My jewelry simply vanished, three velvet pouches stuffed inside a large Ziplock bag that contained everything sparkly I was taking with me to Spain. The monetary value was not significant, but that bag held my mother’s topaz ring and Lady Liberty necklace that I’ve loved since childhood. The Ziplock had been sitting on my dresser in Maine–I hadn’t worn jewelry in weeks–and then, it was gone, disappearing just like my mother did in the space of one small breath.
I believe there’s always a silver-lining, no matter how small. But when life decides to dog pile, pushing the air out of you until you can’t even scream, it can be hard to recognize. Lately, I’ve been trying to stay one step ahead of the reality of my mom’s death and the loss of her jewelry by consistent forward motion. First, we headed for Beaver Lake in Canada, where leisurely games of Cornhole played with old friends, martinis in hand, kept my head above water (although a self-imposed two-drink maximum prevented a proper drowning of sorrows).
Next, we turned The Oddy toward New York. In Sleepy Hollow, the ghosts of Washington Irving and his headless horseman rustling in the heat-stunned forest, we spent a lazy evening swimming in the Hudson River with more old friends. Hearing I’d lost my jewelry, Eva, the eight-year old daughter of a college buddy, braided me a white bracelet out of string and the pleasure I got from this simple, unexpected gift crowded out any guilt, anger, tears, and bad memories–at least for the moment.
But I am not nearly as fast at outrunning my problems as I used to be, partly because I know running is only a temporary fix. And so, when a manager from Goodwill called to say they had not found my bag of jewelry in the crates of stuff I had donated in Maine, I crawled into bed and sobbed.
“I wanted that jewelry back!” I cried to Ethan, the Goodwill being my best, last hope of finding it. “It’s probably at the fucking dump!” I’ve convinced myself that it got accidentally knocked into a trashcan and thrown away because I can’t believe anyone would creep into our house and steal it. Ethan tried unsuccessfully to soothe by reminding me it’s only stuff.
“Yeah,” I sniffled, feeling perversely compelled to twist the guilt knife. “Priceless fucking stuff.”
The next morning we boarded a flight for Atlanta where we stayed with the daughters of my mom’s best friend from high school, women I’ve known forever but have only connected with intermittently over the last 30 years. Margaret and Rosalyn scooped us up in protective arms and Ado made us all laugh, first by chasing a baby possum under a car (“Look! It’s an angry rat!”) and then, by wandering (in his underwear) into one of the similar looking bungalows two doors down from ours–to the surprise of the homeowner eating breakfast.
Among people who knew and loved my mom so well for so long, I parlayed one happy day into three, and finally, in the lightning-strewn humidity of a Southern summer, the silver lining of loss became clear; it is the friendships renewed and strengthened through the communal experience of death. We all go through it and it is the string of hearts that have opened to us that makes Gabriele’s death a bearable pain.
Surrounded by love, the sting of losing the jewelry has faded, but I’ve moved into the stage of processing the fact that my mom is gone for good too. The missing is a physical ache but on our last morning in Atlanta, Margaret gave me a gift—a CD she bought online featuring my mother entitled “To Write Is To Know”. On it, Gabriele’s musical voice, tinged with perpetual laughter, walks the listener through how to open your heart and mind through the written word—something she did naturally. When I told Margaret how haunted I am by memories of my mom so dreadfully, terminally ill, she put a hand on my back, her light touch feeling wonderfully familiar.
“You have all those horrible movies playing over and over again in your head, honey,” she said in her Southern drawl, and I could feel my mom’s spirit, whole and quite pleased that this old, special friendship has found new life. “Maybe it’s time to start replacing those sad memories with happier ones.”
At the rate I’m running, I think that might just be possible.