My mother stood in front of her ornate china cabinet, crammed with crystal and glass and silver, and traced her tired, swollen fingers across a weathered bowl. “This is an antique,” she said, her once forceful voice barely audible. “Oh, and so is this one,” she stammered, clumsily reaching for a vase. “They’re valuable. You’ll have to remember that when I am gone.”
She looked at me, tears taking their familiar shape in the corners of her eyes. The end of her life was closing in on us at the rate of a high speed police chase. The fierce, unrelenting tumors were literally choking her intestines, making my foodie mom rely on a feeding tube for nourishment. I steadied myself, knowing if I didn’t remain stoic, we would collapse together in a puddle of pain.
“I will remember, Mom,” I managed.
The truth is, five excruciatingly long years after her death, I don’t remember.
I remember the concerned look on her face. I remember the fear in her eyes. I remember her too slender frame, ravaged by ovarian cancer. I remember my heart beating one million beats per minute, threatening to betray my cool exterior. But I don’t remember what she asked me to save, and that has paralyzed me.
Since her death, I have clung to her stuff. Her frayed recipe cards, stained with the remnants of family dinners’ past; her half-filled journals, all written in perfectly passé cursive; her enormous collection of animal figurines; her cherished birdwatching and gardening and butterfly books; her unsent letters; her tremendous stash of cookware, amassed from too many trips to Marshalls. All of it.
Her belongings, tucked away in the unseen and undisturbed bowels of her basement, gave me an awkward sense of comfort….until I decided I had to sell her house.
The process of unearthing her material marks on the world has been intimidating, grueling, and, at times, impossible. I have had to go through the emotionally taxing process of figuring out what to keep and what to toss. It has both made me giggle uncontrollably and brought me to my knees. There has been no in-between.
At times, I decided to keep it all. I would make the exclamation defiantly, daring anyone to question my decision to keep every last morsel of my mom (my oh-so-smart loved ones didn’t say a word). At other times, I asked my husband to sift through stuff, and put things aside that seemed important. Ultimately, it was a job I could only do myself.
It has been absolute hell.
I have been doing my best to pacify myself during this perfect storm of saying goodbye to her home, her belongings, and desperately missing her as Mother’s Day approaches.
I cope by remembering her love, her essence, and her legacy, which transcend her stuff. I constantly remind myself that she is not represented by crystal candlesticks, or old record albums, or dilapidated holiday décor. I know she would understand that I can no longer carry the weight of her possessions, and I can only hope she forgives me for forgetting about the ones she deemed most valuable.
Instead, I value her.
I remember her flawless joke-telling skills that I did not inherit.
I remember her belly laugh.
I remember how she would always stop her car to help a frog cross the road, even if she was running late.
I remember how she would give up her seat to a pregnant woman, even if she wasn’t feeling well herself.
I remember her staying up all night making homemade desserts for bake sales that supported all of my teams.
I remember how she taught me to approach people with both an open heart and an open mind.
I remember her creative genius.
I remember her unparalleled hugs.
I remember her loud singing in the car with the sunroof open at a stoplight.
I remember how she valued writing a card and mailing it the old-fashioned way.
I remember her Abba ringtone on her flip phone.
I remember what it was like to have her in my corner, enveloped by her unconditional love.
I remember how she persevered through endless rounds of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and hundreds of doctors’ appointments, and managed to still be the caregiver.
I remember her signature matching outfits, her yellow gold jewelry collection that rivaled Mr. T’s, her colorful handbags.
I remember her voice.
I remember how she reached for my son’s hand before crossing the street.
I remember the delectable taste of her homemade eggplant parmesan.
I remember her stories, and how she shared them so effortlessly, so colorfully.
I remember what a counter hogger she was when we prepared Mother’s Day brunch every year.
I remember all of the lessons she instilled in me, and I pass them along to my kids.
I remember my beloved mom, not her stuff.
Today and every day, I remember her.