We’re nearing a year since her passing, but I face constant reminders of the life my mother lived. The sleep isn’t even out of my eyes when a new email from Ruzen Flowers pops up, reminding me it isn’t too early to get in my order for Valentine’s Day. I used to send my mom a bouquet every February from this shop in her neighborhood; her sweetheart, my father, died two decades ago. I ordered my last flowers for Mom last year, and so I delete the email, though I briefly entertain the notion of sending roses to whoever is now in her room, 22S, in nursing care. Perhaps there has been more than one new occupant since last April.
An hour later, I get a call from the gentleman who lives in the apartment Mom lived in a couple of years ago before she moved to nursing care. He’s received tax documents for her in his mailbox. I thank him and give him my address to forward them. I’d like to hang up now, but he offers his condolences and tells me how he appreciated Mom’s laugh, how she livened up their Sunday school class, which is pretty much what everyone there tells me. Hearing her laugh in my head hurts. And then he shares the news of his own wife’s recent death, and we are quiet for a moment.
After lunch, I reply to Mom’s CPA to arrange for her 2021 taxes, then call the county tax office to clarify what she owes them for the year just ended. I’m trying to keep careful records of everything, but, like Mom, I’m a big-picture person, not great at financial details. It’ll be months more before the estate closes.
I both want and don’t want it to be over.
A text comes in from the funeral home. They’ve sent the photo I requested showing that the closing date of Mom’s earthly life has been chiseled into the gravestone she shares with Dad. It was beautiful there in April when we buried her, but the image is cold—gray and brown winter grasses laced with frost frame the granite. COVID has slowed everything—the engravers are months behind. I am struck by the finality of my parents’ birth and death dates, side by side on the stone, symmetrical.
Later in the afternoon I receive the AARP Bulletin and Reminisce magazine in the mail, addressed to Mom. Reader’s Digest will come any day now, too. In her last years, when a magazine renewal notice arrived, she’d order more issues, thinking her subscription was running out. I’ll be reading these magazines for her for a long time. I imagine the contents will become more relevant as I age.
There are several pieces of junk mail for Mom as well. I changed her mailing address in Kansas to mine in California after she sent contributions to political organizations that would have outraged her before Alzheimer’s and offered her social security number to some scam masking as official governmental correspondence. I toss the stack into the recycling bin without lingering.
In the evening, I read a letter I’ve been saving from my mother’s sister Ada, who is 89 now.
Ada was on the phone with me as I sat with Mom while she took her last breaths. We are both still trying to process that hour, I guess. I hear Ada’s sadness in her memories of my mother, her description of her Iowa winter, and her jokes about her own aches and pains. Her sons and their large families live in other states. Both have invited her to come to them, but she is hesitant to start again somewhere new, as Mom was when I invited her to San Diego. I think I will try to attend Ada’s funeral when the time comes, especially since Mom can’t be there to represent the family and bear witness.
In her last year, I prayed for my mother’s release from this world, but I’m finding that the ongoing ripples of a life—even of someone as undemanding, as unassuming, and humble as my mother—are far-reaching.
They touch this shore again and again and again.
Tomorrow, perhaps there won’t be as many little demands that I remember her, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And there are plenty of reminders that arise from my own mind and heart, on any given day. I hope they sweeten and mellow over time.