Thursday, August 27, 2009


Originally uploaded by mygothlaundry
My mother died one year ago today. I've been thinking about it all week, even though I remember my mother, a year after my father's death, being outraged at the people who called that day. "I don't want to remember his death," she said, "Call me on his birthday. Call me another time. I want to remember his life, not his death."

I am not as strong as my mother was.

A year seems like almost an artificial distinction, like a work week or a Sunday, as if it's nothing but a socially imposed constraint, but it isn't. Our human brains are hardwired to look for patterns, to look for repetition and, I guess, to make calendars: witness Stonehenge, think of the Maya and look at your Google calendar with a little more awe. There is a pattern to time. The moon has gone through twelve cycles; the earth has revolved all the way around a yellow star and now is back to where it was, turning my small part of it inexorably from summer into fall. This long year has gone by and now here I am, walking the dogs early in the morning at the same place I walked them last year, when I woke up shaking because my mother was in the ICU, the place where I got the call three days earlier that she was back in the ICU. That place has changed utterly and so have I: a long year's worth.

Every morning I put on my mother's wedding ring. It fits my pinkie perfectly and I look down at it, a thick band of gold, and I think about her. She is still in my life. Her furniture sits (and is being ruined, naturally, which would not surprise her) in my house and every time I look around I see her, from the plastic container in my cupboard labeled in her handwriting: Pancake Mix crossed out and underneath it, Grits, to her old sweaters folded in my new closet. I think about her all the time and I miss her with a constant quiet ache that this year of time has not done much to heal. I worry about that sometimes, worry that maybe I haven't done my grieving properly, that surely I should be moving on, that I'm not following the proper steps but then I think fuck that, there is no timetable and it's facile and stupid to believe that there is a right and a wrong way to do this. There's just me, living it out one day at a time, one month, one year and then eternity in a world where my mother is, inexplicably, not.

A friend told me last year that there would come a time that I would pick up the phone to call her without thinking and I have been dreading that moment ever since. It has not yet quite happened, although there have been a million moments where I wanted to pick up the phone, to ask her a question, to hear her voice, to have again the luxury of mothers and daughters: the ineffable joy of getting irritated by something she said without thinking. I miss arguing with her almost as much as I miss her unbounded love and her always intelligent and often acerbic take on the world. I miss her knowledge. I curse myself for not videotaping her, for not keeping a notebook and writing down every single thing she ever said, for not listening well enough or often enough.

This has been a long hard year. Her death shook me down to the core, which I knew, when I allowed myself to think of it, that it would and then it brought my father back into my mind, which I was not expecting. I thought that old pain was all dealt with but if I have learned one thing these past 12 months, it's that old pain never really goes away, it just comes back for reexamination. I guess it will continue to do that, forever, even though this loss of parents is in the nature of things, it's the way it is supposed to go and the way, for all of human history, that it has gone. We move through this and perhaps it enriches us or maybe it just gives us another opportunity to rail against fate and time and loss and age: I don't know yet. It appears that I will find out; there is no joy in this knowledge.

When I take stock of this last year it seems insurmountable; I look at it with a kind of horror. I remember the first few days after her death so clearly and then the weeks and months of disasters that followed, from moving to Annie's problems to family fights - the list goes on and on. It seemed for a while that she was the only glue holding the universe together - it really seemed like that when the economy crashed - and we would all go down now into the whirlwind. And then the world evened out and that too was hard. There's been so much that I wanted to share with her and cannot, from the personal: Annie's miraculous and ongoing recovery from her stroke; my foolhardy acquisition of yet another dog (but a good dog) to the political and international: she would have loved to see Obama - she called me, a couple years ago, almost breathless in her excitement over his speech at the DNC - inaugurated; she would have cried over Ted Kennedy's death (I've done that for her) and so much more.

Years pass and memory becomes, I suppose, more important than it ever was before. It feels, on a day like this, as if it's all that there is even though I know I'll go on, waking up, walking the dogs, going to work, lurching as I tend to do from crisis to crisis. It's just the nature of life and the world and you know, I do want to rail against it. It is hard, today, and yet it's only a day, but it's a day that I can't help marking.


Jeremy said...

Beautiful post, Felicity!

zen said...

I remember writing the eulogy that i spoke at my dad's funeral and how words seemed poor companions to my memories. I wish i could have spoken as eloquently as you have here - but i do believe i spoke as honestly and faithfully as you have.

Thank you.