My Amazing, Memorable Mama

Mama and Me

My Mama is just adorable. She glows with an inner excitement for life, even amid debilitating cancer treatments. I realize I’m biased as her daughter, but in truth she’s always been “cool” (though very strict when I was a kid). She’s done so many things and lived such a varied and rich life, in which I feel honored to have had a role.

Born in San Francisco, my mom is actually just past the Boomer category, but she had me late in life, landing me betwixt Gen X and the Millennials. It’s always just been the two of us and we share a special bond (but don’t let that fool you, we bicker and grate each other’s nerves like any other mother-daughter on occasion). But when it comes down to it, we have the same nerdy sense of humor, quirkiness and passion for life. I was raised to believe in the importance of education, equality, kindness, tolerance and justice, the best-quality fresh produce at local farmers’ markets, and a love of reading and the arts. There were always crafts projects and a huge box of costumes and theater makeup around and Mama encouraged the wildest of outfits (embarrassing photos of which there are simply too many to destroy).

Grandma and Me, photo taken by Mama

A Renaissance woman, my Mama throws herself into her interests and learns them as an expert. She inspired a love of Shakespeare in her Bay Area elementary school students; backpacked around Europe and taught English in Spain for 4 years (yep, she was a Hippie); was a pioneer in the tech world as an early member of The WELL, birthplace of the online community movement (I’ve fond memories of playing with Howard Rheingold’s daughter Mamie at The WELL parties in the 80s); created a beautiful graphic chart of the order of the Jewish service still used at our local synagogue after helping found a local reconstructionist/renewal minyan (Jewish prayer group); led an Elders Camp one of the several years she attended Burning Man and created an inspired bustier business; took evening and weekend classes to earn her Masters Degree in Instructional Technology and worked for Apple Computer; studied her Bat Mitvah a few years before my own; won photography awards for her stunning black-and-whites she developed in our basement darkroom; served on the Jewish Film Festival committee; learned to play the ukulele on the beach in Santa Cruz; knit her own sweaters and hats; studied the moon’s progression across the sky and natural herbal medicine; became besotted with extended trips exploring the canals of Venice, Italy; and so much more. She shared her passion for live theater with me (we loved Les Miserables and even read the book together when I was 8 ― yeah, I was a weird kid), and we’re now yearly regulars at Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SCC)…

Charles Pasternak, SSC The Three Musketeers
From one of Jude’s favorite SSC actors and new friends, Charles Pasternak:
Dearest Jude, It was such a pleasure to meet you last week. Thank you so, so much for all your kind words. It’s such a pleasure to know that one’s work is appreciated and that there are wonderful people such as yourself keeping this beautiful theatre alive!
Mama Living in Spain in the 1970s

Besides all these varied interests and accomplishments, she was a devoted and supportive mother I always celebrated her on both Mother’s and Father’s Day as she did the work of both and made it look easy (save her frustrating, though understandable obsession with stir fry). She’s got a fantastically organized mind and can make beautiful sense where others see confusion, precisely why this brain cancer and its ill effects have been so difficult. She’s a problem-solver, longtime DIY proponent and allover dynamo. My dearly departed grandmother Mema was described as zippy and my mother certainly did not let that light go out. Similarly, Mama now talks to everyone and makes new friends everywhere, just as Mema did.

Mama’s Bat Mitzvah Party on our Deck

As a Jewish single mother, she was Olympicly overprotective. She raised me on her own without any paternal or familial support back in a time when single mothers were shunned at best ― long before single parent community services or networks were available. There were difficult times, but despite it all, she strived to provide a childhood filled with cultural activities, camping in nature, dance and other sports, community service, gifted programs, classes, arts and crafts, Judaism, technology and more. She worked a lot to provide these opportunities, and I cherish them along with the times we sat on the couch watching Golden Girls or bike-riding around the neighborhood. My mom is an AMAZING woman. (Don’t misunderstand, we also drive each other totally crazy, but the love is deeper and stronger. It’s not an easy caregiver role reversal.) But it’s not just me that sees her special light:

Recent email Jude received from a friend…
I swear, you have a magical way of impacting people you speak with. I think they feel your sincerity and interest, and warm to it. You are memorable! Hold that close to your heart in gloomy times, Jude.

In Burning Man costumes

Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m sharing the story of my amazing, memorable mama. To be honest, it seemed the world should know just how special she is before she is gone. Mama has Anaplastic Hemingiopericytoma, a WHO Grade 3 brain cancer that’s extremely rare, aggressive and malignant. Doctors weren’t able to surgically remove all of the tumor, and 6 weeks of radiation treatments really just seemed to make her symptoms worse but stabilized the cancer, though was the likely culprit of her minor stroke and seizures causing her major decline of the last 6 months. To say this last year-and-a-half has been difficult would be a major understatement, and we would not have survived without our sweet healing dog, Abby (a Boston Bull Pug Medical Alert Service Dog who’s cosmically glued to Mama’s side).

I’m grateful Mama has been able to enjoy so many experiences in her life, yet it feels much too early and I am deeply sad that she will likely not get to experience being the mother-of-the-bride or a grandmother. I’m sad for both of us. Until Mama was diagnosed, she was a thriving, sprightly, vivacious, tech-savvy, fiercely independent, quick-humored senior who scoffed at the age label, but loved the discounts.

Mama in Golden Gate Park several years ago

Mama’s symptoms have been getting worse, but doctors simply don’t know much about this kind of cancer (except that it can come back and multiply in a week). We try to focus on the positive and on the time we have together now. We take walks, talk about mementos from life as we sort through the house, and enjoy a bit of escape into our favorite TV programs… we watch #SayYestotheDress and talk about what styles would look best when my time comes and she’s not there, which sometimes makes us cry, but still feels important; we watch #CakeBoss and oooh-and-ahhh at the fantastical, tasty creations; and we love #JonStewart, #JimmyKimmel, #Ellen, #SoYouThinkYouCanDance, #NCIS (Abby is named for their #AbbySciuto), FlashMobs on YouTube, and more (but no, we don’t spend all day watching TV).

Luckily, Mama’s Neuro-Oncologist (brain cancer specialist) and Neurologist have given the medical okay to take #MamasLastWishTrip2Venice and we plan on spending a month in her beloved city culminating in her 70th birthday there. Finding an apartment that’s essentially handicap-accessible with views of a canal from sitting inside seemed near impossible, but finally we were able to get the perfect place for our special trip with the help of ViewsOnVenice. We’re now working on securing the flights we need to be on, but we’re short on necessary miles (any #United or #Continental miles donations would be hugely appreciated). We’ve decided: SCREW BRAIN CANCER, WE’RE GOING TO VENICE, ITALY!

Mama sharing her watercolors with a new friend in Venice

Why Venice? Mama became enamored with Venice several years ago, writing a blog called Giuditta in Italia, and painting watercolors of her beloved city. This is a very special trip for us, and a special thing to share with all of you (if anyone’s there…) Please follow our progress on Twitter @gabriana
and local friends are welcome to Buon Viaggio celebration we’ll have a couple weeks before we leave… graphic invite to come! We’ll be blogging and sharing lots of photos so subscribe already to both of our blogs and connect with us on social media, we’d love to hear from you!   🙂

Thanks for your ♥ and support!

By the way, if anyone knows #JohnnyDepp, who also has a deep affection for Venice, please extend an invitation for a spritz in Venice! You never know, right?

Later Developments:
Since United Airlines refused to accommodate the many generous air miles donations that poured in from friends and strangers alike (cap=15k/person/year), we set up a secure, free YouCaring.com site for those who’d like to Help Sponsor Mama Jude’s Last Wish Trip to Venice, Italy. We greatly appreciate any and all support and encouragement during this difficult time!

135 replies

  1. So beautifully written! As I read this at my desk during my lunch break, I'm tearing up. I am feeling so incredibly lucky to have you as my friend and 'sister' and to have spent time with Mama Jude. Much love from Lys (Elan and Yofi too)

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  2. What a heartwarming portrait of your Mama, and an awesome celebration of the time you are so clearly been blessed to enjoy together. I wrote my Dad's memorial service last year, but this is so awesomely better – so much better to write these things, and say these things out loud when you're still together. Your Venice plans sound amazing. You both deserve to get there smoothly and have a wonderful time. May it be so. 🙂

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  3. Gabriana…we have never met and I only met your mom once (blues cruise)….I wanted you to know what a wonderful tribute this is. Having only one child as well, a mother can only dream of the love you have for her. And, when the dream is actually real, well…oh sweetness. Thank you for sharing your journey. Shalom.

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