I have no ability to define my mother. If I tried, I'm sure the attempt would read as though I'd shaken words from a dictionary and just added punctuation at some breathless end. Life, in many ways, is a patchwork of contradiction. A mystery with a seemingly simple solution if you can find its pattern. But I will never be able to pull together all the pieces of her puzzle and arrange them into a clearer picture. The pieces will jumble from moment to moment.
I can tell you some of the things she did in life. Where she was born; attended school; was employed; and to whom she married and made a family. These facts will likely seem unremarkable to you. Words on paper, no matter how dressed up, don't build a person up in three dimensions. They tend to meander around in generalization and gather together our familiars.
She was a nurse, and a wife and mother. She had closely cropped hair and clear, kind brown eyes that belied a sharp intellect and equally sharp sense of humor. A scar on the heel of her left hand served as a permanent reminder of how capable hands are not always safe from accidents with scalpels.
Her smile made you wonder what she was hiding. She was incapable of telling lies. She preferred wearing slacks and turtlenecks made of natural fibers. She sang like Joan Baez and could make money grow on trees. She loved heated arguments and crossword puzzles and proving a point. She put duty to family above all things.
She loved each of her children best of all.
She'd tell you she never made any sacrifices for them. (You can not sacrifice that which you did not want in the first place.) And she'd tell you she couldn't sustain boredom (thanks to imagination and time). Both of these ethos served as key examples of her prime philosophy: Thinking makes change possible. Choices can be undone simply by making another one.
And while those attributes might describe her, they can't make you understand the uniqueness of her being. How do you define a force? How do you convey the depth of love that spans a lifetime of small moments? How can a daughter explain how good it felt to be sick in her mother's care? That knowledge you'd always be safe with her. How do you explain that what you miss most of all drove you crazy?
I know you've felt this way.
If you had a mother, you know.
My mother was sharp and kind and loving and fierce. She wasn't easy, but she could make any trouble less troubling. All she needed was pragmatism and clear-headed logic to smooth the problem. She was strong and generous and wise. And she was wickedly funny. Unfailingly kind.
She was outsized. Just like your mother. Only she was mine.
I loved my mother.
I pitied my mother.
I envied her.
My heart broke for her.
I have missed her.
I miss her still, always.
Perhaps it isn't a puzzle to be solved after all. Her life is not something I need to define. It wasn't static. I knew her as a child knows an adult, as a teen knows a piece of furniture in their house, as a mother from a new age knows a mother from a by-gone one. Our paths crossed often, and yet it wasn't until now that I understood our trails did not run parallel to each other or in opposite directions. She may be gone from this world, but she will never leave me.