This is also the time of year when my mom Kay died. It happened, after a long slow decline, five years ago on December 13th. I was sure, before the fact, that I'd write about her when she died. It didn't work out that way — I think her long-anticipated passing took me away from contemplation and remembrance. (I wrote just once here, about 18 months before she left.)
By the time she died I was exhausted from the cross-country routine I got into during her last two years. During her long decline, I got caught up in the details of daily caretaking: sponge baths, trips to the bathroom, pull-on clothing, blankets and pillows adjusted just so. As these details became all-encompassing for her and a cadre of home health aides and hospice workers, I worried: I don't want to remember only this.
But as the months wore on, it was increasingly hard to recall much before this world of invalidism encroached. I had more and more difficulty conjuring up any of the thousands of wonderful moments I'd had with my lively, engaging, generous mom.
Now, five years on, as the days shorten, I'm more able to consider her life in full. That seemingly endless period of her diminishing — in fact, just 2 1/2 years of a 92-year run — has at last receded into reasonable perspective. Now I can remember her frequent dinner parties, her long and satisfying pink-to-white-collar career, her kindness towards all who came her way. I can almost hear her regular phone check-ins with friends; I long observed (and learned from) her looking after the lonely, the isolated and the disaffected. She was always ready to put together a gathering or a meal, and her home became the center of her crowd.
For a woman born in rural Texas in 1916, one of 11 children (and one of only two of them to graduate from high school), she became known in her adult life as being remarkably worldly, open-minded and unflappable.
But even as a young woman — before she left Texas to experience the world — she showed self-confidence and an unusual inner strength (she was probably 19 or 20 in this photo).
As her auburn hair began to go grey, she took the time-honored route of so many women, to become a champagne blonde. She made the most of it, that's for sure. Here she is post-retirement in her beloved garden. (Only at age 91 did she finally agree to skip the color rinse; it turned out that her hair was a beautiful white.)
It surprises me a little that it's taken this long for me to remember more of her than her last couple of years. It doesn't surprise me that — the month she was born, and the month she died — would be filled with many memories and a sharp sense of loss, in part. Even so, I'm so glad I'm able to remember much more of her prime (a long period, for her — a good swath of age 55-85) as the years move on.
And this is how I love remembering her: full of life, engaging and engaged in the world, as she was here. She was the sort of person who, after a long absence, you could pick up with right away. Maybe that's where I'm getting to now.