My Mother’s birthday was last week.  I forgot it this year.  I think this is first year since she died that I’ve forgotten it. Of course, I always seemed to forget it when she was alive, and she was (so she said) okay with that.  She wasn’t the sort to make much of a fuss about that kind of thing. So she probably wasn’t surprised that I forgot it this year. In fact, I expect she’s kind of pleased. I know she thinks my grieving has gone on waaaay too long.  And really, I’m not grieving anymore.  It’s just that the loss and the absence of both her and my Father is still tender.  A deep bruise on my soul that I can only touch lightly lest it hurt too much.  I doubt it will ever heal much more than it is now.

A few weeks ago, we cleaned out the garage, and I brought a few remaining boxes of things from my Mother inside to unpack. There they sat in the solarium, untouched save for Thunder Cat sharpening her claws on the cardboard, until my niece/roommate said, “Do you think you could do something about those boxes?” Which is her nice way of saying “Your clutter is driving me nuts, you insane surface-dwelling packrat.” A perfectly reasonable request; after all, one can’t just have a room filled with cardboard boxes just sitting there forever, can one?  Well, actually one can, if one is my Dad, but that’s another story.  In a shared home, it’s just not okay.

We tentatively agreed to resolve this issue on Saturday night, with a couple of bottles of wine and a box cutter. Rereading that, it sounds like we’re getting drunk and fighting to the death, but we’re not – we just agreed to tackle this chore together.  What with chile festivals and flea markets and bicycle rides, we ended up arriving home at different times, me with MKL, and her an hour or so later. So I settled down to open Box #1.

Oh my.

The day my Mother died, after making the requisite phone calls, E-Bro and I started to pack her things up. He tackled the little office, living room, kitchen. I packed up the bedroom and bathrooms. So many things, and I was not in a place to make decisions then.  I was raw and suicidal and heartbroken.

When I opened this first box, all those feelings came flooding back at me like I had jumped into hyperspace.  I had packed in a way that showed how I couldn’t bear to discard anything that was my Mother’s.  The box had two little packets of tissue, and three boxes of Irish Spring. It had photo albums of my pictures that I had given to my Dad as Christmas gifts in the years before he died. It had the fleece blanket she had kept over her in her deathbed.

It still carried her scent. Almost six years later.

I started to cry.

MKL came over and put his arm around me, asked if there was anything he could do. He was just there – which is exactly what I needed. He took the blanket and wrapped it up in a separate bag, so it might retain some of its scent, and shared with me a similar experience from his grandfather’s passing.

Then I cleaned myself up and we made shrimp.

I can only manage one box at a time, I told Niece when she got home.  She was cool with that, as long as I was making the effort.

Last night, after I got home, I tided up a bit and opened box Number Two.  Again, it showed a certain amount of randomness and attachment to the moment. There were her art books and portfolio from the mail-order painting class she had taken when I was very small, perhaps about three. I can still remember her, sitting at her easel in the sunny study. A little white T-shirt that she used to wear. Two nightgowns. A caftan – I have pictures of her wearing that at our last trip to Topsail, three months before she died. It was her favorite. I put the T-shirt and nightgowns in the wash. I put the caftan on the foot of my bed.

There were some more fleece blankets – ones that DIDN’T smell like her. And a comforter that I made for my Father.

And then a satchel, a newer version of the kind my Father carried to work every day, filled with yarn. I put my hand in to see what it was.

It was a soft green afghan that she was knitting, the needles still in place in the yarn, at the point when she stopped, a few days before she died. She was knitting it for me. It was a pattern I had always wanted her to make for me, ever since I was a very little girl – moss green, with beautiful pink roses on it.

It will never be finished now.

I took a deep breath. And put my head on my arms on the kitchen table and sobbed my heart out.

I still have more boxes to unpack.