This month will be one year since my mother’s passing. She passed away this year, at the young age of sixty-four, from pancreatic cancer. It’s been a struggle dealing with a new reality and a world where she is not physically present, but over time I’ve found ways to see the lessons her death has taught me.

My mom had a very special way of giving a present. It never mattered how much it cost or how big it was. The point of the present was the story that came with it. For example, a doll was never just a doll. It was a poor little baby doll whose shop owner mentioned how lonely she was. How no other children had wanted her because she was missing a button or an ear. And how lucky she was to have been bought by my mom, because now she was going to belong to me, a special little girl who would love her and take care of her.

The point of the present was the story that came with itMost of the gifts she gave me came wrapped in this sort of meaningful package. I still have many of the gifts, like the music box with the sad dancing clown, or the big yellow bear who needed to go to the bear hospital for surgery. Over the years, when I had my children, my mom would give them gifts in the same way . . . always full of meaning.

I recently came back from a trip to New York City with a friend. As usual, I brought each of my children a gift. The boys each got a car: Eli got a small limousine, and Dovid got a taxi, both of which said “New York”. This time however, their gifts came with a story.

“So, I was walking down the street in Times Square when I saw a large toy store. There were so many toys in the store! Beautiful, brand-new race cars lined the walkways, and perfectly pretty dolls sat on the shelves. I went into the store, and I noticed an area on the side of the store keeping a few beat-up looking toys. There were old-looking dolls, books, games, and even some Matchbox cars. They were so tiny and sad-looking. I went over to the salesman and asked him why there were toys on the side, away from the others. He told me that those were toys that had been in the store for years and desperately needed a home. They were broken down and nobody wanted them. I felt so sad for those toys. The man told me that his two favorite cars were in there, a yellow taxi and an old limousine, but that they were already too old to sell. Well, I thought for a minute, and I decided that I knew two little boys who were excellent at taking care of cars, and would give these two sad lonely cars a good home.”

I proceeded to hand each boy his car. The delight on their faces was wonderful. They loved their cars. Then, suddenly being bumped back into reality, my twelve-year-old tween said to me, “Are you trying to be Mima?” (our name for my mom). With a grin and a pause I said, “Actually, I am.”

The younger me would have never admitted this. I would have said something more like, “No! I just think gifts should be special!” with an annoyed tone. The new me saw things differently. As female children, when we are told we look or behave like our mothers, we smile and feel proud. We are close to this person; we look up to her. As teenagers and young women, when we are told that we look or behave like our mothers, we cringe or make annoyed faces. We love this person, but we are definitely nothing like her.

We seek to grow apart from this person and become our own individual, of our own making. Genetically, there are traits we cannot control, but anything that appears within our grasp to avoid or change becomes a focus. We want this person to be proud of who we have become and be proud of the children we are raising. Life goes on.

By emulating her, I was keeping her close to me When we get older and this person passes on, we miss them. I thought about what my daughter said and realized that, no, I was not my mother, but I was so happy to become like her. By emulating her, I was keeping her close to me. I had found a way not to miss her so much. By carrying on her best traits, I am never without her. She is always with me.

So, too, is our relationship with our Creator. As infants and children, our souls are the closest to Him. We do not recognize a separation between ourselves and our surroundings. Our parents, our world, our Creator are one with us. As we grow, we grow further away from Him. Suddenly, when we realize how far we’ve gone, or can’t “see” Him anymore, we want Him back. We strive for Him, we strive to be like Him, so that we can feel His closeness. We recognize that the separation we craved all along was not really what we deeply wanted.

Yes, I miss her so much. However, I am so grateful that G‑d has given me the ability to recognize a key lesson in life and the world around us. I was given a choice to flee or emulate, and I am so grateful for the lesson. May this story be an elevation for my mother’s soul.

In memory of my mother, who passed away on the 16th of Tammuz, corresponding this year to July 19.