Today marks the day, 9 years ago, that I lost my mom to brain cancer. The first couple years my sister and stepdad and I would go to her grave. That always felt a little uncomfortable and sad to me personally because a gravestone in the middle of town amongst a sea of other dead waiting to be remembered held no significance to me or maybe it just felt so final? Either way, I couldn’t do the whole visiting the grave thing. I felt guilty for years that I rarely visited her grave but for me…that’s just not where she was. I felt nothing by being there except sadness and awkwardness. I just don’t get graveyards — they are definitely for the living but I guess, for myself, I’d much rather go have a glass of wine on the porch in the home where she actually lived.
Sometimes after we would try to have some breakfast or lunch and be together which was nice but it was still too hard to accept the fact that she was gone and here we were eating brunch and trying to act like this wasn’t hard. Other years I stayed in bed and was sad all day. I didn’t particularly like that either.
So a couple years ago, after the breakfasts and lunches kind of faded away because we got busy and the day felt less ceremonious and ritualistic, I decided to honor and remember my mom in my own way. It’s still a sad day for me every year but enough time has passed that it doesn’t feel as raw like the only thing I CAN do on that day is cry a whole lot.
For the past couple years on this day I’ve been trying to do things that my mom loved. It might be as simple as having a glass of wine (my mom was a big wine-o) and listening to Jimmy Buffett (her favorite). One year I went to beach because my mom grew up in Florida and the beach was one of her favorite places on this earth. I always have a little dance party because my mom was THAT person on the dance floor and always loved to dance so much.
This year when I was thinking about what I’d do to honor my mom I started thinking about memory and how 9 years was a long time and how I’m scared I’m going to run out of things that I remember she loved. I talked about this a little bit in my P.S. I Still Love You book talk but that’s one of my greatest fears — not remembering. Or forgetting the details — what her laugh sounded like, how her face looked for real and not just in pictures, what her favorite food was, etc.
Making fun of my mom (on the left) because of how she scraped her legs falling down in her wedding dress in Jamaica
And I kind of had a moment this morning. My mom’s favorite dessert of all time was carrot cake. It’s not my favorite but I’ve grown to like it. I was thinking about how I wanted to get some carrot cake today but was trying to think of a backup favorite in case I couldn’t find any easily. And then I just sat there because I couldn’t remember what else she liked dessert-wise. And then I panicked. How could I not know or remember? What if I didn’t know all along? How could I not have paid more attention? And so on.
I panicked thinking about how slowly and slowly these memories and these details were going to fade. How eventually there is going to come a time when I will have just as many (and then MORE) years on this earth without her than with her. And it pains me to think about that. How I had 20 years on this Earth with her but time is going to keep going and I’ll be living in a world where there will be 20 years of memories without her. 20 years between the time she lived and the time she didn’t.
Memory and memories are just a weird thing. We collect them. We try to hold on to them. We lose them slowly or they become vague/less specific as we have distance from them — they begin to have holes like swiss cheese. We try to fill picture frames and books and journals and our social media pages with them. We try to pass them and on share them so that the memories just don’t live within us and end up leaving us when we die or our memory fails us for good. They aren’t always reliable or accurate. The most random ones jolt through our brains at the most random of times in full living color while other ones we try to remember just seem lost in the abyss. There are some things we remember forever. There are some things that seem lost the moment it became a part of our history. How some memories we wish we could forget have been branded in our hearts (I wish I didn’t remember the day my mom died in so much detail and color).
There’s been these periods of grief in my life. The times where I’m just trying to get through the day and grief was intense because it just happened and my mind could not fathom it. There was depression and bitterness. There came a wave of a lot of “firsts” that happened without my mom. And then these HUGE big life changing things that were hard to think could happen without my mom — graduations, marriage, babies (for my sister and not me obviously), etc. And I guess maybe this stage I’m in right now has a lot of fears of remembering or realizing the details have slipped away more than I’d like them to have. And maybe it’s that I’m dealing with my stepdad getting remarried and all of my mom being taken OUT of that house that a huge chunk of our memories were made in in preparation of his new wife. Maybe it’s that in preparation for all that, we’ve had to go through some of my mom’s stuff and memories have been swirling around.
So on this hard day, 9 years later, I decided that one of the biggest part of memories and remembering the people we loved is in the sharing and the retelling — sharing them with other people so they aren’t these things that are solely up to us to remember. It’s always broken my heart that Will never met my mom or that Geneiveve and Adela (my nieces) will never ever know her. So it came to me really strongly, in the middle of my panicking over my mom’s second favorite dessert that I can’t remember, that I really really want to put together a book with memories and pictures of my mom and growing up for Genevieve and Adela…and for myself if I’m honest…so that they can know her and that those memories can live on. I want to write about what I know about her. Relive memories I haven’t forgotten. List the random details.
And now I’m going to go on search of that carrot cake. And by the way, as I was writing this post, it dawned on me that cheesecake was definitely a close second. Memory is a fickle beast, I tell you.