My mom, Katherine Tait, died suddenly from a stroke in late July. This is what I read at her memorial service this past weekend.
I never really thought of my mother as an authority figure. I suppose she would probably have disagreed, but during the 11 years that we lived just the two of us, from when I was 8 to when I was 19, in a sequence of three different apartments on the same block of First Avenue, I thought of us more as roommates – family, but also friends.
We did everything together: grocery shopping; taking our laundry to the laundromat/restaurant/bar around the corner; watching Saturday Night at the Movies or NYPD Blue. We ordered pizza when we didn’t feel like cooking, and went out for Indian food when either one of us had something to celebrate. We stayed up too late talking on weeknights, and often slept in late on weekends.
Later, as an adult, I understood that those were probably lonely and isolating years for my mom. But at the time, it didn’t occur to me that as a thirty-something or early forty-something she might have wanted to be doing something else on New Year’s Eve besides re-watching Mary Poppins with me. There was nowhere else I wanted to be.
When I left for university in Halifax, I worried that I was abandoning her – I didn’t know what she’d do without me. But she’d met Tom by then, and in my first semester away it seemed like more often than not I called home from school and got the answering machine because she was out for a dinner or a party. I guessed I didn’t need to worry after all.
We never lived in the same city again, not for more than a few months at a time anyway. After Halifax I went on to England to do my Masters degree, and outside of school I traveled more and more and further and further. But we always kept in close touch. I called her from Australia and India, Malaysia and Barbados, England and Italy and Utah and Alaska. In the six years since I moved to Whitehorse, we’ve talked on the phone two, three, four, sometimes five times a week. I would tell her about the stories I was working on, which invoices were overdue, or about the ideas I had for my next round of pitches to editors. She would tell me what she was reading lately, and what she and Tom were up to, whether in Kingston or Phoenix.
This past spring, she called me one Saturday morning and told me that it had been 50 years to the day since her mother, Janet, died of colon cancer. I didn’t really know what to say. Janet’s death has sometimes seemed to me like the central fact of my mom’s life: she never fully recovered from it, I don’t think, and it often cast a shadow over her. I’ve been aware of that shadow for as long as I can remember, but her grief wasn’t something I could really understand.
I hoped and expected to have another two or three decades left before I began to understand it, but here we are.
No matter what else was going on in her life, my mom was relentlessly supportive. Even in her worst times, she was unselfish and warm, and she never allowed the shadow that followed her around to fall on me. She was always the first person I wanted to talk to, with good news or bad. I’m not sure what I’m going to do without her.