12 August 2012

Sentimental Sunday - Memories of Being a Mom

Anyone who follows me on Social Media knows I've been cleaning up my spare bedroom/office. I've come to realize that no matter how hard I try, I'm attached to my material. This is a good thing, as it makes me feel more confident in my ability to help my clients. I will have been in their shoes; have empathy for those moments when they simply can't put something away without telling the story that's attached to that particular item. Pulling stuff out of boxes and getting it organized isn't just hard from a physical standpoint; it can really take an emotional toll.

I had saved the most challenging container for last. (As an Archivist, I always do the hardest first; makes the rest a breeze). I had one large plastic (yes, I admit it, plastic) container full of old greeting cards, ticket stubs, school work, and manuals. 

I was doing OK until I came across a random loose photo of me with my kitteh Butch. I was lying in the grass holding his tail as he strained to get away. It was a weird game he'd started and it was something he loved to do: have me 'pull' his tail. The picture was taken about four years before he died. Interspersed between a few of the pages below it were a few more pics: one of him with my husband and one of him walking toward the camera. *sigh*

I was fairly certain that the rest would be innocuous, but I was wrong. Suddenly, staring me in the face was the manual for a light weight stroller and a booster seat. It's really a struggle to even begin to put into words the feeling that these two ordinary pieces of paper evoke. They represent something lost, something found, and something lost again, forever. 

Photo courtesy of Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana 2012
The first loss was my niece, Krystine. When she died, she was a 25 years old mom to two boys, 5 & 3 1/2, and a daughter, 10 months. Krystine died in her sleep of postpartum cardiomyopathy, a frightening disease that acts quickly and has no (currently) known cure. The Loss. 

As Krystine's Aunt by marriage, I think that people thought I'd somehow be less sorrowful over her loss. Having known her since she was 8, and loved her from the moment I met her, nothing could've been farther from the truth. But her blood family was in complete shock, and I took the responsibility of trying to organize things very seriously. 

I was the one who went out, the day after she died, to the bookstore to get books on the loss of a parent age appropriate for the boys. Their Grandma, in her grief, had told them that their Mommy had gone to sleep and that she wasn't going to wake up. I knew she wasn't able to process the loss of her own child, let alone explain it to Krystine's very young boys. And I knew that this moment, losing their Mommy, would have a life long impact on them. It was never going to be positive, but I was going to do everything in my power to make sure that it hurt as little as possible. So I bought the books, sat down alone with the boys and we figured it out together. C.J., the 5 year old, already seemed to completely understand what had happened, but Matthew, who was still shy of his fourth birthday needed to read the book with me before he was able to understand. It was one of my most heartbreaking experiences to watch as his little face showed confusion and then complete understanding. The Loss. And the Found.

It was that moment that I think I first realized for a moment what it must feel like to be a Mom. I was unable to have children of my own, so this was new territory for me. I just wanted to protect them from what was happening, even though I knew I couldn't. Protect them no matter what. And, that night as my husband and I lay in bed together crying over the loss of his 'little sister', his niece, he wondered aloud what would happen to the kids. Krystine, and her husband Jose, had come to us shortly after C.J. was born and asked us to be his guardian if anything happened to the two of them. We didn't hesitate to say yes. And after Matthew was born, Krystine and I had had a conversation about the fact that if anything happened to her that she would want her Uncle and I to take care of the kids. With her poor husband inconsolable at the loss of his wife, we couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen to her three children. 

Well, Krystine's parents were as inconsolable as her husband, so my husband and I suggested that we take Emilyn, the baby, so that preparations for the services could be made without the distraction. After all, a 10 month old is a ball of energy not to be constrained, and we all knew she didn't understand what was happening. At the same time, she was clearly feeling the sorrow in the house, so we packed up a few of her things and brought her out to our house. My husband had grown up changing Krystine's diapers, and those of her cousins, so he was an old hand at the baby thing. I, on the other hand, was like a fish out of water. But I loved every single frustrating moment. And, in our haste to get her out of the house, we didn't have everything we needed. So, we went to Target and picked up a stroller, a booster seat, some utensils, bottles, sippy cups, stuffed animals, clothes...I'm pretty sure there was a point where my husband looked at me and said, "Enough." Heh. The Found.

I found my inner Mom. And then I had to put her away. Because, in the end, the kids went to live with my niece's in-laws during the week and her parents on the weekends. Like children of divorced parents, they're transferred back and forth. But, they are loved, very, very much. Except we never get to see them anymore. Unless it's one of their birthdays. Because, you know, that's how it is. Their Dad takes care of them and they're just our grand nephews and niece. The Loss. 

All this, from two pieces of paper. Yep. I DO understand how hard it is to go through your Grandmother's things. Or your Dad's. Or your own. So I guess the question is, should I save these things? Or should I hold the memory in my heart and give the rest away?


  1. Memories will last forever.
    And this blog will also last for a very long time...
    Thanks for sharing in this post, Laura.

  2. Mary Anne Price12 August, 2012 22:10

    I understand some of what you are feeling, because my dear husband died just over 6 weeks ago, after only 17 years of marriage. We had both been widowed and met after I had been on my own for 5 years, and he had been so for a year. I met him through mutual friends on a trip to England, when he came to visit with the friends. Whenever people would ask me how I happened to have a British husband, I told them that he was "the souvenir of a trip I made to England."

    For the past month, I have been having to go through clothes and personal effects to make some of the decisions that you are making now.

    Probably the most meaningful item I have from him is the autobiography that he wrote of his life--he stopped writing it about 5 years ago, not long after he turned 81. He said that I would have to finish it for him.

    As I have been going through his personal items, I have found personal items that I was not aware of. I knew about the cricket ball from his playing days, but found photos I had not seen before of sports and of days in the British Army right after WWII. Eventually these items will go back to England, to Geoff's two daughters for his grandchildren, but I may not be able to let go of them for a while.

    Only you can decide if you are ready to let go of the items you found. You could always put them in a separate container, so they will not be mixed in with random items in a big plastic box. But the blog entry you have just written is a beautiful tribute to your niece, and to you and your relationship with her and her children. In that, you have built a memory, and a portion of your own autobiography.

    I have been tweeting this evening about driving in England, on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, and using an automatic transmission. I know about that because of the many trips to the UK that I had with my dear Geoff (over 20), and have built many memories that I will never forget, as long as I have memory and the ability to enjoy it.

    I understand your loss and the meaning such small items can have to trigger important memories. You have not only lost a loved niece, but a set of relationships that meant a lot to you. You will decide when the time is right for you to let the items go.

    I read your blog after reading your tweet about
    The Last Leaf on this Branch.

    1. Mary Ann, thank you so much for sharing this with me and you have my condolences on the loss of Geoff.

      I remember in a brief, 3 day visit to England I kept thinking just how confusing it would be to try to drive! And the tweets made me laugh.

      You're absolutely right; while I'd thought I would be OK finally putting this things away, their meaning goes beyond the loss of my niece and the brief time my husband and I got to take care of her little girl.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to read this and share your experience. Geoff and Krystine live on in us.

  3. Laura,
    I was truly touched by this story. You've captured it. I think, perhaps, you might be able to give these items away because you have this story, and a great picture to serve in place of the actual objects. Give it a few days, and I think you'll know what you're comfortable doing.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I really did think I was ready; what I was unprepared for was the rush of emotions these little items evoked. Putting it down in writing helped, and I suspect I'll be able to part with them in a while. For now, I'm going to keep them aside, in a box of Ephemera, with a copy of this post. :-)

  4. Or, how about a shadow box to go with a letter of how much she touched your life and give it to her someday when she is an adult? Just a thought.

    1. This, this is a fabulous idea! My cousin gave me a silver spoon w/my great (or great-great, we're not sure) grandmother's initials on it; we share a name. She gave it to me on HER 25th wedding anniversary. I treasure it so much; I wrote about it in my blog.

      Thank you for a truly wonderful idea. Who knows if she'll appreciate it or not, but it would be a way for her to know just how loved she is. Fabulous idea!

  5. Thank you for writing this post, Laura. It helps us to know that others have felt how it is to be "only" an aunt and uncle. Aunts and uncles feel great loss, too. Also, I really like the idea of giving Emilyn a "shadow box" / memory of how much she was loved even from the time she was born. That will help her to feel loved and supported as an adult.

    We are waiting until our nephew becomes an adult, next May, so that we can give him his mother's belongings that we have saved for 10 years now. His mother was my little sister, who died tragically from cancer at age 46 in 2002. Our nephew was seven years old then. We see our nephew as much as we are allowed to by his father, but alas, that is a painful subject. When he turns 18, we hope that we'll be able to see more of him and share the mementos we have kept for him. We share with you the loss that an Aunt and Uncle can feel. Thank you again.

    1. Oh, Mariann...my condolences for the loss of your sister. And I completely understand the double loss in not being able to share your sister with her son in a way that you'd like. I'll pray that he finds comfort in getting to know his mom's family and that he appreciates the gift you'll give.

      I'm finding there are more of 'us' out there than I ever realized; it's a small comfort, but comfort just the same. My nieces kids don't lack for love, but like you I now have hope these little mementos will let her know how much we cherish her.

      Thank you for sharing your story here, I truly appreciate it.

  6. According to GeneaBloggers your blog is one year old today. Many happy returns!

    1. Peter, thanks!! I wrote an updated post...hope you'll take a look. Have a great day!

  7. Wow what a tragic story.

    By the way, Happy Blogiversary.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    1. Jim, it's only tragic if we allow it to be. The suggestion of keeping the mementos to give to Emilyn when she's older is such a lovely one, and I'm going to do that.

      And, on a much happier note, it IS my blogiversary! I wrote an updated (and dare I say much happier) post...I hope you'll read it too. Have a wonderful day.


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