My Mother, the Stranger – The New York Times

She would leave in March, so over the next few months, I broke all my own rules. Soph could see me twice in a week, then three times, then four. Soph could meet my friends. Soph could come to Tuesday trivia. We could be exclusive, but only until she left.

In coming to know Soph, I also came to know her mother. Here was her mother’s favorite cocktail bar, her favorite French bistro, her childhood neighborhood. Not only did Soph know New York at least as well as I did, but she knew it through her mother’s eyes. I envied the way she casually slotted her mother into everyday conversation, including and honoring her, as if it cost nothing.

“It’s different,” I said. “Your mom was sick.”

“Your mom is also sick though,” she told me.

I wondered what it would be like to honor my mother in the same way: to honor her with the kind of absolution we usually reserve for the dead. To mourn not who she had become but who she had once been — and not worry whether it was a grace she deserved.

And so I did exactly that: I tried to relearn how to talk about my mother. How to say that she was a professional chef by trade who had served powerful people in cities all over the country, including New York. That simultaneously she had been the kind of mother who paid her taxes, blanched her broccoli with good kosher salt, texted Bitmojis that said, “I’m So Proud of U!”

I started pointing out things that reminded me of her. Work clogs worn with dresses. Joan Osborne and Joni Mitchell. Any storefront that used to be a Dean & Deluca. I wished I knew even more — like where, so many years ago, our mothers could have passed each other on the street.

It was only then, as things go, that out in Arizona my mother entered the hospital for late-stage liver disease. First the doctors guessed she had two or three years. This became a month. I booked a flight for a week out. And then finally, as I took the subway to Queens to meet Soph’s grandmother, it became days.