The following is based on a true story:

Some time after our mother’s death, my sister and I arranged to meet at our mother’s home to begin the process of sorting out her belongings. It was a beautiful spring morning; the sun was shining and the first blossoms were appearing on the trees. There was a mix of feelings for both of us; on one hand we knew that we had to start the process of cleaning and sorting, and on the other, we felt the finality and having to accept that Mum had died.

We stood in the hallway.

“It’s cold,” my sister remarked and flicked on the heating.

We sat in the kitchen, perched on tall stools at the breakfast bar as we once had as kids, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Then my sister made the first move and we began to empty the cupboards. We cried over the china stacked in the boxes; we wrapped the pieces in tissue and put them carefully by our bags. It was hard to contemplate parting with any of it, like parting with the past — as if by putting mum’s things into bags and  boxes, we were packing her up. We worked for hours; finally, in Mum’s bedroom, we sat on the bed. On the dressing table were two bottles of perfume.

“Mum loved this,” my sister said as she picked up one bottle. “I gave her a bottle every year – it was her favourite.”

I eyed the second bottle. I wanted to say the same. I too had given Mum a bottle of  perfume every year.

“OOOOh, my favourite !” she’d said as she generously  sprayed herself. I smiled, sniffed the bottle and put it in my pocket.

My sister was emptying the cupboard. I couldn’t help thinking how tidy things were, almost as though Mum had already had a clearout. Perhaps she had started to put things in order, I mused, as I held her pink sweater close, sniffing the soft fabric and feeling the comfort of a faint reminder of Mum.

My thoughts were interrupted. “Hey what’s this?” My sister had found a large box on the shelf. “Help me get this down then.” She pulled the box forward and I took it from her. It was beautifully wrapped box tied with a silk ribbon.

“Is it a present?” I asked, looking for some tag or note. My sister felt along the shelf: no card.

“Should we open it?” We sat for a moment on the bed, staring at the box.  “Well, no one else will.” Gingerly, my sister untied the ribbon.

As we lifted the lid, there was a letter. “To my darling girls…” Mum  told us how proud she was of us, how special we are, how precious, alongside a couple of moving stories. We took turns reading, crying, and at one point, rolling with laughter. We spent hours rooting through the contents of the box, Mum’s journal , her diary, photos of family friends.

“Oh look,” my sister laughed, looking over a small book. “How to get over a hangover. Mum says don’t drink so much in the first place!” We had something so precious, something of our mother, no longer here for us in a mortal sense but captured forever in her gift to us both. I can’t tell you how having the memory box has helped us all. Mum isn’t lost to us; her stories, thoughts, inspiration, advice and support are very much a part of our lives and will continue to be a part of our children’s lives.

People may think that creating a memory box is a daunting or morbid task but it can be extremely enjoyable. Our family stories are recorded forever and through this we will talk to future generations.

I think we all owe it to our loved ones to leave something of ourselves to our children when we leave this mortal coil. Whether chilren are 5 or 75, they are never ready to lose those closest to them.

© Alex James

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Alex James

Alex James, MBACP is a professional bereavement counselor/consultant, agony aunt, and author who has worked with bereaved individuals and families for many years. Specializing in sudden traumatic bereavement, Alex has worked for agencies as a trauma support worker, trainer and voluntarily for a charitable trust supporting those impacted by road death. Alex, who lives and works in the UK, is currently based at a hospice, developing specific services for children, supporting children and their families pre- and post-bereavement. Alongside this much-needed work, she continues to manage a bereavement website where she offers confidential e-mail support 365 days a year and also publishes an online bereavement magazine. Alex has appeared on national and local radio and is the author of Living with Bereavement.

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