Today it has been 10 years since my mom died. It feels like a big day and I want to spend it doing something big to commemorate her. My sister and I talked about going back to Venice where we scattered her ashes, but over this years that plan has faded and instead I got back from the Bahamas late last night on a completely unrelated trip. In past years, on her birthday and mother’s day and the anniversary of her death, I’ve looked through photo albums or bought flowers and carried them around with me or threw them in the ocean, not entirely sure what to do. Usually I make a point of wearing the locket she gave me and end up at the beach – a place that was special to both of us – in contemplative silence, worrying the cool weight of the silver…but what I really want is to talk about her.
A lot of time has passed and while the grief has faded like everyone said it would, her death changed my life. Before she died I thought nothing bad would ever happen, or at least I imagined bad things happening in kind of a benign, abstract way. Life was golden. So it seems fitting that when I remember her, I remember sunlight. She was an incredibly warm person and she radiated that light in photographs and in person; when she smiled (which was often), when she fell over sideways from laughing (also frequently), when she was waving to me from the table in the restaurant where we met for wine on Fridays (I was always late so she was always there) or when she opened the door with a flourish of excitement when I came for dinner. Helen is Greek for “shining light” and it seems to me that she was always smiling. I know that can’t be true – no one smiles all the time, but when I think about her, I still feel warm. That hasn’t faded.
Many other details have. I am losing the hard edges of memory and they details are overlapping on themselves as they disintegrate with time, like sunlight dancing on water. At one moment you see your reflection and then it’s gone in a glint of light or maybe the flash of a fish just below the surface.
It gets a bit complicated because while I do conisider her very much my mom, I’m adopted and she was my birth mother so I also have an adopted mom who I love with much. It matters because I met Helen as an adult and I only knew a couple of her friends well. Most of them I’ve completely lost contact with and very few of the friends I had then are still around. Stupidly I never introduced her to my adoptive family. So when I want to talk about her I have to rely on myself. I am frustrated with myself for forgetting but I haven’t been telling stories. There has been too many years of not talking about her and so I will start now with what I have left – her smile and her light.
When I was connected with her through the adoption agency, I wasn’t sure who she would be or what I was getting myself into but I did know that I did not need another adult to judge and criticize me. I agonized over that letter (possibly even more than I did over this blog post) but finally decided that I had nothing to lose and wrote everything out in detail. I tried to tell the whole story of who I was with my whole heart and when she wrote back full of warmth and love, I finally felt understood. I felt like I had come home. We met at the boulder on White Rock Beach and sat there talking until it was dark and cold – then we went to a cafe and talked until it closed. Matt is the only other person in my life that I’ve felt this close and connected to. I miss her so much.