By Teresa M. Norris
They say that memories can be unleashed by something as simple as a fragrance or a few notes from a tune. Memories can sneak up subtly or land a whack between the eyes—like when I discovered a note written by my mother 13 years before she died.
My mother passed away in the fall of 2003 at age 90. The most
painful part was the “long good-bye” her dementia created, taking her
away in dribs and drabs.
When she was in her 80s, Mom’s condition was deteriorating
gradually and during one phone conversation she complained to me that
people were telling her she was “losing her marbles.” I set out to
reassure her. Finding a small net bag of marbles at a store, I mailed
them to her with a note: “Next time someone says you’re losing your
marbles, you can show them these.”
We had a great laugh over that marble bag, but the joke was only
that. The dementia was insidious. In 2001 she was admitted to a nursing
home, our family left to watch her slowly leave us during the next two
years. Each time I visited her at the home, I wondered: Would she
Each time that she did was a gift.
When she died, I felt I’d have a better chance of connecting with
her, at least spiritually. Occasionally I’d reread a few old letters I
had saved, or the essays I had written about her. All of that just
seemed like history though—devoid of emotional spark.
Then there was the note I found one cold December day in 2004, a year after she’d died.
I was cleaning the guest room, getting it ready for my daughter’s
visit for Christmas. I tugged the heavy futon away from the wall, and
in the process I unearthed some dust bunnies, old board games—and a
small, flat box.
The box appeared empty, and my mind drew a blank as to what it had
held. Then I saw the penciled note on it: “Baptism Dress—Do Not Throw
Away.” I smiled, remembering now that I had moved the treasured dress
years ago to a safer and roomier storage bag. Why I hadn’t tossed the
box out, I do not know.
I opened the box on a whim and saw an empty plastic bag. Then I
spotted a folded piece of paper clinging to the plastic with something
written on it. My breath caught as I recognized my mother’s
handwriting. I hadn’t seen this before; it had probably clung to the
box when I’d moved the dress.
With care, I unfolded the paper and read what my mother had written:
“I was baptized in this dress Oct. 20, 1913. Birthday was Oct.
17, 1913. Son John born July 6, 1942 also was baptized in same dress.”
Here I had to chuckle as the note continued: “Granddaughter
Jennifer was born July 1, 1973 or 1972. I’m too old to remember. Today
is my 77-year birthday, so I’m sealing the dress in plastic. Good
memories for me. Hope you also are having good memories too. Love, Mom
Of course by then my eyes were stinging with tears. I had been
thinking of her during the day—as I often do, but especially with
Christmas just around the corner. Now she had prompted me to question
whether good memories were with me.
Something to consider.
Too often as I reflect on my mother’s life, I remember her last two
years, painful and prolonged, as we all wrestled with the ravages of
her dementia. But on that bleak December day when I found her note, it
seemed she was pressing herself, her real self, into my day. Any sad reflection on the past had to be put aside in light of her upbeat comment. Good memories were almost demanded.
Talking directly through that simple note, she managed to remind me
that in some way I would always have her with me. It’s as if she knew I
needed to feel that connection from her past to my present. I had good memories.
Thanks for the reminder, Mom.
Teresa M. Norris
As profiled on GRACE magazine website, www.graceforwomen.com