Grief's pain is emptiness. Memories fill the hole. What I first experienced as a jumbled overload of images quieted, the new calm bringing perceptible sensations to my memories. Sparked by a sound, a taste, or perhaps a rustling of fabric, memories send me time-traveling. In the minutiae of a typical day two wires touch and I am "unstuck in time." And I enjoy the journey.
Sometimes I feel her. Not spectral yet just as startling. Not a dream yet just as intangible. It's more like her essence. Palpable. It happened the other night. Up late to read a book, I turned a page and there she was. I gasped, "oh, Mom, you're here!" What word, what thought triggered such a feeling? I'll never know. Just as quickly, she vanished.
I incorporate her. After I lifetime of hearing I favor my father what a surprise to find I resemble my mother. After she died the face I saw looking at me in the mirror was hers. Reaching for my morning coffee with two hands I noted, "that's just the way Mom held her cup." Now even my language duplicates her as I integrate her old sayings into my speech. It's a comfort to celebrate our similarities.
I honor her with family rituals. Today, Memorial Day, is the day we pick mums from the front yard, put them in coffee cans and drive across town to the cemetery. For as long as I can remember we cared for the family plot by trimming overgrown grass and leaving cut flowers at each grave. I still see a vivid picture of my grandmother in her flowered dress and sun hat, kneeling in the grass, tidying headstones with a pair of scissors. Years later, I took my sons along and cried with mother while we tended Grandmother's grave. And today we care for Mom's place.
I see her in the margins. Two Mother's Days, a birthday, the better part of two Memorial Days and an ocean of tears have passed. Instead of fighting an aching loss I've welcomed her back. Instead of grasping at distant memories I see her right here, every day. In a hand-written envelope addressed to her grandchild. In a Post-It Note with her trademark greeting: "Hey Babe, I Love You!" And in my favorite, a worn collection of cookbooks and recipe cards, Mom's notes penned in the margins. My connection to the past that brings a smile to the present.
A very special Christmas gift. I can't even guess the year. Less than twenty years ago, and more than 15. A holiday celebration in my parents' home. In spite of forgetting the year I remember every detail of the exchange. The smile on my mom's face as I opened the package. My wail when I saw the contents, "but these are yours!" And then...we cried together. Over sterling and crystal vanity jars. They sat on Mom's dressing table for 20 years. On her mother's for a lifetime before that.
I didn't want the gift because I knew what it meant. I wanted my mother; not her jars. Quite persistently throughout Christmas day, she shared their history. Grudgingly, I took them home and placed them on a shelf. The shift was gradual. One day I opened a lid and dropped in a lock of hair….then a cub scout patch. The vanity jars became guardians for those little bits of childhood--a baseball card, a dairy queen whistle
, baby teeth and more--that made me smile. Precious vessels for the memories of my precious children.
As my children left the nest the jars held less of theirs...and more of mine. I realized one would be perfect for my makeup brushes. Another could hold delicate necklaces and the small one would be good for earrings. They were lovely to look at. And now I looked at them and used them every day.
The fourth was the most unusual--the jar with a hair receiver lid. "After brushing her hair before bed, a women cleaned the brush and placed the collected hair in her receiver jar." Now I smile to remember Mom's story. Recently needing a safety pin, I emptied that jar. Instead of the fastener came a sudden rush of memories. I wailed, just like that far away Christmas. With tears in my eyes I realized the jar held much more than safety pins, buttons and cotton balls. At the very bottom…a baby tooth. Who knew that could be so potent!
At last grateful for her gift, I can put this in perspective. My mother brought the vanity jars home after her mother was already gone. Mom saw a chance to do something different. By sharing her history in person I have far more than a collection of antique jars. It doesn't really matter but I wish I could remember what Mom kept in them. Memories, I guess.