In the days that followed her passing, during the grim perfunctory tasks that come with cleaning up after a life, my mother’s handwritten journals made their way into my hands. There were five books in all, each one spiral bound with a very Hallmark-esque pastel flowery cover. Newspaper clippings and hard copies of emails received rained from the books when handled.
Mom told us, my sister and I, before she passed, that she wanted us to read them; indeed, our eventual reading of them was her sole purpose for writing them. She wanted her children to know her, as an adult, in a way she never got to know her parents. My sister grazed through them immediately after her funeral; I read through a couple of the books during business trips over the Pacific in the subsequent months. I think subconsciously, neither one of us was ready to absorb any of the words – not yet.
When everything went sideways with my “real job” a little over a year later, and I realized I needed a break, the first thing that came to mind was to write something – anything – to blow off the accumulated steam of cynicism and frustration. The very next thought was that I needed to write about my mother – once I realized I wanted to write, I couldn’t fathom writing about any other subject.
I’m sure it was some manifestation of a grieving mechanism; I buried myself in work after her passing, most likely because idle time always led to realizations I didn’t want to accept. Now, eighteen months later, I could finally let the actual healing begin.
That’s how it started, anyway. It was about my desire to find some closure and move on, with the added benefit of making sure her words weren’t forgotten – within the family, at least. It would be a labor of love, an amalgam of therapy for me and a farewell gift for her.
At that point, my love and respect for her was based entirely on her identity as “Mom.” Like any other human being, that bond alone – that of giver, of nurturer, of protector – would engender enough gratitude to take some months from your life to properly memorialize hers.
When I would read her words, though, and learn about who she was as a person; when I would hear the stories in her written words and the spoken words of family still with us, and learn about what she endured throughout her life – neglect, an alcoholic father who died at 42, depression, bi-polar disorder – and then juxtapose that with the smiling, loving, beautiful soul that the whole world saw her as – it became clear that I had to tell her story. Her life was equal parts tragedy and inspiration; her story could give hope and comfort to those her shared her struggles.
This was no longer about what I needed, it was now about what I needed to do for her.
Her life was a life of strength, of resilience, and of tenderness. Hers was a story of innocence lost and forgiveness found. Now, at this position in time, that story can fade with the memory of those that knew her, or be preserved for posterity. I cannot live with the thought of the former, so I must ensure the latter.
I have to do this. The world needs to hear her story. I don’t know how many people will hear it – I can’t control that. All I can control is doing everything I can to tell her story to the best of my ability.
I fully understand it’s not a practical endeavor; this investment doesn’t have a return – not the kind you put in a bank account, anyway. The currency it will leave me with, though, is peace. The kind of peace that I would never be able to otherwise buy on that day in the distant future when it is my turn to look out that hospital room window, knowing I will never sleep in my own bed again, and take stock of the choices I made.
There will be time after this for careers, paychecks, and getting lost in the minutiae of the day. For now though, this has to be done – for peace, for posterity, and for Mom.