For two months I watched the light die. Increasing confusion and memory loss became the shutters slowly closing over the remarkable woman that was my mother.
We did not have the traditional mother-daughter intimacy that seems to be the referent for many woman. We are both complicated, perhaps more so as time has gone on.
As a child I wrote her, mostly from camp or from a summer stay in Florida with my grandmother, innocent lovey letters. Sometimes funny, sometimes angry but almost always lovey. Remarkably she saved them all.
As a young adult I wrote her long newsy and personal letters about my life at the time, husbands, school, work, money. Later in life I stopped writing at all for a time, holding my personal life close as she wanted to know and use any bit of information she could come by. I was astonished to learn of her correspondences with past husbands, boyfriends and their relations long after those relationships had ended. She never let anyone go willingly until she decided it was time.
During this last phase of our relationship I mostly emailed as she could not hear on the phone unless she really wanted to. And there was very little intimate shared as she chose to hear everything as she wished it or thought it to be. And she had no boundaries about sharing what she was told with anyone and everyone.
But remarkably, during her last protracted illness, I spent weeks with her. The longest alone time we had ever spent together in my adult life, and unusually, there were very few arguments. Perhaps she knew this was our last and most precious time together, maybe I have grown up enough to let her confabulations pass. How she remembered something, or told it – it no longer mattered if it was true.
During this time we just lived, in mostly a single room, in companionable silence. Sometimes working on some project she had in mind, other times just watching the news or having a meal. She always had a project in mind, something to do next even as she knew her time was drawing to a close.
Letting go of my mother involves letting go of this also extraordinary place where she lived for over fifty years. This house, and her presence in it, became the touchstone, the lodestar, the place to return to. It is a beautiful place and a strange house full of art and books and weird found objects.
My mother found beauty in rescued birds nests, found bleached animal bones, robins eggs and a million other things. Her artist’s eye was unique. Her flower gardens, blooming from season to season were a labor of decades of love, now starting to overgrow with weeds. She never used pesticides or poisons, she shared her blueberries with the bears and her apples with the deer and raccoons, the peaches with some creature or other. My mother, never really at peace, lived in complete harmony with the natural world around her.
As we begin to remove things from the space where she and I spent her last days it feels like erasure. And then I start on the photographs and she is brilliantly brought into focus as are the stages of the building of the house.
We were not close in any traditional way but I miss my mom and I will miss this place. We had our time, hers is done, my road goes forward.