My favorite photo of my mother. Cynthia von Rhau, born Nov. 28, NYC; died Feb. 15, 2020, Victoria. B.C.
By Caitlin Kelly
Three heavy cardboard boxes arrived at our apartment this week, without a word of warning.
They contained a wide variety of items, including several photo albums, a small stuffed mouse, a copy of the New Testament, a white wool blanket — and my mother’s ashes.
Might have been nice to have a heads-up for those.
The woman chosen as executor of my mother’s will was a woman who, for reasons I’ll never grasp, really disliked me.
She had met my mother on a beach in Costa Rica and decided to become a close friend of my mother. Except, she really wasn’t. It was a weird relationship, subservient and deferential to my mother in ways few true intimates are.
After my mother had major surgery for a brain tumor, after decades of independent home ownership and much global travel, she decided to live in a smaller home and moved into the same city and same condo complex as this woman.
She was always sweet as pie to me in front of my mother — until the day my mother had to be moved, suddenly, into a nursing home. I’ll spare you the details, but she and her daughter and her sister were absolute bitches to me.
I think readers here know I’m made of pretty tough stuff but this was…horrible.
I never went back.
Even the nurses at the nursing home asked me what on earth these two women had in common.
Their city is a 7 hour flight from NY, where I live, and this cruelty and bizarre behavior was quite enough.
But after my mother died, Feb. 15, 2020, she left a few belongings behind, including a massive pastel portrait of her grandmother, framed. That woman took possession of them, as was her legal responsibility.
The pandemic has made travel into Canada expensive and complicated so I wasn’t going to even try to go north and deal with it all.
Now, finally, suddenly, I’m the guardian of the very few items left from my great-grandmother and grandmother.
They had lots of money but my maternal granny, who died in 1975 in Toronto, was pretty profligate and never bothered to pay any taxes, for decades, to any of the three governments to which she likely owed a fortune — American (she lived in Canada), Canadian federal and provincial. So my poor mother had to sell pretty much everything she had owned to pay them off. The quality was so good one of her armoires is in a Toronto museum.
It’s all somewhat ironic as my great-grandmother is now literally coming full circle by returning to New York — she lived for years in Manhattan, on Park Avenue.
And now I’m the guardian and wonder what will happen to these few objects when we die.
We have no children or nieces or nephews we’re close to.
So it’s prompted an overdue discussion to whom we’ll leave our assets and estate, which isn’t a quick or easy answer — and we have little nostalgia for our two universities.
The many photos of my mother are fabulous and I am so glad to have them, as she was very beautiful and there are true glamour shots from her time modeling and acting.
Seeing a pile of ashes in an ugly brown plastic tub is…sobering.