I ’m on my hands and knees, scrubbing a grimy piece of gum stuck on my kitchen tile, when my brother Hersh calls. Hersh hardly ever calls. His number on the caller ID means only one thing: Mommy died.

“How did it happen?” I ask before he can say hello.

“She choked on her saliva. It was over before Hatzolah even came.”

“Oh,” I say awkwardly, unsure of what to say next.

I knew Mommy’s death was imminent. I kept up with her situation through my sisters. In the last two months, the cancer had spread throughout her body. But I hadn’t seen her in a while — ten years, as a matter of fact, unless you count curt nods at family celebrations. So it’s not the same for me as it is for the rest of my siblings, who have been at her side these last years.

The funeral takes place the day after Yom Kippur. The chapel is packed with men and women come to pay respects; the silence of the hall punctured only by short bursts of weeping. The sons and sons-in-law rise to speak, recounting their mother’s exemplary qualities. I sit in the front row with my sisters and sisters-in-law, staring straight ahead, red-eyed but tearless.

Our last conversation was a decade ago. I was begging her to stop interfering in my relationship with my husband, to stop trying to get us to go to therapy. “Mommy, it’s really not your business,” I’d said through clenched teeth.

“Yes, it is my business,” she had insisted, almost shouting. “I’m your mother.”

You’re my mother and…? I wanted to shout back, but didn’t.

Why could my mother never finish the sentence? Why couldn’t she say I’m your mother and I care about you, I’m your mother and I love you and that’s why I want you to get help with your marriage? Now she was gone and I would never know the end of that sentence. Maybe I had heard the end.

After that conversation we stopped speaking to each other.

“Mommy is difficult, we all know that,” my sister Varda had said to me numerous times. “Just accept her the way she is and get on with it.”

“Do you think she doesn’t tell me nonstop everything I’m doing wrong with Yaffa?” Tami had said. “ ‘Tami, don’t you think you ought to get Yaffa evaluated? I really don’t think her behavior is appropriate for a 12-year-old.’ ‘You shouldn’t let Yaffa talk like that to you, Tami. In my day, we would have given her a good smack for such chutzpah.’ I get that all the time from Mommy. But that’s the way she is.” Tami had shrugged. “You just have to learn not to take her so seriously.”

I never did. And Mommy was just as stubborn as I was. If I didn’t call her, she didn’t call me. And now it’s too late. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 572)