|Mom in 1974-ish|
Tuesday, January 2, 2018
For Mom, Twenty-One Years Later
I lost my mom twenty-one years ago today. She died from complications related to a long battle with chronic-progressive multiple sclerosis. I was a week away from turning twenty-one. Which means I have not had her as long as I did have her.
It used to make me unique among my friends, to have lost a parent at such a young age. But I’m no longer young and many friends have joined this depressing club. The dues are astronomical and no one prepares refreshments.
People, moms are important. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Whether you were once a child or are currently a mom. They are the sun, moon, and stars, even when they are completely obscured by darkness.
I wish she mattered less. She doesn’t. She matters more than almost anything: that first hit of love, that childhood sense of safety, that initial understanding of what it means to be a woman in the world: mom.
Memory is funny when it comes to dead people: I can remember her any way I want. Which means I can also mis-remember her any way I want. I could make up stories and say, “She would have loved this,” but I don’t know that. She was a person changing too: perhaps by now, she would have very different tastes. For example, a memory circa 1994: she didn’t want to tell Dad that she no longer loved the country-style of gifts in blue and white that he would buy her. She used to love that aesthetic, but it was no longer her favorite. She appreciated the thoughtfulness behind the gift, more than the gift itself. So she gave me one comment about it, perhaps in an effort to conscript me into educating Dad on her new aesthetic or simply to influence my own gift-giving and gift appreciation. I remember at the time being horrified that she didn’t get exactly what she wanted. But now I know she did, if at a slant. Being able to deeply appreciate the intention behind things is very wise. So is being able to tell someone what you like and don’t like, but that was a lesson I’d have to learn on my own.
Other lessons she taught me: My brother and I were homeschooled for a spell in southern California; third through fifth grade for me, sixth through ninth for him. Our homeschool education was supplemented considerably by trips to the local museums: La Brea Tar Pits, the Smithsonian, the Botanical Garden, the Natural History museum, each an exciting discovery for a thirsty mind. She loved them too. Her soaking up of the experience was a lesson in enjoying the things you enjoy. What a valuable lesson.
Twenty-one years with, twenty-one years without. A transitional tipping point. Having her meant being cared for, but also fighting with her. Mothers and daughters know exactly how to strike a match that lights up the others’ fire. As a teen there were moments that simply the way she breathed sent me into a fury. I can only imagine the same was true for her. I knew exactly how to hold up one finger to indicate “A moment please” that drove her to the brink of madness. Those are memories I cull when writing fiction; that particular strain and pain. Other memories I pull for comfort, like being read to as a child (Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit), and reading to her in my late teens as her disease rendered her more and more incapacitated.
The trajectory of my twenty-one years since has included close to a decade of a life in response to illness and death, followed by a decade of living my own life. As I hurtle toward the age she was when she died I am horrified to understand just how young she was, how inadequately short her life was.
I can miss her now without the loss of her cutting me in two. Closure isn’t necessary; finding a way to live well with grief is. What used to be a grief so enormous and singular I now know is part of a much larger tapestry of pain in the world.
I haven’t had her as many years as I have had her. Except, that isn’t true at all, is it? Physically absent, she is still a daily presence in my life. I take comfort in reports that even certain bacteria on my body are from hers and will never be erased. I can wear any of the pieces of jewelry she made and feel I’m carrying her out into the world with me. Today I am wearing a sweater of hers that is as old as I am. I have the wooden rocking chair she rocked me in as a child. I carry these things through life in much the same way as the lessons she taught me: treasuring them, trying not to get mustard on them, and letting them live beside each new lesson the day brings.