My Mother Continues to Teach Me Things Long After Her Death

My mother liked to give away jewelry that she didn’t wear anymore but that was meaningful to her. She got great pleasure giving these gifts and seeing them joyfully received and worn. She had cancer for twelve years, but had an eight-year remission before she got sick and died. She contemplated downsizing from the house she and my father lived in for 30-plus years but ultimately decided to stay. I supported their decision “as long as you clean it out,” I told her which she apparently took to heart.

My mother liked to give away jewelry that meant something to her

After she died in 2013, I was going through her jewelry. There was a necklace in a little plastic bag with a little yellow sticky note that said “Nan’s sisters gave this to her.” Ah, so that’s where my grandmother got that necklace. Another bag with a necklace said, “Morris gave this to me from his trip to Israel.” Morris was her brother. How sweet.

Most of the things were not labeled and there was a lot of costume jewelry which I suspect she tired of but just didn’t get rid of. Now much of it sits in my jewelry box. It’s either out of style or not my taste but I can’t bring myself to give it away.

Poking around through the piles I found a little bag that said, “for Naomi’s 16th birthday.” My heart stopped. Naomi is my daughter who was 9 when my mother died. My mother had given her older granddaughters special pieces of hers when they turned 16. Clearly, she had put this away for my daughter. It was a gold heart on a chain.

The back was engraved “To Rita, Sweet Sixteen, Mother & Dad.” My grandparents had given it to my mother on her 16th birthday in 1954 and my mother wanted my daughter to have it on her 16th birthday. I wept with grief that my lovely mother had thought of my daughter as she was dying. I had to wait six years to give it to her…could I contain myself?

gold necklace
My mother had a necklace intended for my daughter when she turned 16.

The six years passed, and I did indeed keep the secret gift untouched in my closet. My daughter recently turned 16 and I gave her the necklace in the plastic bag with the note in it while out to brunch with our immediate family. She was shocked and clearly moved as she put it around her neck. It was the best gift I have ever had the pleasure of passing along.

When I told my father the story he said, “Your mother always knew what little girls liked.” He shared the story with my mother’s best friend who said, “I remember when she did that. I am heartbroken.”

We were all heartbroken to lose my mother. I felt a little bad as my 3 sons looked on when I gave their sister the gift. “Sorry fellas, no necklaces for you,” I joked. They were good sports and felt the magic of the moment as if their beloved “Bubbe” was at the table with us.

It’s amazing to me that my mother keeps teaching me things long after she left this earth. Label things that are precious to you so those left behind know either 1) your intention for it and/or 2) where it came from. I am grateful for the notes she left as I have no clue about the origins of many of the things from her home. I am left to make up stories that sound right to me because my father doesn’t always know the answers to my questions about specific items.

I can only hope that my daughter has a life as rich and full as my mother’s. And that one day she has a daughter or granddaughter to keep the chain going.

About Susan Stillman

Susan Margolis Stillman is a freelance writer and blogger. She has been published in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune and Kveller. Her blog can be found at Let Me Tell You Something. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children.

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