I asked the Horan brothers to save the nightgown they removed from Mom’s body before she was embalmed. A week later when they delivered our final bill to my dad’s, they dropped off her blue checked nightgown. My dad came over for dinner, and he walked up my front steps with Mom’s nightgown thrown over his shoulder. I cringed when I saw him. “Mom died in that,” I wanted to say. Then I remembered: it’s Dad. Things like this don’t bother him. I washed the nightgown and folded it in my pajama drawer just to have it near.
Those last days at the nursing home, when Mom was dressed in just a diaper and a pajama top or nightgown, I brought home some items she’d never wear again: her robe, her aprons (which were used more like bibs these last two years), a few cardigans, and her lipstick. In the days after Mom died, I hung her robe on a hook outside my closet door so each time I chose my outfit for the day, I could give it a huff. Smells like Mom. Eventually I hung it in my closet and just looked at it once a day. Soon I didn’t notice it at all. These are my stages of grief.
I don’t know what to do with the handwritten note Father Victor left in Mom’s room a few days before she died.
Fr. Victor anointed Virgiline today 9/18/12 9:50 am. We will pray for her.
I couldn’t very well throw it away. After a few weeks, I finally put it in my Bible, next to the letter Dad sent Mom before they married. He was twenty-one and working out of town. She was seventeen and living with her sister’s family, working to make money for their wedding. They wrote to each other often, and after they married they cut up their love letters and used them to stuff a throw pillow. Even as a kid, whenever I’d see this handmade pillow in the attic, I could not believe that they destroyed a piece of their history, which meant mine. I often shook their pillow just to hear the crinkle of the paper. I wouldn’t have imagined then that I held in my hands the weight of their desire or recognized that the voices in these letters were of a passionate, young couple.
Once I told my dad, “I’m gonna cut this pillow open and tape the pieces of letters back together.”
“Don’t you dare,” he said. His response instantly piqued my interest about what these pages may hold and how tantalizing it might be to read someone else’s love letters, even your parent’s. After I divorced, I saved for my son the many cards and notes his dad and I gave each other when we were dating. He may never want proof of our love, but it’s there just the same.
I don’t remember anymore where I found this one letter of my dad’s. Perhaps it was mixed in with old photographs in the attic. All I know is that I ferreted it away in my Bible. I was seventeen, immature and secretive but well aware of the historic significance of anything written back when Mom was my age. I’m not sure when I became a collector of such relics, but I suspect I should blame my family of fellow packrats.
At every turn in my home are treasures that used to be my parent’s: kitschy owl napkin holder or antique kitchen table. My jewelry box is filled with earrings and necklaces Mom passed on to me when she still knew who I was. My closet holds some of her old blouses and blazers. Still, when she died I craved something she had recently touched; I needed a robe with her scent or the flannel nightgown that lay against her paper-thin skin when she took her final breath.
The last time I experienced this morose longing was five years ago when my first husband’s mother died. I loved my mother-in-law till the end and desperately wanted something of hers, but I had been divorced from her son for a few years. I went to her funeral with my parents, then I drove to a discount store to find an item that I might always recall buying on the day of her burial. I bought a gaudy, fake ruby, too big for my ring finger, so I wore it on my middle one. It turned my skin green. I didn’t care.