Last month I went back to Holland to visit my family and friends. But there was another reason for my visit: I needed to take care of several big boxes stored in the attic of my sister’s house. I had left them there when I moved to Port Alberni and the time had come to make room and free my sister from the last bits of the life I had left behind. Some boxes were filled with files and paperwork, the stuff you have to keep for a certain amount of years and you are looking forward to throw them away. Others were filled with a variety of memories not really worth much, but very valuable to me. I had not been able to take them with me and now I had to choose what would fit in my suitcase to take home.
At the bottom of the first box I discovered a tiny little red notebook, like the ones you buy in a dollar store, nothing special, but it means the world to me. It contains my mother’s beautiful handwriting. Little booklets like that had been a big part of my childhood. My mother always used to have one in the kitchen. Once a week she would put it outside on our doorstep in a basket for the milkman. It would tell him exactly how much milk and yoghurt she wanted for that week. A similar booklet she would keep in her purse and it would serve as grocery list and in some sort of way she would calculate her household budget in it.
When mom died I had to go through her personal belongings and it was then that I found one of these little notebooks in an old purse. In between the grocery list and some confusing calculations I found a couple of pages I had no idea she had written and had kept them all these years.
I was 32 when my mother died and she had written these pages when I was 14 years old. It was October 1970 and we were in Paris, just mom and me. That summer I had been very ill and the family holiday I had spend in bed, while my brothers and sister were playing on a beach at the French coast. To make it up to me Dad sent me and my mom for a week to Paris in the fall. Now I was holding a little diary my mother kept during our stay in the capitol of France. She describes it as one of the best times she ever had and it took me a while to realise she had that best time of her life with me.
Now I was reading her words way more consciously than when I found them after she died. At that time it must have been too emotionally loaded for me to handle. I had put her beautiful words with my favourite memories in the box, I was now cleaning out. Mom had not only been my mother, she had also been my best friend.
I was now reading how my mother felt the same about me. As the middle child in a big family you don’t always get the attention you would like to have, but during this week in Paris it had been just my mother and me and she had enjoyed it so much, enough to write it down.
TodayI keep the little red notebook here at my home. For me it is proof that after the death of a loved one, we will have beautiful living memories. We can enjoy them and feel happy looking back. It takes time to feel peaceful and at ease when these memories overwhelm us, but memories are something precious and valuable. They help us to move on and they can give us strength to live in the moment. This long kept memory I took over the ocean with me, it needed to be here, because it is part of me and it belongs here where I live.
The Alberni valley Hospice Society offers ongoing grief and bereavement counselling for both individuals and group support programs. If you would like to know more about the services that we offer, please call us at 250-723-4478 or visit our website, www.albernihospice.ca