My Step-Mother’s Funeral


My Step-Mother's Funeral

I ride to the cemetery with my step-sister’s daughter, a red-headed beauty who always makes me feel included. My step-brother’s daughter is sitting in the back with her husband and they are all sharing memories. Their beloved grandmother passed away 2 days ago, and although though she was 90 years old, it was sudden and unexpected.

She was my step-mother and I loved her. She was married to my father for 36 years and we had a warm relationship, even after losing my father 15 years ago. But I live in California, and I never really thought of her as a mother.

My real mother died when I was 14. My father remarried a few years later, he sold our home and we moved in with her family. She had also been widowed, but her children adored my dad. The bond grew stronger as my step-siblings got married and had kids of their own. He loved the grandchildren, and took pride in caring for their emotional and financial needs.

When we get to the cemetery we stop at the mortuary to see if my step-sister and her husband have arrived.  It’s hot and muggy, and my hair is starting to frizz like it used to when I lived in New York. I feel like such an outsider among this group of step relatives.  But they were my father’s family and I’ve come to pay my respects.

When we get to the burial site I look for my mother’s grave.  She is buried next to my father, and now my step-mother will be on his other side. Her first husband is also buried there, and she’ll be placed between them. I know–one big happy family. But I can’t find my mother’s gravestone and I suddenly start to panic.

I leave the group of mourners and see a large pile of dirt that’s has been dug up in preparation for the new grave. I brush the orange clay dirt away with my fingertips, and slowly my mother is revealed: Janet Horowitz… Beloved Wife and Mother… forgotten by her husband, forsaken by her daughter who never learned to talk about her or grieve for her loss.  And once again I become that lonely girl of 14, looking down at my mother’s grave in utter disbelief.

“Mommy, why did you leave me? Why did you never hold me close enough or love me the way I needed you to? Why did I have to struggle without a family, while they got Daddy? How did she wind up getting 90 years, when you only got 44? Where were you when I was left to figure it out on my own?”

My heart is broken, but I dig up a stone from the ground and put it on my mother’s grave to let her know I was here.  “I love you mommy, and I will until the day I die…promise!” With tears dripping from my eyes, I join the other mourners to honor my step-mother, the love of my father’s life.

Sydell Weiner, Ph.D.


3 thoughts on “My Step-Mother’s Funeral”

  1. What a tear jerker. Brings up so mamy memories of losing both my adopted parents by the time i was 18. I said similar words recently when I visited my birth fathers grave for the first time. He had died before I was born. I was reminded today though by a mentor that it is strange how we can celebrate turning of the the fall season and its beauty in the dying leaves. It is a death but there is new life in that trees future as a new life and journey for our loved ones can also be a beautiful thing.

  2. I teared up reading these beautifully eloquent words. I sympathize with my dear friend has she allows to us to witness her deepest feelings unfold. I’m also filled with a deep sense of pride for the bravery she has to share these painful memories. Sydell, thank you for sharing.

  3. I can relate to the childhood loss of a parent who always kept me at a distance, never really allowing me to connect at the deeper level I longed for. In my case, it was my father, who from the beginning, was emotionally-unavailable, the moral compass, the strict disciplinarian, and the accountability factor in our family, as his father had been to him (which he deeply resented and was hurt by, and then visited upon us). Though I had him in my life for 55 years, when it came time to let him go, I was on his unconscious, ventilated chest, sobbing “why didn’t you let me love you”? All one can do is forgive – and understand that people do the best they can, given their own wounds and limitations ?…

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