The Guest Who Never Comes To Dinner

They say people miss their dead family members most around the holidays. But somehow I never thought this applied to me. And then today happened. It wasn’t until after I overslept, yelled at the kids and then had a brief verbal altercation with my son’s nursery teacher (a first, in twelve years of being a parent) that I realized what was really going on. I was in the back of a cab, rushing south down Broadway to Gracious Home to get a few last minute things for our Chanukah party, when it hit me. I was having twenty three guests. But it didn’t really matter if I was having 23 or 2300. Or if I was having the most perfect, elegant and yiddishkeit-filled Chanukah party the Upper West Side had ever seen. My mother wouldn’t be coming.

“I always come back.” I must have said these words to my kids literally thousands of times since becoming a mother. But now, on the first night of Chanukah, more than nine years after my mother’s death, it’s the inverse of them that breaks my heart anew. It’s been so long without her that I actually have to work to conjure her image. I can see the soft lines of her cheeks, the intense twitchiness of her liquid brown eyes. And I can just barely make out her voice. “I–” And she hesitates. She doesn’t want to say it but she has no choice. “I never.”