My mother died suddenly and in her sleep — with a peaceful smile on her face, my father said. I was eight when it happened, and I moved around my new life as if in a terrible dream. For the first few months, every second of every day had to be jam-packed with activity. When I stopped — stopped what I was doing or stopped looking at something or just stopped moving -- it all came flooding back and the pain became unbearable.
Our house was on the prettiest block in New York City, right across the street from the General Theological Seminary. The seminary buildings were old brick, covered in ivy, and shaded by tall trees. Wisteria vines grew along the walls, dangling their fragrant purple flowers over our heads like bunches of grapes. When the days grew longer, my mother and I would stay out late on our stoop, partaking in a ritual we called Watching the People Come Home from Work, as we ate summer cherries and spat the pits down the stairs.
My mother loved simple little activities like these, and to this day they remain close to my heart. My mother and I spent most of our time together either creating or lounging. We baked, we wrote, we read and drew, but oftentimes we just reclined and talked. "What are you thinking about?" she would ask me. Always this question, "What are you thinking about?"
A few months shy of 13 years after my mother's death, I know that grief is something that nobody can ever quite shake. My mother, once a lively and driving force in my life, exists only on paper and pressed into magnetic tape audiotape, moving and speaking only in memory. There are instances when I can remember something small and otherwise insignificant about her so well and so clearly, but these quick moments are few and far between. Our time together has ended.
Shortly after my father and I moved out of the house we had shared with my mother, I went back to it. Renovations were in progress, and the workers had left the front gate open. I went right in, palms sweating. The house was stark and empty, without a trace of us left in it. I stood on the sawdusty floor of my mother's room and looked around the space where she had typed away at books, where we had played so many silly early-morning games. It was like standing on a grave looking down at bones, the bones of a life and time and family I knew I would never quite lay to rest.