Are My Memories of My Mother Gone?

Me and my mom in the front yard of our Putnam Lake, New York, home, June 1971

Me and my mom in the front yard of our Putnam Lake, New York, home, June 1971

 
 

Lately I have been having a recurring dream. It’s not a good dream, and it haunts me throughout my days. Have I lost all memories of my mother?, I wonder. I awake not knowing, searching, afraid. Of course I haven’t lost them all…but my fears are real, grounded in my reality that I have no one in my life to talk to regularly—deeply—about this most special person in my life.

Usually I share advice-driven stories on this blog. I decided, instead, to share some recent writing I did about my mom, and my experience of grief, here. Why? Because I think personal stories connect us. Because I think the grieving process, while unique to each of us, is also universal in many ways.

And because too often I hear the words, “What stories do I have to tell that matter?”

And while everyone—truly, everyone—has stories to tell, sometimes it’s the stories we can’t tell that may resonate; the ones we have to search for, feel rather than see, that come forth. Just because I am not relating specific details of memories of my mother in this passage, it was worthwhile for me to write—cathartic, yes, but helpful too on my path to remembering yet more, and honoring my experience as it is being lived, right now.

Soon I will share a post about ways to access and trigger our memories in an effort to write meaningful memoir. But for now, as the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death approaches, I offer up this most personal (and brief) piece as an example of what may result when we focus on our experience of, well, not remembering.

Losing Her, Again

It is not reconstructed memory or exaggerated legacy to say that there are no superlatives great enough to convey my love for my mother. She was my role model, best friend, hero, and champion. My daily phone call. My witness.

Lately, I can’t remember her.

I want movie reels.

I want to see my mom lunging toward me for a hug, leaning back into a belly laugh that could go on for minutes. Pulling groceries out of the trunk of her brown Mazda, closing her eyes as I drive across a bridge. Smelling daisies in the kitchen, back-to-school shopping at Petrie’s five-and-ten. Playing kickball in the front yard in Brewster, making quiche in my galley kitchen in Brooklyn. I want to see Lillian Roode, here. Somewhere.

If my memories are silent films, that’s okay. Hearing her voice would bring me to tears, joyful tears; but seeing her in motion—well, maybe I could touch her, if I just reached far enough.

After she passed away I was feverish with intent.

I wrote her eulogy over the course of a fews hours in the middle of the night, between sessions breastfeeding my three-month-old son, in a nondescript motel room lit only by the glow of my laptop. I was hungry for stories of her—stories I had not yet heard that would shine a light on her soul, stories I had heard so many times they had become lore. The new kept her alive, the old brought comfort amidst the knowledge that she was, indeed, not alive.

At her wake, I listened to all that friends and families offered up, though I heard very little; I was present that day in body, not spirit.

Months later I would surrender to my insomnia and reach for the ornate journal I never wrote in for fear my musings would not live up to the grandeur of the leather-bound book, and I would write and write and write, hardly pausing for breath: bulleted lists in barely legible handwriting enumerating every single little memory I had of her. I wanted them all. When I would pause to think and memories did not wash over me immediately, I felt unworthy. Of my grief, of my happiness, of her belief in me.

Some nights I wrote the same memories I had scratched out the previous evening. No matter; I was desperate to not forget. My neat, deliberate script turned into sprawl as I raced to recover my dreams, convinced as I was that they held secrets of her in the beyond, glimpses of the memories I couldn’t access on demand.

Where did they go, my memories?

I have no one in my life who shares my familial grief, no one who knew my mother for the length of time that I have and who misses her the way I do. No one in my life with whom to reminisce, swap stories, or get lost in laughter.

I want to cry.

I want to occasionally swim in my grief. To allow myself to fill that hole inside me with buoyant water and float amidst my memories. To invite another in to see my mother’s reflection alongside me, to recognize her in me, and to find her somewhere in the void.

If not occasionally, perhaps once.

But.

The hole is there. The memories, the tears, are not.

Where did they go?