I always thought I knew a lot about my mom’s life. She told scores of stories. I can tell you about the day that her old dog, Shep, died. I can tell you about the day my dad proposed to her – and that she didn’t answer him right away. I can tell you about the day that she received the phone call that there was a baby girl waiting to be adopted, and she could pick her (me) up that same day. I thought I knew a lot.
One day, my still-sharp 88-year-old mother’s brain changed. She couldn’t tell me the familiar stories anymore. During her final illness, on days she couldn’t quite place who iI was in her life, she asked me questions that led me to pose my own questions about what shaped her early life – questions that she could no longer answer.
I don’t know if my mother ever had a boyfriend before she married my dad at the age of 37. I don’t know what she dreamed of when she was a teenager. I don’t know a lot of things. Looking back, I don’t think that I know a single story about Mom’s life between ages 10 and 25 or so. There are still family members alive who might be able to tell me their own stories about her during those years, but nobody can tell “her” story.
As we cleaned out her apartment last weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder why she kept certain things. although I never saw her journaling, a part of me hoped that I would find a box of notebooks – diaries – hints at who my mom had been before she was my mom – and who she was when nobody was watching.
I wonder sometimes how much my children really know. Once in a while Matt, my youngest, appears shocked when he learns some bit of my history – some part of my life prior to the year 2000.
I wish that my mother had written her story. I do keep a journal most days, so my life from age 50+ is theirs for the reading if they should choose to to do some day. The years before, however, the years who made me who I am – flaws and all – are locked away in my head except for the little glimpses I tell in my stories.
Maybe some day I will tell my children to “ask me anything,” and record those answers in writing or on video. How I wish Mom had said to me, “ask me anything” in those months leading up to the end of her life. There are so many things I would love to know now – not that they would change a thing – but things that would help me to understand why things were the way they were.
There were things that were hinted at but never spoken. There were times when I asked Mom about first-hand memories that were vivid to me that, according to her, “never happened.”
I’m not certain that I have the courage to tell my children to “Ask me anything” and give them the answers while I am still living. Perhaps, though, the revelation of that information might help them to understand me and the experiences that made me who I am. Perhaps the joys and sorrows and traumas don’t matter to anyone else. Perhaps, though, my daughter, or my great-granddaughter some day far in the future would hear my memories and realize that I, too, questioned my worth at times, and that I spent 50 years or so worrying too much about what others thought.
Perhaps some day I will write my own story. Parts are interesting – other parts heartbreaking or downright boring. What might be boring to me might explain to my daughter why I am quirky about certain things. If she ever wishes she had asked me a certain question, perhaps she could find the answer.
So, kids, when I am gone, look for the name of the document and the password hint. In the meantime, ask me anything, and I’ll do my best to answer now – or in the future.