78: The Necklace

78: The Necklace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

The Necklace

Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated.

~Alphonse de Lamartine, Méditations Poétiques

When my mother-in-law, who had been a close part of my life for more than fifty years, died, I felt a sense of loss that had to do not only with missing her, but also with missing that part of myself that expressed itself when I was with her. That part—that unique piece of how she and I related and interacted—was forever gone, at least in the physical form.

I also missed her listening. At the age of ninety-nine, she still devoted much of her time to talking with (and listening to) friends and family, being both a sounding board and cheerleader. No matter what was going on, she had a way of simply being with people that made them feel better.

One of our last conversations together had been about jewelry. For years, she had attended “home parties” given by Mary, a neighbor, and had bought necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. I had received some as gifts, but knew she kept an entire dresser drawer full of these items, even though she seldom wore them. They were all neatly tucked into their separate boxes, stacked up nearly to the top of the drawer.

“They’re a way I can contribute to Mary,” she said when I questioned her. “And I think of them as a way to connect to the people who receive them as gifts.”

“What about all those others you have in your drawer?” I said. Her answer gave me a new reason to appreciate her love of jewelry.

“Oh, I like to revisit them from time to time. They’re like old friends. I can usually remember when I bought them and who was there with me.”

As I moved through the days following her death, every day felt heavy and grief-filled as we did what had to be done to prepare for her memorial service. I wondered when I would ever feel good again without this overlay of sadness. I had lost my own parents long ago (they both died relatively young by today’s standards), and my mother-in-law was truly like another mother to me.

My husband and I drove out the day before her memorial service to check final details and had an early dinner before heading for Mom’s house to spend the night. Although I dreaded being in the empty house, it seemed comforting to be surrounded by all of her favorite things. Thanks to a neighbor who had come in to clean, the house had its familiar welcoming smells of orange-scented furniture polish and the lemony kitchen counter spray she used. I sat in her favorite chair, watched the news, and had no trouble falling asleep.

The day of her memorial service arrived. The gray clouds echoed my mood, and I felt both empty and exhausted. I got dressed and put on the necklace I had brought with me, but for some reason I didn’t like how it looked. It no longer seemed to fit what I was wearing. I decided to look in Mom’s jewelry drawer.

I didn’t have the energy to go through every box. Feeling sad and frustrated, I spoke out loud. “Mom, I need your help. Would you guide me to the right thing for me to wear today?”

My fingers seemed to have a will of their own. Instantly, they reached out and plucked a box—seemingly at random—from the drawer. I opened it. There lay a silver heart necklace, just the right length for the neckline of my dress. The next thing I noticed was that it was an open heart, not solid in the middle. I felt joyful just holding it in my hand. I knew then that she really had shown me much more than what necklace to wear.

I received the message directly from her—from her heart to mine: I love you, although I am no longer physically with you. Keep an open heart, and you will know I’m around.

That necklace has become a touchstone for the way we can now relate through time and space, and a way for me to know that our hearts are linked forever.

~Maril Crabtree

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