I gradually came to see that some of that was trauma and depression, but some of it was because my mother and I were both very close and, in many ways, very similar.
We looked alike, so much so that her friends gasp now when they see me. We had similar political beliefs, similar taste in home design, books, and television shows (with a few notable exceptions), and of course, we both loved dogs to the point of obsession.
The paintings on the walls of my living room were once hers. Many of my most beloved pieces of furniture were once hers, or were gifts from her. I have her old bedding, some of her clothing, and boxes and boxes of photos that belonged to her. I lived with her in houses were we walked on the rugs that are on my floors right now. I am typing this sitting at an old Woolrich display table that was, many years ago, my mother's kitchen table. My office supplies are sitting on it in a wicker basket that was where she used to keep her placemats.
And then there are my dishes. I had a full set of Portmeirion Botanic Garden dishes, a gift from my mother after a trip to the UK with her then-husband, Tom Hughes, who was a Welshman. (Portmeirion is in Wales, where she and Tom had a home.)
Over the years the number of pieces I had fluctuated, as some were broken or lost in various moves, and my mom passed on some pieces of her set to me when she divorced and downsized. And then in my move to Michigan, I somehow lost or left behind all my soup bowls.
I bought white ones and used those, but the other day, on a whim, I Googled "Botanic Garden soup bowls." There was a set for sale on eBay at such a good price I'm half-sure they're fake, but I went ahead and bought them. I didn't hesitate, and didn't think about it.
When the box came, I opened it, unwrapped the bowls, and burst into tears.
Because when I looked at the pattern on the dishes, it brought my mom back to me so sharply that it was like someone kicked me in the stomach.
After I stopped crying, I washed the bowls. And while I was drying them, I thought about dishes, and whether, had I not had these dishes already, had my mom not given them to me, had she not loved this pattern so much, these would have been the dishes I'd have picked.
It doesn't matter, really. They're just dishes. I like them just fine, above and beyond the sentimental value. But it's just one more way I wonder: Who am I, really, without my mother?
Most of the time these days, I think I know. Moving to Michigan helped, as I have no memories of her here other than those I brought with me. Every day I figure out whether I do or don't like something independently of what she liked, or the limitations I willingly placed on my own desires to care for her in the last few years of her life.
But sometimes I feel like part of me really did die with her. Because so much of who I am is made up of memories I only share with her. Memories of days I helped her arrange her furniture, or she helped me with mine. Memories of our shared dogs, shared vacations, shared jokes.
Memories of watching Rosemary and Thyme, passing cozy mysteries we'd just read between us, sharing sweaters and table linens and rugs and catalogs.
And memories of the white painted display cabinet where she kept her Portmeirion dishes, plates slotted into the plate racks, the sun from the kitchen window shining on the bright surfaces and painted flowers.