My mother was one of four sisters. One, Shirl, died many years ago, but my mother and Elizabeth and Helen died just in the past two years. The youngest, Elizabeth, had owned several paintings that Mom had done - she'd liked them well enough to frame them and hang them in her home. Upon her passing, her daughter asked me if I would like them back, and I said yes. I had been aware of Mom's painting but just as a hobby though one I knew that she enjoyed deeply until her failing eyesight made it impossible.
When the paintings arrived, we hung them - and I have been enjoying them quite a lot. One is a watercolor of a great oak tree in Granby Connecticut, and the painting is hung at the end of our kitchen where I see it as I drink my morning coffee. A couple of days ago I was looking at it and thinking of the woman who painted it. Suddenly she was not simply Mother but rather, a woman who had loved creative work, had loved the countryside around her, and had wanted to capture it through her art. Almost like a blow, I had a sense of this woman whom I had not known at all, missing her behind the mask of "Mother."
Years ago I had recognized the importance of the moment when Mother suddenly saw me as a person in my own right - I could tell you the very moment when it happened. And even so I never saw that I had not made the equivalent shift in my understanding of her. As I sat there drinking my coffee, there was a moment of regret - I had missed something - but in all the complexities of our relationship, that particular aspect, the friendship of equals, was probably not possible. Another part of grieving - what could never be.