A year ago today I sang Sinatra, holding my mother till she died; I then kissed her goodbye.
But goodbye was not over. Reminders of one’s mother are all around, and embedded in one’s psyche. For the first three or four months, I treasured every piece of memorabilia. After four months I had to return to her home and separate her belongings with my sister. At that point I realized that all the “things” I treasured were only of value because my mother treasured them – and their value to me died with her. I brought home those things I could fit in my car that she wanted me to have, and those things which she wanted my nieces and nephew to have, since the executor of the estate had no interest in shipping these out to them. I packed and shipped those things to my brother’s children, but never even unpacked the things I brought back for myself. They are still in the boxes.
Except for Mom’s original wedding and engagement rings. Those I put on my hand. Since my hands look like Mom’s, I could look at the rings and relive the countless hours we shared at the kitchen table.
I removed things in my home that I kept for her visits – horse radish mustard, apple butter, a walker…
Beyond “things” is the constant reaching for the phone, or noting things in the news. Every Sunday morning I would call Mom and we would solve all the problems of the world. After her stroke, I would play games with her, asking her to name three colors, or three wild animals. This was the only effort made to help her rebuild her mind, and it became increasingly difficult, as everyone else just let her mind rot away. But I did get a good feeling because she held on to our relationship, as if my calls were her only connection to the real world.
I was a member of a choral group that would regularly visit and regale the staff and patients with familiar music. But after Mum’s death I cried every single time, remembering when my mother and I were staying at a rehab center after her stroke, and I used to push her to sit at the piano and play. As a jazz pianist, once her fingers hit the ivories, motor memory would take over and she would play like the old days. I finally had to stop going to the nursing homes altogether.
Over the past year, I have had to start rebuilding my own life, which for five years had been wrapped around straddling two states: being available to visit or bringing her here to visit; sending her things I felt she needed; keeping in control of her medical needs; assisting the fiduciary attorney in his responsibilities to her. Now I had to get a job and catch up on my own medical and credit card bills I had amassed over that time.
While she was alive, I had the sense that we were growing old together. It took a long time to break away from that sharing and start acting and feeling my own age (or even less). I am becoming myself, albeit apart from any family.
Over the last few months, like someone going through a divorce, I have been shedding all reminders of Mum. No longer listen to jazz. Avoid political discussions. When something catches my fancy I share it in a blog rather than in a phone call. Yet every Sunday morning I still look at that phone wishing I could reach her.
Mum was an accomplished interior decorator, and now I have the urge to undo all the details in my own home that we planned together, or that she put her talented approval on. Since I will be moving within the coming year, I am trying not to act on that urge. This apartment is a mausoleum to Mum. A new place will hopefully be my own.
I feel a little guilty about wanting to wipe out all memories of her. Perhaps one day I can revisit those memories, but right now I cry at each one.
Supposedly grief lasts about a year. And since she lived 90 years, and over the last 20 we built a relationship I wanted since a child, I should be able to accept her passing as part of nature’s way. I’d taught her my Taoist views of life and death and she was converting to them. She is now living a new life, good or bad, and has no more ties to me. Yet a lifetime of inside jokes and cultural references still haunt me, and probably will until my own death.
© 2015 Bonnie-Jean Rohner