My mom was fifty years old when she died. I was nineteen. She died of breast cancer. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was sixteen. She was in remission for a while, and then developed a different kind of breast cancer (the nastiest kind) in the same breast. She died about a year and a half after that second diagnosis.
I don’t talk about my mom very much, except to my husband, who never met her. But I think about her. Sometimes I think about her a lot, sometimes less. This year I’ve been thinking about her more than usual.
I thought about her when my husband and I made our first lemon meringue pie. I used to help her make the same kind of pie. I thought of her when I saw the large doll house at the Smithsonian because she loved doll houses and miniatures. I thought of her when I made my first story sale because when no one else believed in me, she did, and I know it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to her. I think of her when I teach the song “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera, which I sang at her memorial service and was one of her favorites.
When we have an important relationship with someone, it doesn’t end when they die. Just as we create stories about our lives, we create stories about our relationships, and when the other person dies, we become the only one who can affect that story. But it still continues, and as I get older, I gain new insights into my mom. I wonder how she felt about various aspects of her life. I see things we have in common that I never noticed before.
In many ways, my mom was a very troubled woman. This is the aspect of her that the family has often dwelled upon…when they bring her up at all. But she was also a truly great woman, and this is how I remember her best. She was brave and possessed an infinite well of compassion. She was the best listener I have ever met, and she gave the best hugs. She tried to change herself, and if she didn’t necessarily succeed, she taught me that it is worth the effort. She always had time to read aloud to me, and she took me to the library twice a month without fail. She loved Christmas and little dogs, waterfalls and the ocean, children and long hot showers. She also had horrible fashion sense and an inexplicable love for bad made-for-TV movies. And she loved me with all her heart.
I have a lot I want to say, about death and grief, about society’s sometimes dysfunctional attitude towards these things, about not knowing what to say. Some of these things really need to be said, even if they’re uncomfortable or inconvenient or painful. But today is for my mom. I really miss her. I think I’ll always miss her. And you know, I’m glad of it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I love her as much as she loved me. And we were lucky enough that we both knew that about each other before she died.
Happy April 26th, Mom. I’m still thinking of you.