They say mourning grows easier with time, but that isn’t quite right—at least it hasn’t been for me. Perhaps the loss becomes more normal, but that is not to say it ever becomes comfortable. Losing a loved one creates a palpable absence. Its magnitude does not get diminished. In fact, there are ways in which it grows bigger.
There are certain losses that make love frightening. We become aware of the great hurt our heart must face when someone we love is lost to us. The loss of the person is the first great pain. We also loose who we were able to be because of their presence, love, and support. That part of us dies. And then, the death by a thousand cuts comes through the gradual losses to our memory.
With every year that’s passed since my mother passed away, I lose a bit more of what I can recall of her. And so, as Mother’s Day approaches this year, I write to remember.
I remember her happiness. She exuded joy. It’s not that she was never sad, annoyed, or worried, but her dominant temperament was positive. Her happiness was contagious. She had a way of putting people at ease and making them feel better even in hard times. There was plenty to stress over when I was growing up, especially financially, but with her at the helm, I knew our ship would sail straight and find calmer seas.
I remember how she helped me grow—always encouraging me to do things for myself and to venture beyond the limits of where I was comfortable. She was raising me to be confident and self-sufficient. She was preparing me to think for myself and stand up for my beliefs. She was showing me how to be a woman—how to be both independent and able to play nicely with others.
I remember her courage and strength. She was not easily intimidated. Once we were going to the library with one of my mother’s friends, and a man tried to steal that friend’s bracelet right off her wrist. All my mother had in her hands was the record we were returning to the library, but that didn’t stop her from putting an end to the theft. I’d say the would-be mugger didn’t know what hit him, but I’m sure he did. It was the record in my mother’s fast and ferocious hands. He could only give up, because my mother wasn’t going to stop.
I remember how much I loved her cooking. I regret that I never let her teach me any of her recipes, but I wasn’t interested in such things at the time. I found cooking tedious and the idea of handling raw meat disgusting. I didn’t help, but I loved watching her cook. It was magic to me how she could take such unappetizing raw products and turn them into my favorite foods.
I remember her love of beauty, be it a stained-glass window or weeping willow. I remember our trips to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to feed the ducks or collect pinecones that we’d turn into Christmas ornaments. She always stopped to smell the roses. She savored life.
I remember how much I trusted her. She was so loving and wise. I always felt confident going to her for advice. I never doubted her instruction or encouragements. She seemed to understand people and life to the deepest possible level.
I remember her faith. It was inspiring. If God had a buddy list, I was sure that she was on it. They seemed to be on such familiar terms. She spent hours in prayer and reading the Bible (even those really, really boring parts). But she never thought any of it dull. She found insights and connections everywhere. And her faith didn’t make her harder to be around. It was strong without being a bully—sincere, not sanctimonious.
I remember my mother’s confidence. She wore it like a beautiful garment. She was unapologetic about who she was and what she believed. She did not pull her punches, especially when it came to her faith in the face of doubters or ardent atheists. She wasn’t harsh, but she didn’t step on eggshells to avoid offending anyone. She carried herself without a hint of self-consciousness or doubt. So whenever she spoke or smiled, you knew she meant it.
I remember her laughter, her hugs, and her smile—that gap between her two front teeth that my siblings and I inherited. She was warm, and soft, and loving. Her sense of humor was smart and observant. She was an easy person to share a conversation with. Every time we spoke, I learned something. She knew so much.
I have many memories of my mother, but for as much as I remember, I know there is much more that my mind has buried or lost. The casual moments of life that come and go without fanfare, but become priceless when there can be no more of them.
It is frustrating to have so few tangible reminders of her. It hurts to be so far away from the last time I heard her voice, smelled her perfume, or melted into one of her hugs. That is the part of grief that doesn’t get easier. Time can only take you further away from your lost loved one—can only start to eat away at what you remember. And so I am grateful for every memory that continues to hold on, and I cherish every dream or memento that keeps connecting me to her.
“To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports it branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you.” ~ Yann Martel (Life of Pi)