My mom died 10 years ago today. She's been gone now for more than a third of my life. My whole adult life, really. Sometimes a trigger will bring her rushing back, but mostly she feels very, very far away. Everything about her—from the way she cleared her throat to the roughness of her garden-callused hands—I try to hold close, but she is slowly slipping further from me. She sinks beneath the currents of all that has happened since, until all I can see is the form of her, and then nothing but my own reflection staring back at me. The memories have been dredged up so many times, my mind distorting them a little more each time. Who knows what was real, and what is my faulty re-imagining?
I don't have a place for her in my life. Last I knew her, I was a kid sleeping on the bottom bunk with a freshly-minted driver's license. Six months after she was gone, so was I. In college, with new friends and new dreams, reinventing myself. Ten months later, I was married. Ten years after her exit, everything has changed. I live in a different state, have two kids, I've completed college, am married to a man she never met...I don't think I can overstate how isolated the memories of her feel to me now. Did you know that butterflies can remember what they learned as caterpillars? It seems incredible, but so can I. I wonder if they believe it really happened, or if it just feels like a dream.
This is different for my six older siblings, who all lived on their own before my mother died. She met their spouses; some had children before she died. They had adult conversations with her, they asked her things an adult would ask and got to know her as a contemporary rather than just as a child. So much of what I know about her as a person—not as my mother, but as a complex individual with dreams and flaws and fears—comes from interviewing my siblings about her. I never had those conversations.
They can sit with her in memory and feel at home in ways I cannot, because she walked further with them.
Really, this is why my memories of her are fading. Memories only stay with us if we revisit them. What then, could summon her? Nothing to do with my children, my husband, my current residence or interests recalls a context in which I can place her. How can I even postulate what she would say or think of my rambunctious three-year-old, when we left off at conversations about high school boys and homework assignments?
There are stages of grief beyond The Big Five, stages of nostalgia and nuance. At this point I don't cry about her passing; I don't blame or get angry or feel depressed. But it does still hurt, and what hurts is the forgetting. It's the fact that I'm slowly losing her more and more, that I didn't just lose her once. All that I had of her ten years ago this night was memories, and I have fewer of them now than I did then.
All that's left of any of us, after we die, are memories. We all know that, but most do a poor job of preserving them. We rely on those we love to remember us, and they try their best. Someday, my children and grandchildren will live in a different place and do different things with different people than they did when I left them. At that point I hope to have made a record of myself, of the little things and the big things. I don't expect to be pithy or clever very often. No one beyond my family and a few friends will care what I put here. My life is not very exciting. But what would I give to know how my mother felt on days like I had today, wrangling two little boys through sacrament meeting and desperately trying to get them to go.to.sleep. Perhaps no one else in the world would care, but such a record would be precious to me.
I revisit all of this now, as the two ends of this solemn realization rush at me from both sides. Ever since I had a child, my life has been on fast forward. I realize what older folks always say is true: It all goes by so fast. Anyone who literally watches an infant grow from day to day gains a profound understanding of that fact. And looming over this journey I have taken in to the foreign land of parenthood are so many, many questions I have for my own mother. Questions that I hope to answer for my own children, someday.