Today would have been my mother’s birthday.
Though I often forget to celebrate her on the anniversary of the day she died, I can’t pass by her birthday without thinking of her.
We didn’t get to know one another as adults. I was in my early 20’s when she became terminally ill. She died before I transitioned from working retail and living in a shitty walk up apartment in Chinatown to having a career, a husband, a home, a car, a hobby I’m passionate about, and a group of friends who she would have been delighted to meet.
She died before I learned how to roller skate, before I played Roller Derby. She died without seeing me as a confident public speaker, a Derby announcer no less! She died before I figured out how to make my curly hair look awesome every single day. She died without us ever taking a ‘selfie’ together (or whatever the hell we’re supposed to call it when there’s more than one person in the pic). I never got to pick her up at the airport. I never poured her too much wine over a dinner I tried too hard to make.
She died with anger and resentment in her heart. It wasn’t her fault. She was hurt by so many people, in so many ways, over so many years. That she was tormented by these wrongs is entirely understandable, if heartbreaking. She didn’t speak of these things to me. I only know of them from what she told others, from what I saw, and from what I can only imagine.
She died before she could retire. She had such great plans to spend all her savings on travel, food, wine, and jewellery. I wanted that for her too (heck, I wanted to go along with her). There were no great mysteries revealed after she passed. She was oddly sentimental about some things, a trait that seemed out of place with her minimalist decor and her direct communication style. She had saved a piece of my hair from my first haircut, her student ID from University, and the cosmetics box that had once belonged to my great grandmother.
I remember when I was a teenager, I asked her about a heart shaped diamond solitaire (it was entirely out of character for her) at the bottom of her jewellery box. She told me that it had been a pseudo engagement ring given to her by my father (her second husband). She was clearly displeased with his offering. She said it snagged on every sweater she ever wore. I asked why she kept it, as she was not fond of him OR the ring. She said “diamonds have no emotions”. She later turned it into a lovely pendant, and wore it often.
She was incredibly smart. She had a mind for numbers, rules and laws. She was great with money, and were she still alive she would have had us all planning our early retirement. She was driven and focused, choosing to study for further degrees and designations throughout her career. She was respected in her field and by those she worked with.
We weren’t particularly alike in looks or personality, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t live on in me. She lives on in my left eyebrow, pointed to the sky when I don’t believe what someone tells me, or my voice when I call bullshit on someone telling tales. We have the same curled up toes, the same oversized front teeth, the same eye colour.
We didn’t get her a plot or a headstone. To do so would have been too far against her final wishes. It wasn’t ideal, and it was certainly unusual, but it provided me with some closure to cover that small wooden box with dirt. It was a chance for me to say goodbye. Without a memorial service, I didn’t have a chance to give her eulogy. This way is better anyways. You guys can’t seem me tearing up and sniffling from the other side of your screen.
While neither she nor I believe/d in an afterlife, she said that if she was able, she would “come back to haunt us” as a grey squirrel (they were a very common site in Toronto, where I grew up). The fact that they were a menace to her garden, and often targeted with her slingshot (in my early years) must have escaped her at the time. Grey squirrels aren’t quite as common in Ottawa, and whenever I see one, I think of her.
I hope to age as she did; gracefully, stylishly, and with great class. She is the reason that I rarely hold a grudge, that I try to forgive, even if I can’t forget. I aspire to be just like her, only without that sadness in my heart.