The check came today, bringing the usual bittersweet mix of gratitude and sadness. Gratitude for my mother's continued love and generosity, sadness for my loss.
It's been coming for 16 years, ever since the first anniversary of my mother's death.
As discombobulated and disorganized as Mom seemed toward the end of her life, she still managed to hire a financial planner and set up a fund that distributes a tax-free dividend to her children each winter.
A product of the Depression and a displaced homemaker of the '70s, Mom was terribly nervous about money. So when we read the will and I learned how much she had saved for us--by no means a fortune, but a sizable amount for someone who acted impoverished--it made my heart hurt.
"Why didn't she spend it on herself?" I kept asking through my tears. She should have traveled more, we all thought. She'd started taking art museum bus tours, traveling from St. Louis to see Impressionist shows at her beloved Chicago Art Institute, which she'd attended for a year before meeting and marrying my father. Why couldn't she have done more?
She did take one last big trip, to visit us for a summer vacation on the North Fork of Long Island (that pink Victorian we rented is a blog in itself) and then see my brother's family in Salt Lake City. It was the last time I saw her.
There were signs she wasn't well, but my brother and I didn't think there was anything serious going on. Her death was a shock.
And now the checks come, year in and year out, a reminder of how she cared for us.
These days, I understand her mindset. The first 25 years of my career, the economy was robust, my industry--print journalism--viable. But no more. I need to remake myself, much as she did after my father left on the eve of my departure to my first year of college.
When I was working full time and sure of my financial footing, I wanted to tear that check up every year. It felt like blood money to me.
Now that I'm a freelancer, I thank her silently as I deposit it into my savings account.
Just as she would have wanted.