Every Jewish Mother’s Dread

When the ladies at her retirement home asked my 94-year-old mother, “What was your son-in-law like?” she answered, “Every Jewish mother’s dread.” I grew up in 1950s middle class Long Island suburbia. My parents defined themselves as progressive liberal Democrats and Jewish atheists. They were pragmatic people — worked hard, saved, put their children first. In 1979, I brought Philip into their world – immediately, a square peg in a round hole. Philip spoke of spiritual longings; my parents looked puzzled. He spoke of finding his calling as a poet and astrologer; my parents probed for a career with an income and retirement plan. Philip described his father’s fall from bank president to felon after embezzling funds; my parents grew quiet. Philip insisted love was more important than financial security; my parents blanched. I was married for 37 years to a man who meant no harm, who loved life and exuded joy while being committedly idealistic and infuriatingly opinionated. He worked off his own set of rules, thereby setting many people’s teeth on edge.

Forever seeking beauty and poetry, he lived intensely, was funny, quirky, endearing, and impossible.

Philip once stepped into a circle of British chain-swinging motorcycle hoodlums and broke up the brawl with the intensity of his voice. He sat at water’s edge, nose to nose with an alligator, insisting that the mini-dinosaur that terrorized me was his pal. We were initiated into Sufism and uninitiated when Philip felt too restricted. Unconventional as can be, he consistently refused medical treatment — in the end, spending three months failing to save his life in a fasting retreat in the mountains of Costa Rica. He drove many people crazy and was loved deeply by a special few. Forever seeking beauty and poetry, he lived intensely, was funny, quirky, endearing, and impossible.

Philip and I traveled, explored, and ventured in many directions outwardly and spiritually. Sometimes now, I grow dark thinking — what did it all amount to other than his all too early death and his abandoning me in a life I could no longer love or understand? In better moments I am infinitely grateful for the crazy richness of my life with him. He was a brilliant and complicated man in search of his place on the planet, my beloved husband, friend, lover, and spiritual partner. I have just completed writing Life with an Impossible Person; A Memoir of Love and Loss. It celebrates an unconventional life well lived and shares our journey toward Philip’s unconventional death. It also depicts my search for identity in a solo life, learning to live with radical change and radical absence. Philip’s dreams, longings, and values changed and enhanced my life while he was alive; he continues to color and inspire who I am becoming as I learn to carry on without him.

18 thoughts on “Every Jewish Mother’s Dread

  1. Joan, thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading your book, and learning more about your journey with Philip. It sounds both heartbreaking and enormously uplifting, and I only hope that you have gained some peace from laboring through the thinking, mourning, and writing process.


  2. It warms my heart reading this. I can picture it all so perfectly. I can’t wait to read more! And the picture of you two, the look on your face, it says everything you just wrote.


  3. Thanks so much for your comment, Katya! The writing of this has been such a loving living-on with your uncle “Flip” and my beloved guy.


  4. I think you have a very fluid and personal writing style Joan and it is a pleasure to see you finally getting around to putting pen to paper as they say. I look forward to your story unfolding and wish you every success. What a journey it has been!
    Having been neighbors with you in Abu Dhabi, my memories of you both are fresh and still vivid. You were always such a good friend and my memories of Philip are of a most unique human being. Most unique.


    1. Glenn, Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It has indeed … and continues to be … a journey for which I am so grateful. It is also especially heart-healing for me to read your words about our shared time in the crazy Abu Dhabi days and your memories of Philip. Thank you.


      1. Joan – I know we are so different, and I struggled to understand your love and relationship with Philip, but the more I read, the better I can understand, although question your many years of love to Philip. I do enjoy reading your feelings and truly see your love and devotion to him. Looking forward to your visit where we can reconnect for more than a few minutes. L-D

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks so much for your thoughts, David. I was happily surprised and deeply touched by your words. L-j


  5. As you know, I have been married a long time, and I will recall your bravery and beautiful words when my time of loss inevitably comes. You can guide us through the agony. Beautifully written!


    1. Your words touched my heart, Sandie. I don’t know that I can “guide” — since each person’s journey is so unique. But I can “be there,” and, at the very least, I can survive … maybe, eventually, thrive … and have the trust that you will, too.


    1. The caring responses I’ve received — like yours — mean a great deal to me. I am finding that articulating those inner thoughts and feelings contributes to healing not only for me but for others as well. I feel honored to be a part of this conversation with friends and family. Thank you.


    2. You have the gift to express yourself beautifully. I wish I could do that as well. We both know I’m not a reader or writer, but appreciate reading your thoughts and feelings. Hope we have a few minutes of together time when you visit to reconnect.


      1. Thanks so much for your supportive words. It’s so hard to trust that the words in my heart will reach paper and then touch the hearts of others. Receiving this from you means more than I can say.


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