I recently became an orphan for the second time in my life.
My mom passed away nearly two months ago, my father in 2014, and my first set of parents were lost to me for reasons I have no memory of. Compared to most my age, they are gone far too early.
It’s strange to lose that thread; that intimate connection to your early life. Even though I didn’t come to them until I was about three, they were all I’d ever known.
While I should’ve anticipated the losses, they were unexpected. I learned a long time ago to always brace for the unknown, but I had forgotten, lulled by a false sense of security that she was never going to die. And when she did, I wasn’t ready.
(But seriously, how can you ever be truly ready to lose someone you love? No matter how plagued with health issues or illness, can you ever come to terms with letting go? I don’t think so.)
So I’ve had the unsavory task of going through her house and belongings. Deciding what to keep and what to give away, what to sell, what to discard has left me feeling dirty. Even though there’s no other choice it feels invasive and wrong to go through every space of someone else’s entire life.
Although I didn’t find anything earth-shattering or life-changing, I did find a lot of photos of people I didn’t recognize and knick-knacks I didn’t know the story behind. I found stripes to my dad’s navy uniform and their wedding rings that had gone unworn for many years (I’m wearing them now) and other small treasures long-forgotten, but remembered from my childhood.
I was shocked to find so many of her precious memories haphazardly left behind in tattered old cardboard boxes without any rhyme or reason. There were faded, worn, photo albums but many pictures lay In boxes without labels, tags, left unloved and untouched for many years.
As much as I would like to say that I was surprised, that was who she was. Preserving memories and protecting the past was not in her DNA. It was one of the things that frustrated me about her the most. As much as I loved her, our relationship was complicated and often messy. The cardboard boxes full of haphazard memories upset me more than I expected.
I realize that relationships between mothers and daughters are often sloppy and complicated. Especially in recent years, we often struggled to find a common ground and our stubbornness often got in the way.
So as most writers do, I put our relationship on paper. I write about that strange relationship between mothers and daughters because that’s all I’ve ever known. There have been many good memories, as well as many sad ones. The bad ones inspire stories and in those stories I’ve been able to exorcise Demons and quiet nightmares. Like me, my characters face mothers who didn’t always preserve and protect their past.
I never realized it until I became a mother, a fierce protector of my own children, that I needed to purge the anger and resentment that I had toward the mother who buried her previous memories in damp, unkept cardboard boxes.
Complicated and messay.
But I did love her very much and always will, the good memories, also weaving their way through my stories. Her memory always with me. As much as I’ve learned about what not to do, there were things she was great at that I need to do better. She taught me that none of us are perfect.
So, I will continue to sift through her belongings, sort though pictures of people I don’t recognize and blindly give away things that may or may not have been important to her. And as I do so, the only thing I will hold onto is the knowledge that no matter what, she loved me.
And no matter what, perfect or imperfect, I still loved her.