On Memory Chests and Riding the Next Wave

On Memory Chests and Riding the Next Wave

My mother’s mahogany chest now resides in our guest room, along with the old oak bed in which Mom was born. It is filled with her things still, some that I will be sending to family, and some that I just can’t let go of quite yet. I can still see her prowling through the antique that she loved so much, squirreling away Christmas gifts and looking at treasures that she had stored in the special drawers. Now it is a memory chest for me, holding the things my mother loved, from snowmen to jewelry…even holding her ashes until we can make the trip to North Carolina to release them into the Nantahala River as she requested.

I have refrained from going through the chest, but I thought enough time had passed to look for an item. As I opened the top drawer, the wonderful aroma that I have associated since my childhood with the chest and with my mother wafted up. I stood still for a moment and the memories flooded my mind and my heart. The chest became increasingly important to Mom as she aged and her world became smaller and smaller. In her last days, she carefully instructed me to look in certain drawers for the special things that were to go to my sister and sister-in-laws, and going through it for the first time after her death was particularly difficult. To see the carefully arranged treasures in the top drawers, and her clothing in the lower drawers was so intimate, so very attached to who my mother was and what she thought was important. Going through the chest two months after her passing proved to still be an emotional experience.

Seeing her beautiful hair barrettes and jewelry, her White Shoulders powder, her snowmen, the myriad of trinkets that she never tired of playing with, tugged at my heart. I found her round brushes with strands of her beautiful silver hair wound around them, cards from her beloved Space People, photos of Mom and Dad in their younger days. The things that affected me most were those she had with her in the hospital; her puzzle books, her dentures, her Happy Pill that laughed as she laughed along with it. I felt the wave of grief that had receded come crashing back over me, the heaviness of loss, and the tears flowed freely.

The wave of grief has a different quality now, though. I still feel the sadness of missing her, still have flashes of the end of her life in the hospital room, but something has changed. I smile through my tears as I lovingly touch her things, and focus more on the gratitude of having had such a close relationship with Mom, and not so much on the sorrow of her passing. The smallest thing can set a memory free, but there are so many wonderful memories to be thankful for and to hold to my heart. I notice more subtle changes as well- I no longer have to sleep with her special afghan over me, or feel like I have to hold on to every single thing just because it belonged to Mom. I am determining what truly means something to me, and am ready to begin the process letting go of the things that don’t- all part of the road to healing.

The chest of drawers is one of those special things that means something to me, bringing back happy memories of my mother. Now it is time to begin filling it with my things, adding my own special memories to its history-laden drawers. Life is for the living, and while I will always cherish the memories that come out of the chest, will always miss my mother, I will honor her memory by doing what she did when she faced challenges- lift my chin, open my heart, and move forward into life.

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