"As I was going through drawers filled with old linen embroidered with my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s monograms, I came across a small plastic bag in which were two coat hangers covered in blue wool with a label my mother had written, undoubtedly intended for me: "Crocheted by Bertha Kaufmann in about 1920".
So my Mother had gone to extreme trouble, at some unknown date to anticipate my future discovery. She knew that one day I would have to carry out this testing, nostalgic, heart-rending task of choosing what must be kept or not kept in the family house. She must have foreseen that moment when she would not be there, and so she had left me this information. She had wanted to draw my attention to it. As if she were addressing me, post mortem, to say to me: "Look, this is precious, keep it or throw it away, but know where this object came from.It was your great-grandmother who crocheted this. I would like you to keep it in memory of her and me. Give it to your children and the children of your children. This is testimony of a long line of women who were dexterous with their hands, attentive about fine linen, caring about their family’s well being, take good care of it, as I have done before you. This is your female inheritance."
Lydia Flem. The Final Reminder.
Perhaps tomorrow it will be a lovely, twinkly sunny day. You will dress in a pretty rose spotted skirt and a fair aisle cardigan and kiss your babies have a good day at the school gate. Then you will walk into town, swinging your green basket as you go, waving hello to old Mrs Hambledon and stopping for a moment to admire the daffodils in the market square. Across the street you see a milky blue jug in the window of your favorite little antiques shop, a jug that will look divine sitting atop a pile of vintage hardbacks, holding a pretty spray of flowers picked from the garden. You see it and you step across the street to get it, but what you do not see is the car that knocks you over. The car that takes your life.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps instead there will be time to say goodbye. Or a lifetime of hello’s and tomorrow’s. We none of us know and yet we live within the spectre of death daily and most of us make peace with it. But what we don’t do, beyond the simple act of financial insurance and will-making, is prepare for it. Not in a way that will resonate in the hearts of those who would grieve for us should the very worst happen. We do not take the time to mark our place in the world, to give provenance to the things we have made or the places we have been. Too many of us don’t make a ritual out of record keeping on our children’s behalf. We don’t catalogue memories, photographs or dreams in any meaningful way and we don’t write down all that we would say to the grown people our children will one day become.
This isn’t meant to be morbid. Nor intended to deliver a little bit of misery to another shiny weekend. It is instead a reminder. A reminder to hold what we have dear. It is a call to arms. A gentle push to make this the weekend we stick those piles of photographs into an album and bless them with handwritten memories and quips from the day. The afternoon we too will spend hand stitching monograms on to our collection of fine linen, or ordering labels to be sewn into the clothes we have knitted for our children. Let’s make this the weekend we put our financial affairs in order, or pour a big glass of wine and write letters to our children on the day they turn eighteen. Let’s walk our children around the house and tell them why this picture reminds you of your Nana, why this tiny little brass maid matters so much to Daddy. Let’s continue to fill our journals with all our unspoken thoughts. To not censor ourselves for fear of discovery, but to write in blood, what is. To offer our children the opportunity to one day fully know the woman we really were. And let’s give them the gift of themselves: scrapbooks filled full of their first scribbles, a file of their own full of personal documents, a tiny notebook with all the funny things they once said in it…
We cannot know what will matter to them when they are gone. Memories are too personal. After the recent death of her Mother, Martha Stewart was gently thrilled by the care her Mum had taken to bestow upon her something she knew Martha would hold dear…
"That night we gathered at my brother George’s home and were each handed envelopes prepared by my Mother. In mine were documents I had never before seen- my birth certificate, my Baptism certificate and communion papers, my diphtheria and measles shot certifications, a $10,000 savings bond, and a note from the pediatrician saying I was fit for school. Only Mom, with her sense of organisation, would have known that these would touch my heart like nothing else she could bestow upon me. Thank you Mother."
Perhaps tomorrow won’t come. Or perhaps like Martha Kostrya we will live long, rich, satisfying lives. Who knows? But what we do know is that this is our job. To stuff our days with memories worth keeping. To be memory keepers and do our very best to leave nothing unsaid when we are gone.
To say our goodbyes every time we press a kiss on to their foreheads.