What I've Learned Through Forgetting My Mother

It was four years ago today that I lost my beautiful mother.

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The photo on the left is on a trip we took to Mendocino; it was in her friend’s convertible, we blasted Kenny Loggins the whole time, and toward the end of the trip I cried because I was so damn cold and her friend wouldn’t put the convertible top up.

(I didn’t say damn yet then.)

The photo on the right is on Capitola beach. My mom sat on a bench watching the ocean; she didn’t have the stability to walk on sand anymore, and she’d made friends with a bird who was eating (stealing) other people’s food.

It was the last photo we’d ever take together.

The night she died I sat down at midnight and wrote a furious note in my phone to her. I wrote that I couldn’t believe this, that I didn’t know what to do, that my eyes were starting to swell shut from crying. I told her that she was the only one who could make me feel better, but she was now the only one who couldn’t.

I also wrote a rapid fire recollection of stories that she’d told me about her life before me: a road trip she took with her friend in high school, her summers on Laguna Beach, the night she’d woken up and Liberace had been downstairs with her parents. I’ve always had a poor memory, and my furious writing that night was a promise to her that I wouldn’t forget.

I was terrified that I would forget.

My bad memory has always worried me. “If I don’t remember stuff, it’s almost like it didn’t happen,” I lamented to my best friend in high school. “What’s the point of this whole life if I don’t even remember most of it?”

My best friend came from a religious family, and she relayed a story that the pastor had recently told at church.

“A churchgoer realized that in 20 years of Sunday attendance, he didn’t remember a single sermon that he’d heard. This made him doubt the point of going: after all, if he couldn’t remember any of it, had the experiences even made a difference?

After voicing his concerns, another member of the congregation shared his point of view.

‘I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I can’t recall the entire menu for a single one.

But I do know this…they all nourished and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!’”

(source: Morning Story and Dilbert.)

Now, I’m not a churchgoer, and I don’t have a wife that cooks me meals. But just as I recognized the significance of this story back in high school, I can recognize it now.

After four years of my mom being gone, my memories have begun to fade. I don’t remember all of her mannerisms, stories, or even experiences that we shared together.

I can’t remember what advice she gave me before my first date, or if she told me about her own. I don’t know who her first kiss was, or if she and my dad actually had a wedding, or how she felt raising two young kids alone.

Sometimes my lack of answers to these questions will punch me right in the gut, and I’ll feel like I’ve betrayed not just myself, but my mom too.

But there are some things that you don’t have to remember, because they’re more like feelings and colors that lay over the film of your life.

Foundational.

Peripheral.

Constant.

I don’t remember exactly how, but my mom always made me feel safe. I don’t remember what she said in each circumstance, but I know I know I always felt supported, believed in, and secure.

I know that I felt so loved and taken care of growing up that I don’t need to remember the answers to all of my questions. My mother’s life nourished my own, and although I can’t remember much of it, her life is the reason I am who I am today.

The answer that I'm left with is the only one that I really need, and something that death, time, and a poor memory can never take away…

Love.

She left me with love, and it’s a love that even my bad memory will never forget.

xo

Melissa