As my mom’s 8th (how could that possibly be?) Yartzeit surrounds me (due to the significant difference between the Hebrew and English calendars this year) I find myself thinking about what we take and what we leave behind when someone dies. There are the values that are ingrained in us – those we don’t always have a choice about. If we are lucky, we are happy with those values and lessons learned. If not, we struggle to create and develop new ways of approaching the world.
But there is also the “stuff” -the “things”, the “objects”. My parents died 7 months apart – too close together for me to have the luxury of grieving in a timely way for either one of them. The months surrounding and following my mom’s death are a blur to me. I know I spent hours and hours, days, weeks and months dealing with their apartment, their many possessions, and mountains of paperwork, courtesy of the IRS. What to hold onto? What to let go and leave behind? What to put in green garbage bags? What to sell, what to give away? Eventually, I just wanted to have it behind me. I wanted to shut the door of their beautiful apartment and never face it again. Looking back, with 20/20 hindsight, I tried to do too much too quickly and it was hard to separate the wheat from the chafe.
My mom lived in New York City and had a beautiful long winter walking coat. At the time, I lived in the suburbs and felt that I had no use for a long coat so into the discard pile went the coat. Five years later we moved to a neighborhood in Cambridge with a walk score of 91 (out of 100). Our first winter here I thought a little bit about that coat. The second winter I thought even more about it. I kicked myself for letting it go, for not being able to appreciate the “value” – and I don’t only mean the monetary value – in it. There isn’t a lot I regret in life, but I did regret giving away her coat. (By the way, one of my other regrets is that I never spent a year as a ski bum in Colorado.)
One day I told a close friend about the coat and voiced my regret. When I finished she looked at me and said “Margie, I think I have the coat”. My heart leapt. It turns out that she, with clearer eyes, couldn’t let the coat go to the discard pile. She took it and tucked it into the back of her closet, where it hung for several years.
During the fall she brought me the coat – complete with my mom’s requisite Kleenex in the pocket. As the temperatures plummeted I put the coat on. It fit perfectly and the feeling was indescribable. Somehow, my mom was once again wrapped around me and with the wrapping came a reminder of so many of the gifts my mother gave me. The gift of a smile, the gift of asking the right question, the gift of supporting people when they most needed it, the gift of being present. And so, although I hope to be able to put the coat away soon (and turn to my own worn spring jacket) the coat reminded me that, regardless of what happens to the coat or whether I wear it or not, I will always be wrapped in my mom’s unique values and special traits. I think that is a lesson that is true for all of us. As loved ones pass on, we can continue to hold them close and listen, learn and be supported by them each and every day.