This weekend, I hosted a memorial service for my mother in Pennsylvania.
Frankly, it was an experience I had been dreading for weeks. Many of her friends never got a chance to say goodbye to her because she left for Duke shortly after her diagnosis with brain cancer. So, this was an opportunity for everyone to remember her collectively with me as their link, their touchstone to her life and her death.
I thought I would be overwhelmed as I listened to her hair stylist at my mother's request sing a chilling rendition of "Precious Lord Take My Hand." But somehow I was able to stand up and speak about my mother with a clear head. My goal was to give everyone insight into her beauty, kindness and wicked sense of humor. Hopefully, I accomplished that.
But it was the reception afterwards where I received more than I gave.
"Your mother changed my life," one former client told me.
"Your mother was such a lady," someone else said.
"Your mother always made me laugh," another friend said.
I thought it would be draining and emotional, and in some ways, it was. But in more ways it was energizing to hear these things about my mother. I had read these words in the many missives about her posted on CaringBridge.com. But to hear them in person was something that fed my soul in a way that only interpersonal contact can.
The rest of the weekend was spent packing up my mother's house until the wee hours with my sweet cousins. There was work and, then, there were pauses to gaze at photographs or to laugh at an outfit or placemats perfectly preserved from the 1970s. My favorite finds: A Cher workout video, a Jane Fonda exercise mat and a childhood scrapbook complete with handwritten captions.
There's something intensely personal about going through someone's possessions. Even when you think you know the person intimately, it is an exploration of who she really was when no one was watching. Why did she save this card or menu or photograph? Was she reading this book right before she got sick? Did she wear these glasses? Did she know she had six pairs of black shoes that looked exactly alike?
I am exhausted, but it is a good exhaustion, the kind of exhaustion that comes on the heels of finishing something important in your life. Plus, I know there was an angel on my shoulder guiding me through the entire process.
Job well done, Mom.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.