Just came back from four days in Albuquerque, cleaning out my mother's house. She died this past September, and my sister and I have been working to get her house onto the market.
It is a complicated process.
The weather in Albuquerque was glorious this past weekend, almost total sunshine, 50+ deg F but much warmer than that seems in the thin-air, low-humidity environment of Albq. Every day we took an hour out and just sat in my mom's backyard, soaking in the sun, repairing the Vit D deficiencies we've acquired in Oregon.
Then we hauled items out of every corner of the house.
I went to college there, and such weather makes it easy to think about moving back. The town seems so new and clean, so tidy and maintained.
We discovered that she had a safe deposit box, and after jumping through numerous bank requirements discovered that...she had not a thing in it.
We hauled all kinds of stuff out of closets and down from the attic, and it seems my mother saved everything -- all of our school pictures and compositions and report cards, every Christmas ornament we ever made, every Boy Scout medal, every card she ever received, no matter from whom. Of course we had to sort through all that and reminisce/cry about it. I learned she had an older brother I never knew about, who died in infancy. I learned my father wrote her love notes from his time in the Air Force in Korea that I never would have guessed about, given what I saw of their marriage.
I saw her report cards from Catholic boarding school in Pittsburgh, and the school newspapers where she was the editor, and pictures of her in her 8th grade class alongside the nuns and the schoolgirls standing in as angels. It was surprisingly easy to pick my mother from these pictures taken in the '50s, alongside all her girlfriends, now all in their '70s, becoming weaker and feeble and maybe even dying.
She had the darkest hair, and was very pretty.
The more I learn about my mother, some if it (too much of it) after her death, the more I feel like I never really knew her at all. Or, rather, that I only knew a part of her, that she had a life before me and after me, which surprises me though I know (now) that it shouldn't. She was a girl then, long ago, with all the friends we all had then, with all the parental problems we all thought we had, with all the same feelings, though she told me hardly anything about it.
And the people she worked with loved her more than I ever knew.
I thought I knew my mother, but ironically I've learned at least as much about her since her death as I knew about her before it. It is confusing.
We weren't one of those happy families, in the sense Tolstoy wrote about in Anna Karenina -- "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Who is happy in the way, really?
But since her death I have seen a strength in my mother that I never saw before. She was certainly as mixed up as any of us -- certainly as mixed up as I am -- but I have learned that she worked hard on herself, even into her seventies. I saw her fears, but never fully acknowledged her strengths. I saw too much of how she affected me, but too little of how she affected others.
My mother loved more than I realized, and what do you do with that?