One-month-old Danielle Mizrahi in her mother's arms.
As we pull up to the gates leading out of the cemetery, I see people silently piling out of their cars and hear the patter of feet walking toward the bathroom. I follow their movements. I wash my hands and walk out to see my dad drying off his hands. (It is a Jewish custom to ritually wash hands after visiting a cemetery.) We get back into the car after stopping to give tzedakah to the man sitting next to the bathroom doors. We sit in silence as we drive out of the cemetery and I taste the tears that fall down my face and into my mouth.
I turn my head to look at my surroundings, to hide my face from my father. I think about all I said to the cold hard stone that now replaces my mother’s once warm and friendly face. For nine long years we have been following the same agonizing routine. This immediately makes me think that I’m so lucky to have whom I have in my life, yet I feel so unfortunate to have lost someone I dearly loved before I got to know her.
I woke up that morning to the sound of my alarm clock. I shut it off and plopped back down into bed. I opened my eyes again a couple of minutes later and got out of bed. I brushed my teeth, got dressed in comfortable clothing and waited for my father to wake up.
After waiting for about an hour, my father was up and dressed and we were ready to leave. We got in the car and drove the familiar route to the cemetery. Once we got close, I tried my hardest to remember the first time I took that exact route but every time nothing happens, it’s a blank. I like to believe that my mind purposely blocked out the toughest moments.
We drove down the winding street and I felt a pit in my stomach start to form. As we approached 122 Arthur Kill Rd. in Staten Island, I felt the familiar feeling of wanting to know more wash over me. We drove through the gates and all the way up the hills and stopped at Avenue C. We got out of the car and walked up the pathway until we read the headstone with my mother’s name engraved into it: Etty Mizrahi.
My father lights the yahrtzeit candle and places it in the container made especially for it on top on the headstone. We say "leilu nishmat Esther bat Maggie" then take a step back. My father likes to speak out loud to the stone. He speaks to it as if it was her. He updates her on the general things that have been going on and then takes a moment of silence for himself. The moment always makes me feel like someone reached into my chest and ripped out my heart because of all the pain I feel for my father.
As my father speaks out loud, I speak in my mind to the mother I never had a chance to fully know. I think about all I miss out on by not having her physically with me every day. I think of all I want to say to her. And I think about how much I love and miss a woman I don't remember all that well. Only someone in my position could fully understand the thoughts that run through my mind.
By the time I finish silently pouring my heart out, I'm trying my best to hide my tears. I think my father sees me but doesn't say anything because he doesn't know what to say, especially when he is in as much pain as I am.
We walk back to the car. I say, "Goodbye, I love you," then close the car door. We drive toward the cemetery exit, stop to wash our hands and then continue driving out of the cemetery. As we drive up that same winding road heading home I think about how I lost someone I love and will never get her back. I think of how she won't be there to meet my husband. She won't be there to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day and she won't be there to see me create a family of my own.
After all that goes through my mind I then remember what I do have. I have a father, sister and brother who love me. I think of all the good things that came about because of a disgusting disease called cancer. I hear wonderful praises about her. I get to have an angel in heaven watching over me. I guess God took her away from my family so she could always be looking down on us.
If only I could turn back the clock to a better time.