Posted May 12, 2017 by jimhigley
This is a daily installment from my book, “Bobblehead Dad: 25 Lessons I Forgot I Knew.” Come back tomorrow for more!
The week following my mom’s funeral, after my brothers had gone back to either college or their jobs, my dad and I were left alone to deal with the realities of being in a home that had no pulse.
After my first day back at school, I came home and found my dad standing motionless over a basket of dirty clothes. They were my mom’s dirty clothes. They were the clothes she had worn a day or two before she got sick. And like everything in our home now, they were lifeless.
“We need to go through her stuff,” my dad said to me.
“I know,” I replied.
What I really wanted to do was lash back at him and ask how in the world could he get rid of Mom’s things. But I soon found myself playing the loyal assistant as we methodically sorted through the world she left behind.
We cleaned out her closet and dresser. I remembered when she had worn each and every item. A red pleated dress she reserved for the holidays. The ugly pink robe—complete with a matching nightgown—my dad had given her on their last anniversary. Countless blouses that were part of her daily mom uniform. There were a few things we saved. A skirt that she never actually wore but was determined to fit into one day. A shawl that often doubled as a tablecloth. An embroidered skirt she had bought in Mexico. She loved these things. And they weren’t leaving the house. Not yet.
We went through her jewelry, which was mostly costume. She had a charm bracelet that had belonged to her mother, Lillian. We kept that. I found my mom’s engagement ring—her only nice piece of jewelry—in an envelope with the hospital’s name on it. We placed that aside with the charm bracelet.
We cleaned out the drawers in the bathroom where she kept her toiletries. Her toothbrush. A hairbrush with strands of her hair in it. Some makeup cases I don’t think she ever used. The only thing we didn’t toss was her one bottle of perfume. I never really liked it when my mom wore perfume. She called it “foo-foo-juice.” I called it stinky. But now I wanted to inhale that stinky smell. A quick spray of it in the air, and when I closed my eyes, she’d actually come back—for a moment.
We cleaned out her desk. I read over her calendar and ached at all of the appointments she had in the coming weeks. She needed to be here. I needed her to be here.
We took her coats out of the front closet. Her white raincoat with oversized black buttons. A red windbreaker. Her favorite, a suede coat with sheepskin lining that was reserved for winter. They all had a pair of gloves in the pockets. And a white linen hanky. But now they were simply heaped on the growing pile destined for a local charity.
Finally, we cleaned out her purse. Her unfinished pack of Dentyne gum—with one small stick remaining—went into the trash. My dad took her credit cards and driver’s license. We saved her favorite linen hanky.
Inside her wallet I found something I never knew she carried. It was a piece of white paper—about the size of a credit card—with something typed on it. My mom had typed it.
I recognized those words from a birthday card someone had once given my mom. That card sat on her desk for years. It obviously meant something to her.
I knew I was intended to find that dog-eared message. My mom must have left it for me. Be kind. Every day. Be kind. Just like Mom.
So I took that piece of paper and tucked it inside my own wallet. It stayed there for years. I always knew where it was. Then, somewhere along the course of my life, it ultimately found a more permanent home inside a small frame.
And from that day forward, it stood on the desk in my den.
Did I find my gift that Wednesday morning while I was walking to work? Was Karen’s promised gift simply the reminder that I needed to live in the moment? That seemed trite. Anticlimactic. There had to be more. I wanted something I could get my arms around!
All through that day, the dots of my life experiences kept coming back to me. I could see them. I kept thinking to myself this must be what people talk about when their lives flash before their eyes. Except, I wasn’t dying. But I felt as if memories from my life were hitting me from every direction. Big things. Little things. Insignificant things.
I had thought about many of them over the last three months. But they continued to present themselves to me that day—all at lightning speed. I knew there was something more to this than the simple message of “live in the moment.” I needed to understand, however, why all these images from my past continued to race in my head.
One thing kept playing over and over like a needle skipping on an old record. It was the piece of paper I had found in my mom’s wallet many years ago. There was something about it that was hanging heavy with me. Could it possibly tie in to any of this? Sure, the poem was about showing kindness to others. That fit and tied into the importance of living in the moment.
Maybe the message on that piece of paper was the real gift?
I played this out in my head all day long. I was sure there was more and couldn’t wait to get home and read those words in the picture frame on my desk. I hadn’t looked at them in years. Maybe I would see something different today?
As soon as I arrived home, I ran into my den and grabbed the frame. I read the words of the French Quaker missionary, though I had memorized them long before.
Yes, the poem was exactly as I had remembered it. Then it hit me. How could I have forgotten? There was something else. My mom had also typed something on the flip side of the paper!
I opened up the frame and carefully dismantled the cardboard so I could get to the worn piece of paper. I had chills as I took the backing off the frame to reveal the old, familiar piece of paper.
Then I saw it. The second message on the back.
I had last seen those words more than thirty years earlier. More specifically, I had “exchanged” more than ten thousand “todays” since I had last read them.
Finally, I understood my life-changing gift.
Most of our daily experiences come and go. They never register with us as anything more than the mundane events of our lives. But they are anything but mundane! Or meaningless!
Many of the things that have shaped and influenced my life have come from simple and seemingly insignificant moments. However, they ultimately became the experiences from which I would harvest the lessons in later years to help me make decisions. Find my path. Or give me strength.
Reading those words hidden on the back of the paper made me realize they were the words my mother lived by. Her cherished words helped me understand that every story in every today has the potential to be a lesson. If you miss a “today,” you miss all of its lessons. That’s why it’s important to live in the moment.
My mom knew it. And I’m quite certain she rarely regretted the price she paid for any of her “todays”—too few as they were.
As I read the reverse side of that piece of paper again, I knew that Karen’s promise had finally come true. I had received my life-changing gift. I also was holding the gift my mom left to me when I was fourteen years old. Best of all, I came to the realization that both gifts had always been there.
Every day of my life.
Come back tomorrow for more!