Woman Writing at a Table
Thomas P. Anshutz – circa 1905
When I started blogging eight years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. Most of my friends didn’t know what a blog was even after I explained it to them in great detail. It was such a strange, heavy word. Blog. It reminded me of the sound hot fudge makes when you spoon too much of it into cold water to see if it is ready to set. I remember friends staring at me strangely when I would say the word. Even friends who could conceive of such a thing, were perplexed at why anyone would keep one. In the meantime, blogs were multiplying like bunnies on the Internet, and I was very nearly late to the game.
My first blog was Bioluminescence, and I blogged for three years as “Firefly”. At that time, it was very important for me to keep my anonymity because I had small children and the Internet was a new and frightening place for me. I blogged about some things that mattered and some things that mattered very little, if at all. I blogged about my family, homeschooling, and other daily matters at hand. I posted photographs of my girls at the pumpkin patch milking cows, playing pioneers in our backyard, and reading books while perched in their favorite maple tree.
And then, one day, my mother died.
My mother had struggled for years with some form of dementia that was completely alien to our family history. She started slipping away when I was still in my twenties. The first time I knew something was very wrong (and beyond any ability I had to rationalize it away) was when we were in Massachusetts for my grandmother’s funeral. It was in the month of January, and it was beyond cold. I had forgotten how much it could snow in New England. The houses painted neatly white in the summer now looked gray and neglected. I borrowed my grandmother’s long silk underwear to wear beneath my dress at the funeral. I remember looking down into my grandmother’s grave and wondering how they were able to dig such a deep hole in the frozen ground. I felt a great swell of grief when I realized that we would be leaving my grandmother in that hard, crystallized earth wearing the same dress she wore to my wedding on a very hot August day in South Carolina. It was her best dress. It was only the second time she had worn it.
My grandmother was just shy of ninety-four when she passed.
We were at my grandmother’s house just after the funeral when it happened. My mother, who was sixty years of age at the time, leaned down over my small daughter, smiled broadly, and asked her if she remembered sleeping in her uncle’s bedroom when she was a baby. My daughter looked back at me puzzled. I looked at my mother, still bent over my daughter, still smiling. It seemed like an eternity passed. I looked pointedly at my younger brother who was the only one of my siblings able to make it to the funeral. My mother had just time-warped over twenty years into the past.
When at last my mother glanced up at me, the smile slowly slid from her face. For a split second I saw a look of confusion, but it was quickly replaced with softly flushing cheeks and a small fluttering laugh. I heard my voice float out across the room.
“Mom, that was me. I slept in Uncle Bob’s room when you…”
She stopped me in mid-sentence complaining of how tired she was. How she’d gotten little sleep the night before on the pull-out sofa. And, for all outward appearances, our world slipped back to normal for the rest of the afternoon.
My sister and I had been talking for some time about the small changes we had seen in our mother over the years since I left home for college. I had attributed much of my mother’s early symptoms to early menopause. She started writing notes to herself and leaving them in strategic places around the house when I was still in high school. That was easily dismissed, but the trail of breadcrumbs became more obvious as time went by. Obvious to me, it seemed. Not so obvious to my father. By the time she quit driving, my mother had become an expert in the art of covering things up. No one even blinked when she decided she wasn’t going to drive anymore.
While my sister and I had been tossing things back and forth for a while, things seemed undeniable once I told her about what happened at our grandmother’s funeral. Not long after that, my sister, who lived in the same town as my parents, approached my father and made an appointment for my mother with her doctor. My sister was horrified to find that my mother couldn’t answer some of the most basic questions the doctor asked. It was then that we began to mourn. A mourning that would slowly crescendo over the next six years.
When my mother passed away at the age of sixty-six, I was initially relieved. I thought that the end of the mourning had finally come. I was naïve. The pain at watching her slip away slowly in life was replaced by another pain that I was not prepared for. My mother had left us long before she actually passed, so I didn’t understand this new pain. I still don’t really understand it.
One of the things that has bothered me over the past five years is that there was so much about my mother that I never really knew. I knew my grandmother inside and out. She was an open book who shared the great expanse of her life and all its adventures, both good and bad, with me. We would spend our summer visits poring over old photo albums while my grandmother recounted a collection of memories that should have filled a book. A big book. It was a great gift she gave to me. And while I sometimes wish that my uncle would pass down some tangible things that belonged to my grandmother, I know that I have something better.
My mother’s life, though, is like a blank book to me. She only shared what she wanted to and even those things I was often unsure of. The things I thought I knew about her, I often found to be tenuous pieces of truth spun together with something like the truth.
Recently, I have been thinking about these things. I don’t want to pass from this life without handing my daughters something like a book. I don’t want them to wonder who I was and feel that great aching emptiness I feel when I think of my mother. I want to give them the gift my grandmother gave to me. I know it is not going to be easy, and I can’t even be sure that I will be allowed to finish it, but I feel compelled to try. So here I am today, pen and paper in hand so to speak, beginning to write letters to my girls. I hope they are reading.