February 15, 2011. The day my mother died.
This marks the first time I have actually typed out the date. On that day, at 12:29pm, my sister and I stood by her bedside in the hospital and lived the moment that our mother took the last breath of her life. She was a woman with whom we’d had an extremely complicated relationship for the last ten years; but who was, nonetheless, our mother – our first connection to life, and the first person both of us met on this earth. It is too soon to write about the actual moment or the twenty-four hours leading up to that moment, although someday I will, because I want to and need to; and because I believe it might genuinely be helpful to women out there who struggle with their own complicated relationships with their mothers.
Now, I have to begin the overwhelming process of sifting and sorting my relationship with her – the good from the bad, the childhood memories from the more complex adult realities, the attempts to remember the person as flawed but capable of kindness and love yet without whitewashing the reality, lest I risk becoming the daughter who repeats the sins of the mother through blind reverence for a lost loved one.
This week, as I am in Colorado scattering her ashes surrounded by the people she loved most in the world, I want to reflect on the memories of my mother that were good, the traits that made her unique, the gifts she gave me, the times I want to remember, and the stories I want to share with my girls as they grow up.
My mother taught me to love to read. She encouraged my love of books, especially new books. I will never forget the summer we were in New York City and she took me to the book store and actually waited while they opened the box containing the brand new Baby-sitter’s Club book so I could have it “hot off the presses.” As a young reader in my early teens, she would often read what I was reading, so that we could talk about it. I thought that was cool then … and still do. I will definitely do the same thing with my girls.
Whenever I was sick, my mom would make me warm Jello to drink and cinnamon toast with the cinnamon sugar topping as thick as my finger. To this day, whenever I feel gross, I wish I could go back to warm Jello and cinnamon toast just like she made it.
My love of movies is definitely credited to her. Sometimes (okay, many times) we would see two right in a row. Her best friend (my second mother) would often take my friends and me to movies in the summer; and there was nothing cooler than when we would go to the late showings!
She would let me stay up late to watch award shows. The Oscars were our very favorite. I remember in college, she would call me (per my request) to wake me up at 5am so she could read the nominations to me as soon as they were announced.
My mother had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about approaching celebrities and talking with them as if she had known them forever. She always knew some really obscure fact or story about them, and you could just tell that they appreciated it. She was a sparkplug when she conversed with strangers – they always took a delight in her larger-than-life personality. One night when I was in high school, we were eating at our favorite restaurant in Houston and she discovered that the actor Beau Bridges and his family were a few tables away. She went right over and struck up a conversation with him and his wife, and then came back to our table and leaned over to me and said, “You should go ask them if they need a babysitter while they are in town.” She said it so confidently that I did it without hesitation. And guess what? They asked me on the spot if I was free the next night, and I wound up babysitting for them twice that week! My mother always believed there was no harm in asking.
She told great kid stories. She was one of those people who could really capture the way a child spoke and could do such good imitations of the things they said. It makes me tear up writing this to think that I will never again hear her imitate my kids or tell another great story about my sister when she was little.
I think she really wanted my sister and me to have amazing experiences and be cultured. She made that happen. She exposed us to the arts and politics and the world around us. She and my dad took us to great places to visit. I remember all of that, but I also remember the little things, like letting us eat different colored Popsicles while we swam in our backyard pool during hot summer days. Thank you, Mom.