Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The things we leave behind

We've been going through her things. It started casually. I was nursing Simone back in their bedroom and saw the turquoise necklace hanging up. I remembered the time I was back there with Mom and joked that when she died, that was the piece I was taking. She told me that was the first piece of nice jewelry Dad bought her, years ago, and she loved it too. Then I saw the necklaces that we bought her at Chico's, during the makeover I pressured her into getting. I had applied her for "What Not To Wear," so that they'd force her to throw out her souvenir sweatshirts from her travels. Oh, and her Christmas sweatshirts. They would definitely make her throw those out. My dad said if it was about the $5000, he'd sponsor that and I could take her shopping. She fell in love with Chico's, and it made me a bit emotional to see those necklaces hanging up that we bought on those first shopping trips. The necklace I bought her when Steve and I were in Spain, that reminded me so much of her when I saw it in the little shop.

I started seeing how our things can tell the story of who we are. Those crazy sweatshirts that I endlessly mocked...I realized that I couldn't throw them away or donate them to Goodwill. I told my dad we should pass out swatches of them at her funeral as little keepsakes. I found this hilarious. My dad said he didn't want her remembered for her sweatshirts, and I said: "How can we possibly prevent that?" He said not one of the sympathy emails and cards had mentioned her sweatshirts, which made me laugh until I could hardly breathe.

So I'm making a quilt. The embroidered sweatshirts from all of their travels...the story of them...I'll cut into squares and make a quilt. I'm not crafty. I quit knitting about the time the scarf is big enough for a turtle. But this is one project I think I'll actually finish. And to picture curling up in front of TV wearing her Sweatshirt Quilt brings me more joy than I can tell you. It's things like these I wish I could tell her. She would laugh so hard.

Her charm bracelet from childhood and college. The diamond tennis bracelet my dad bought her a few years ago. She was so amazed by it. Pieces from my Grandma Nell. Pearl necklaces from Hawaii. In the first generation of ownership, the expense of the jewelry might matter. Getting them appraised, insurance coverage. Now, the prices are so irrelevant. I want them because they were my mom's. How people imbue their life into their belongings is more beautiful than I expected. I thought I would cry more at going through her things. Crying from grief. There was so much laughter! Those silly sweatshirts. Her rows and rows of elastic denim jeans. Oh my. That's who she was, in a lot of ways. Those hot pink pants she wore when Jack was born. I made fun of her, and then requested she wear them to my future babies' births too. I told her we'd bury her in those pink pants, but since she wanted to be cremated...I pulled them out to save forever.

My brother Craig had bought her two new pairs of houseslippers for Christmas, already wrapped under the tree. He was feeling really emotional about her not getting the slippers, but was wanting me to have them. I assured him that I would think of her every time I wore them, and then he seemed ready to pass them to me. With a lot of tears and hugs required, mind you. One thing I told him is that we might not have mom now, but what we have are her things that remind us of what she loved. It's a way of incorporating reminders of her into our daily lives. And, of course, all those memories. There is no shortage.

Steve and I were at the store looking for a container for my share of my mother's ashes. It was this strange parallel universe as I walked in the aisles, picking up boxes. Opening them. Envisioning what my mother's ashes would look like inside. Picturing it on my dresser. So strange. That this is what my mother's life came down to being? A carved wooden box on my dresser? I kept trying to find the perfect box, and then realized that what was going to make it perfect was that it became my mother's keepsake. That it didn't matter if it was yellow, her favorite color, or that it had a zebra on it, her favorite animal. It just needed to be where her ashes were. So we went back to the mortuary and got one of their "mass produced" urns meant for ashes. That was a turning point for me. I didn't have to go through great measures to make it mean something; it would mean something because it was hers.

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