It took my mother's death for me to acknowledge the truth others could see so clearly and I only grudgingly: my mother was an extraordinary woman.
I knew my mother as a daughter, but it has not been until this long period of sorting through her belongings, writings, pictures, letters and detritus that I have come to know her as a person, not defined by our relationship. And that breaks my heart.
It's not that she tried to hide herself from me, but more because I wasn't really interested. We had a complicated relationship and very different temperaments. For too much of my adult life, I felt impatient with her, and even in the final days of her life allowed that frustration to show.
Does that mean she'd agree I was a terrible daughter? Not at all; my mother loved me, and I loved her. As a mother myself, I know there's nothing my son could do to that would make me stop loving him. I also know that I was a more patient and loving daughter in the last decade or more of my mother's life than I was before -- and I'm certain she felt that, too.
Still, I wish I'd done more. I wish I'd spent more time with her, going through the cluttered rooms of her condo and trying to sort through all these things while they could have spurred conversations between us. I say that knowing that she really didn't want my help with this; she turned down every attempt I made to order the mess before it was too late. But still...
I start this as a project, a place to absorb the memories that arise as I polish silver, filter through photographs, and figure out what to keep and what to toss. Part memoir, part chronicle of my mother's life, I'm not sure what I'm getting into. A place to capture my feelings and a place to write -- something my mother deeply appreciated in me, and something else I didn't give enough of to her. A place to work through my grief.