“What’ll I do
When you are far away
And I am blue
What’ll I do?
What’ll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?
When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?” – Irving Berlin
I regret so much being so caught up in the inevitable end of my mother’s life as she battled cancer that I neglected to make photographs. Actually, I specifically chose NOT to document those precious and few final weeks, days and hours of her life as radiation, steroids and ever-evolving weakness were robbing her of her beautiful, poetic life. It was a selfish decision; I didn’t want to remember her that way. And I absolutely did NOT want to look back on those days that I knew were leading me to the loss of my best friend and the greatest heartbreak of my life. Had I the foresight to see past my own grief, I would have realized that it was just the closing chapter of the book she had been writing since the day she was born.
Sometimes I respond like the emotional person I am, not the logical thinker that years in the legal field forced upon me. I didn’t act like a documentary photographer; I acted like the brokenhearted daughter, doing all I could to make my mother’s final days on this earth the most pleasant that I possibly could, all the while bracing myself for being in the world without my first and greatest love. It was all so bittersweet . . . and I wish I had photographs.
The assortment of lipsticks on her vanity.
The amassed collection of reading glasses on her beside table.
Her living room.
The inside of her pantry.
Her computer desk.
And everything other thing that made my mother’s home—no matter where she lived—feel like coming home to me.
I’m incredibly sad that I don’t have a photo of the inside of her closet. To me, the closet feels a bit like the heart of a person, where all the outward representations of the inner self reside. But it all became etched on my heart as I sat sobbing on the floor of her closet, glancing up at all the clothes: those garments that felt at once like a promise of tomorrow and a yet a cruel whisper of yesterday. The shoes sitting in a row that would never again trod along her path. And the empty purses on the shelf, looking as deflated as I felt.
My sister said that she wished we had at least one more day with her. I said that if we did, wouldn’t we continue to wish for just one more? There are never enough days.
Sitting with my mother as she made her final exit and slipped away from me forever, I was suddenly scrambling through my mind like a cartoon character trying to run back to solid ground after unintentionally running full speed off a cliff, grasping at the air to take me back to the moments I cherished and all the moments I missed. And my God, I just wanted it back. I still do. But enough time has passed that I can look at the situation a bit more with the wisdom of an adult and not the grief of a child. Somewhat.
I miss my mother. I miss her every day. I was so afraid that I would forget the sound of her voice, but am constantly amazed how clearly and how often I hear her. One of her final quotes was, “Live your life like an incredible story on which you would be proud to put your name on the cover.” Wise words from a brilliant woman I am lucky enough to call my mother.
Rest in peace, Lady Sharron. I am ever so grateful for your elegant legacy.
“Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime.” – Shakespeare