and that song keeps my soul singing so much of the time. As I believe it would for anyone fortunate enough to have loved and been loved by Luba, the sweetest heart I’ve ever known.
( Listen to the song linked above)