Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mom's Treasured Memories

Once Mom said, “Tom, why don’t you sleep on my bed? I can sleep on the sofa.” How sweet and loving was that? Of course, I told her I’d already spent so many months sleeping on the sofa that it was perfectly fine for me but thanks for the offer, Mom.

It has been a week since Mom passed, and have I spent some time cleaning and moving items to give me more space in Mom’s bedroom. I cleaned off the top of one little bureau by her bed--Pond’s skin lotion, eye drops, emery boards for her nails. In the top drawer was her jewelry--a few necklaces and rings, not much or expensive, but right there by her bed. The necklaces were all knotted together, so I spent quite a bit of time untying the knots and setting the pieces in her jewelry box. It's a poignant feeling of oddness, of displacement, to sit on the right side of Mom's bed, the same side I sleep on at home, to sit where she sat, the little blue lamp on her bedstand, which would light at night and I would wake up and see from the living room Mom sitting on her bed, getting her frail five-foot body ready to negotiate by touch her way to the bathroom. Now I sit where she sat; it's my bed now, and I'm making a more comfortable space for myself, just as Mom would want me to do, just as she had already offered. Mom wanted me to be comfortable, what matter her comfort?

As I sit on her bed, the knotted necklaces in my hand, I imagine Mom opening her drawer and touching her mementos but not being able to untangle the necklaces, trying but because of her blindness not being able to. I can feel her frustration and her sense of not being able to keep up, not being able to clean and sort and keep things orderly as she used to. The sense of it breaks my heart, her sitting on her bed, touching the talismans of her life, alone and the years passed by.

I walk to the other end of the mobile home to my brother’s bedroom and tell him what I’ve been doing, how it felt good to untangle Mom’s necklaces for her, but that it was also killing me and I was stopping. I’d done enough organization for one day, provided myself some little space needed to be a little more comfortable. That image is still fresh in my mind, though. That space once occupied so often by my mom's body will no longer be, and it hurts to think about it.

My brother says that there were times he would see Mom sitting by her bed, touching her treasures, remembering the times when Dad gave her each piece. That was how she felt about her jewelry: each was a little stored memory, mnemonic artifacts (although I'm sure Mom didn't use that term). I was so thankful for my brother saying that; it provided me with a different perspective. It turned my head around and made me feel so much better. Mom had a great memory. I could imagine her picking up a necklace, feeling one with a tiny butterfly ornament on a chain, another with a garnet stone, another with a crystal heart--each a memory of her time with Dad. For each piece in her hand, whether a fine little necklace of some plastic costume jewelry in another box, she would touch it, look at it sideways to determine its color (since her macular degeneration affected primarily the center of her eyes), and then with the identification of the piece, a whole memory would unfold--the time of year, the words shared, the time together.

One set of earrings was in a tiny plastic baggie. On the plastic was written “Worn on my anniversary August 1947, Mom.” How long ago had she written that message on that little plastic envelope? It was almost completely faded away. The words were a gift to me, a message reminding me to pay attention to the joys of life, that if you forget the joys of life, then what was there left worth remembering? I believe my mom intensely lived the simple pleasures of her life. Because of her life-long limited eyesight, and because like many women of her generation her life was focused on home, husband, and children, the scope of her outer life was focused on just as few places and a few people. That in no way limited her inner life; the life of her heart, her love, was very rich. She lived a life of love and devotion; she found the psychological means to cultivate her own happiness.

The jewelry was not Mom’s real treasure. Something does not have to be expensive to be precious. Mom’s real treasures were the memories that the jewelry evoked. She had another box of cheap, inexpensive plastic costume jewelry. I’m sure she remembered at what flea market or ham radio fest or car show she and Dad had bought each item--and each memory was a treasure as she sat at her bedside, thinking of her over sixty years of life with my dad--these little celebrations that were not so little; these moments of shared love that transcended time.

I have twenty-seven years to learn this wisdom before I reach my mother’s age: that love is eternal and infinite, that love opens and embraces, that every ending is also a beginning, that to be loved and to love is to give and receive divine grace.

Untangling Mom’s jewelry untangled something in me. Touching her few necklaces and rings, I felt my mother’s love, her devotion; I felt the absolute certainty of her being. She is a drop of water merged with the sea. I stand on the shore, hearing the waves, feeling the mist. Such a very small space separates us from the infinite. Our life's work is to step across that space.


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