My mom died four years ago today.
I no longer spontaneously cry—making beds, walking down the produce aisle, seeing commercials for cancer centers when I least expect it—but I still catch myself absent-mindedly reaching for the phone when something funny happens. You know, the house phone. I can’t really name too many people I still talk to on my house phone anymore. Even now, 1,460 days later, I’m not ready to get rid of it.
I’ve honored her memory every passing year by putting into words the changes that have crept into my life in the time without her, and have usually marked its passage by focusing on my kids: their size, their maturity (or, hello, teenagers’ lack thereof), and their role as unknowing anchors in my unsteady journey through middle age. It’s funny, I often wonder how they’d take knowing the true strength of their super powers.
What’s heaviest on my mind on this anniversary, though, is the profound change of my emotional core. My emotions—and the things that affect me—have veered tremendously from what once was.
You know what angers me most now? When friends roll their eyes over their mothers’ forgetfulness or annoying habits or intrusiveness or anything, really. I find myself irritated when they complain about perfunctory—and quick—visits with their moms and I often suppress the need to scream when hearing they dutifully “have to” go see their moms for dinner, or accompany her to a doctor’s appointment, or—again—anything, really. It infuriates me that they just don’t get it. They don’t understand what others would give for one more day.
Know what makes me happy now? That my mom died so young and so quickly. It’s actually a rather ironic personal admission I’ve made peace with. She was only 69 when she passed, the toxins in her body were vicious and speedy, taking her within six months from start to end. The thing is, prior to her diagnosis, she was beautiful, hipper than most her age, and stylish. Extremely stylish. She was envied for her magnetic humor, was incredibly charismatic, and if I may be cliché, a treasured friend. Really and truly treasured. She was also quite the hot ticket: In sickness, when she was too weak to get to Kohl’s, she circled items out of their circular and sent me out to buy them. Shoes and bags she never did muster up the energy to use, but she had to have them.
She was immeasurably vibrant and if I’m being totally honest, I find comfort in that image being my final remembrance of her. I will never, ever know her as a frail, feeble old lady, with white hair and stooped shoulders. I will never feel pointed sadness helping her up a flight of stairs. I won’t ever have to visit her in a nursing home and spoon feed her. I will never know the unfathomable despair of watching her recollection of me and other loved ones fade from her memory, right before my eyes. She will forever be my great-shoe-wearing, never-leave-the-house-without-makeup-wearing, always-with-awesome-accessories-wearing 69-year-old mom. And that is my beautiful image. That makes me happy. I imagine I’m not the first person who’s lost someone too early in life to cling to this shred of positivity, so I’m not sorry for it.
Know what I care about now? Hmm, not so much. I keep a firm grasp on my family, of course, and make sure we stay intact because it’s all we have and all we need. It is the good stuff for sure. But all the other stuff? Meh. See ya. Grudges, weight-gain, the-sky-is-falling hysteria of every day that screams BREAKING NEWS? I let all go. I learned how to surround myself with drama-free friends. I ask myself, What’s the worst thing that can happen? And I realize it’s not the end of the world if (pick one) a kid doesn’t go to college or a spouse loses a job or a kid drops out of college or the bills are piling up or the kid doesn’t play varsity ball or someone snubbed someone on Facebook. Ah, what the hell, pick ‘em all, none truly matter. Not in the least.
So I really don’t care about all that much these days. Just the good stuff. I wish she could see how fantastic her grandkids are turning out. I wish she could see the living room chairs I just spray painted. I wish she could see how long my hair’s gotten. I just miss her like mad.
And when my youngest, sitting in my passenger seat, innocently blurts out, “This song reminds me of Nanny!” I care about that at my very center.