Today is April 26th and the traditional time for me to write about my mom, on the anniversary of her death.
Last year my grief over my mom’s loss was weighing heavily on me. In retrospect, that was probably caused at least in part by the fact I was writing a book at the time that was all about grief and a teenager’s loss of her mother. In writing it, I was also remembering what it had been like when the grief was fresher.
This year, in contrast, my grief has been quiet. The book I’m writing right now has very little to do with grief, or mothers, or death. It is about other things.
But I have been thinking about the past because of my massive clean-out of stuff that is currently in progress. (Yes, it is still in progress. I just brought another packed carload to Goodwill yesterday, after spending another good portion of the weekend cleaning things out. At this point I think I am fairly close to calling it good and stopping, but we shall see.)
I have always had a fraught relationship with my mom’s remaining stuff. It feels like a limited resource because she will never have any more stuff, and it also feels like all I have left of her.
I’m pretty sure this is false. It is just stuff. The reason I care about this stuff is because of the memories I’ve attached to it. But it is the memories that are what I actually have left. Memories and genetics, I suppose. The stuff is valuable in that it prompts memories I might otherwise lose. And that is why it is this stuff, stuff that belonged to my mom or that is generally from my childhood, to which I am ultimately most attached.
I don’t actually care that much if I remain attached to these objects. It would be great to be able to get rid of more of them, I suppose. But the really important thing to leave behind is not so tangible.
There is a sense of doom that pervades life after a troubled childhood. There is a fear that perhaps some things cannot be transcended, that there is an inevitability to the patterns played out by your parents, and their parents before them, and their parents before them, and back back back beyond living memory. Perhaps some people do not notice these dynamics playing out, but for those of us who want more from life than what we’ve seen in our families, this awareness is inescapable.
So then, it is this doom I wish to toss into the dumpster. Because we can make our own choices, we can educate ourselves, and we can reach higher. We can do better. It is not easy, this daring to strive for more, but it is possible.
If there is one thing this last few months have taught me, it’s that I can lay this idea of doom to rest. I can bury it in a field under an apple tree, a cautionary tale I won’t want to visit very often. Because the doom is heavy and clammy and it tries to pull you back down into the undertow. To believe in the doom is to give it power.
But it is not true. I have reached this anniversary of my mom’s death knowing that I do not have to become her. I do not have to live her life. I have made some of the same mistakes she made, yes, and who I am has been informed by who she was, for good and for bad. But I drive my own story and it’s already clear I won’t have the same ending.
I don’t know what my ending will look like, but I do know it will be all my own.
The relief of disowning the doom is profound.