My mother was not a sentimental woman. That is, she did not collect things the way I do. My mother loathed clutter, and I adore it. My home desk, my office at school, so many bits and parts of me are stacked and sorted, covered with knickknacks and notebooks and items that make me happy. I like things. I collect things. I enjoy covering every surface of my space with comforting items.
My mother, on the other hand, was sparse in her decorations. It is partly because my father was in construction, and loathed the damage holes caused to walls. But also, she did not really save items. There are very few items of mine saved from when I was a kid. No artwork, no knickknacks made in class, no little notes. But when I helped my dad organize this summer, I found out that she saved everything I had ever won: every award, every ribbon, every music ensemble I entered. Also, she saved all the love letters she wrote to my dad, and the cards he gave her when they were first married.
Is there a time limit on such items? How long do we hold on to things to keep these memories? I think about this in the shadow of Hurricane Katrina’s anniversary, as so many of my friends and family lost everything: every stitch of clothing, every photograph, every piece of ephemera that binds our lives together.
So, too, have I been wondering about my own items of ephemera, those small pieces I have of my mother. I have given some of her things away to people: to her family and friends, to my friends, to dad, to myself. And every time I do, each person asks, “Are you sure?” Am I? I think I am. I do not have sole custody of mourning. I do not have sole custody of my mother’s memory.
At her funeral, I saw one of her godchildren crying, sobbing, really, at the loss of my mother, and I thought, “Here is a woman I do not think that often of, but she had a relationship with my mother, and I will never really know what that relationship was like.” It opened me up to consider who else is feeling loss and pain while I raged inside my head.
I have what I want of my mother’s: some jewelry. Pictures. And these important things: voicemails. But I also have questions, because death leads to so many questions, after all.
1) When do I remove my mother’s phone number from my “Favorites” on my iPhone?
2) When do I change my Facebook profile picture from the picture of the two of us without feeling guilty?
3) How do I save my voicemails from my mother forever?
I don’t have the answers, truly, I don’t, but I wanted to ask the questions because they feel important. They feel necessary in this discussion of grief. The questioning that comes, after the shock is gone.
What do we do when we have to, are forced to, move on with our lives?