My mother was sick a long time before she passed away. Her health was as tumultuous as the daytime soap operas that she watched religiously. Mom was in and out of the hospital as long as I can remember, and family stories tell me that this was true long before I was born.
She was too ill to really help me plan my wedding, but as I happily chatted with her about it, sitting on the end of her bed, she suddenly said, “Let’s go through my jewelry box.” I stared at her. Mom’s jewelry box was off limits, as was her shoe collection and her clothes—touching any of those things was akin to starting a woman to woman war.
The jewelry box actually was a small oak armoire, and stood about four feet tall. It weighed approximately four thousand tons in my gentle estimation. I brought the drawers to her sickbed, one by one.
She went through it, piece by piece, telling me about each item.
I had no idea that the ring she always wore on her right hand had been a gift from my grandfather on her sixteenth birthday. My grandparents had been poor, so for him to give her a ring as a gift was important—and brought more meaning to the pearl ring that he gave me for my thirteenth birthday.
The diamond stud earrings were an engagement present from my father. Years later, I would have them mounted on either side of the diamond that my husband bought me to celebrate our marriage.
There was a slew of costume jewelry from Lazarus and Kohl’s, many of which I had been with her when she bought; things from Avon, trinkets collected over the years—pins from her time in cosmetology school, awards I had received in school, snippets of my brother’s hair. Her life collected in a wooden box. We looked at all of her treasures and I learned these stories one by one.
A few weeks later, my mother was gone. She didn’t make it to my wedding. Had she not told me those things that day, I would never have known the stories associated with them. There were many things about her that I didn’t know, that I didn’t find out until much later, and other things that I’m still trying to piece together about her truth from piles and piles of photographs, old letters, and a few of those phone calls that you sometimes get when you are an adult that blow your mind.
My mother’s truth matters. Her truth is my truth, because the things that happened in her life and in our house when I was growing up shaped the person I am today. I couldn’t make my mother healthy, and I can’t go back in time and ask her the questions that I now so very desperately wish that I could.
But you can.
Help your loved ones live. Make sure you understand where they came from; know as many of the whys as you can. Give them a legacy. Ask them to tell you everything they are willing to tell you. So often, life is busy. We are distracted, and then everything stops. The stories of the people we love the most are lost. Don’t let this happen.
LifeBio is here to help you get their story told and recorded with ease. Listen more. Or you may never know the answers.
Amber Dennis is a staff writer and personal biographer for LifeBio, where she helps record personal histories. Before working for LifeBio, Amber worked for a number of years in customer service, and also worked in nursing homes and home care as an STNA. She holds a BA in History from Otterbein University.