It's still not over for me.
I've written a lot about my mother at various times--sometimes on the anniversary of her death--and today I don't feel like another recitation of why she was extraordinary, brilliant, all those things she was. Engineer, architect, nurse, artist, clothing designer and seamstress, someone who could lay up brick or do carpentry, and so on. All that and more. But the universal quality--the one that wasn't unique to her--is what a parent means to a child , dead or alive.
Alive, a parent is a direct connection to a child's past...and to the extent that the past influences the future (and it does) connects the child in the human web. A parent's death is a severance so severe that a child can be floating in limbo for a long, long time. What is lost is not merely that one human contact, that one human personality, but what it represents is loss of all that came before--all history that is personal.
My mother and I had made time to talk in the months of her decline. We talked about many things, including family things...but there are always questions you mean to ask next time, or ones you didn't think of...and on that morning, when she closed her eyes and her breathing began to change, those questions I hadn't asked and she had not answered rose up in a cloud. Her family--her parents and one brother--had lived a long way from their relatives, so she saw them seldom. She wasn't close to any of them. Her brother had already died, over on the east coast. Her mother had died when she was 14; her stepmother had died when I was less than two, and then her father died when I was four. We were a last tiny two-leaved twig far out on a long limb...and now the other leaf was falling.
I know things she told me, and incidents from our life together when I was a child, that no one else knows. But it's decades now, and do I remember accurately? Probably not. I don't know distant cousins she knew slightly, at all. I met three of her aunts--once. None of her uncles. I don't know many things I wanted to know and we ran out of time to talk about. She kept in touch with people she barely knew, trying to mend old family quarrels she wouldn't tell me about. I haven't done that. Having grown up isolated (by distance, by lack of money, by those same quarrels and ignorance of them) I had no good experiences to balance the blankness...so my emotional family is almost entirely people with whom I share no genes.
My mother outlived, by 32 years, the prediction of her imminent death. (The last time someone made one: she'd outlived other dire predictions before that.) She outlived friends who were thought to be healthier. She outlived the doctor who had given her the "dead in six months" sentence (and two others--a third died a week after she did.) She died twenty years ago today. She was sick, but still clear of mind within hours of death. She was in her own bed, with her own flowers blooming outside and her daughter and grandson in the house with her. I could not wish her still alive, because she would then have spent another twenty years of sickness and pain...so, as deaths go, it was a good one: it was time, and she acknowledged that I'd made it back to her bedside in time, and she let go.
Every year, when the autumn equinox is past, and the slant of light changes dramatically...it comes back to me. I can't help thinking it over yet again...what she was, what she accomplished, how she lived her life. What was lost to the world when she died. What I lost, the personal things the world knew nothing of. She was not perfect, and admitted it--taught me not to expect perfection in others, or demand it before sharing bread and salt. We did not agree on some things, and would not agree now if she were still alive (the chance of my convincing her, or her convincing me, is miniscule if it exists at all.) I can see her faults almost as clear as I did as a teenager; I can see her gifts and talents just as clearly now. What I can't see--because the connection was cut--is what lay behind her (and thus, behind me) except as an intellectual construct.
It's a difficult day, some years. It's a thoughtful day always. It's a day of prayer for all other mothers raising kids by themselves, as she did. For all other women who are judged unfairly because they're women, or because they're divorced, or because of something society thinks about their choice of occupation.
It's a day to find a quiet place, usually out of doors (and always on a day as crystalline as this one is) to have a little time to cry, and thank her. May she rest in peace. Amen.