Michael Abrams' Memorial to His Mother

Added to the Maqom Website on November 20, 2014

"A Few Thoughts About My Mom"

Beautiful tributes to my mom have poured in over the last three weeks. They capture her neshama - her spirit - perfectly; she really was as kind, and as humble, and as unique, as her students, friends, and colleagues remember her to be. As I write this, I feel an anxiety in sharing my own thoughts about her: What can I possibly say that would be worthy of her life? Worthy of all that she gave me? But then I remember that I am her son, that she loved me, unconditionally, and that she'd probably want nothing more, and nothing less, than for me to give voice to her legacy as a mother.

My mom was a natural teacher. Indeed, she found a way to teach me something every single day of my life. Her lessons ring in my head all the time:

  • Give to charity,
  • Never, ever stop learning.
  • Have mercy on people who treat you badly - you don't know what pain in their lives might be causing them to treat you that way,
  • When you write, use crisp, short sentences, and don't make it about you - make it about the story, and
  • Write sincere, handwritten thank you notes, and write them early.
[A quick diversion: This is one lesson that has long been hardwired in my brain. Two years ago, a law school professor wrote me a letter of recommendation for my judicial clerkship applications. I thanked her in person, but put off writing the thank you note. A month went by, and then two, and the thank you note remained unwritten. My mother knew nothing about this. But her voice grew louder and louder in my head each passing day. Eventually, I felt so guilty (and rightfully so), that I sat down and wrote the best thank you note I could muster. Proving the wisdom of my mom's advice, the professor almost immediately remarked how much the note meant to her. The smile on my mom's face when I told her this story lit up our house for hours.]
  • Finally, my mom instilled one predominate lesson in me, from first grade through my law school graduation, and which I'm sure she would have repeated ten years from now: Do what Hashem - God - wants you to do with your life, and the rest will take care of itself.
Together, these lessons form a tapestry of wisdom, a set of moral and ethical guideposts, which will carry me through the rest of my life. But I've learned, to my surprise and delight, that the tapestry might not be complete yet. On the day after her sudden death, I could not contain my tears. They fell relentlessly. Sometime late that evening, exhaustion finally set in.

Before I went to sleep, I searched for the Ten Minutes of Talmud podcasts that she had recorded and posted online several years ago. (I once confessed to her that sometimes, when I missed her, I would listen to the way she opened up every session, and it would comfort me. In a sing-song voice, she'd proclaim: "Helloooooo and welcome to ten minutes of Talmud. And todayyyyy we will learn about..." Every session, she delivered this utterly unique introduction.) I scrolled through the podcasts, looking for one that might help me - that might give me some insight into what I was going through. And suddenly, I found it: a podcast she had titled Externalizing Grief.

After an enthusiastic introduction, her voice turned somber, as she explained that today we would be learning about the grieving process. Interpreting the sages' teachings on the pain of losing a loved one, she implored her students, and, I felt, implored me at that moment:
Don't hold in your tears. When someone dies, it's as if they give you a bucket of tears that you either cry out or carry around with you. The problem is, if you don't start crying it out, pretty much right away, not only do you have to lug that bucket around, but the tears congeal and get really unhealthy. So, they're saying, cry it out, cry it out right now. So many of these customs are about trying to get you over denial.
I couldn't deny it that night, and I don't deny it now. Three weeks later: my mom is dead. Her physical presence is gone. But how remarkable it is that even in death, she is teaching me how to mourn her, encouraging me to cry for her, to let myself feel her loss.

On Wednesday, October 22, my mother slipped into olam haba - the world to come - and, finally free from the pain that had gripped her for far too long, sought God. But here in this world, on this earth, the gift of her spirit remains. It is all around me, imbuing everything I do. She will never stop being my mother.

Jews Mourning in a Synagogue
Sir William Rothenstein
Oil paint on canvas
Whitechapel Art Gallery

Rabbi Abrams' Funeral

Rabbi Abrams' funeral was held on Friday, October 24, 2014 at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, Texas.

If you are interested, you may listen to the entire funeral service.

The eulogies delivered by Rabbi Abrams' daughters, Ruth and Hannah, can be found at approximately 11:30 into the recording.