When my mother was dying of terminal cancer, she was still feeling pretty good. She decided to have her friends come over and go through her jewelry and clothes and take what they wanted. It may sound morbid, but it actually was a lot of fun. We all laughed as everyone tried on clothes and jewelry. People kept asking Mom, “are you sure you don’t want to keep (this, that, or the other thing?) Mom replied, “where do you think I’m going to wear any of this?” And we all broke up laughing.
It may have been bittersweet, but it was a beautiful thing to see; everyone parading around in Mom’s clothes and jewelry. No one was happier than Mom. When everyone left, she told me that she wanted to go to her grave wearing her gold wedding band (which she never took off), and also her sterling eucalyptus pin and earrings. She looked beautiful at the wake; a grand lady to the end. Mom gave away her things with love and happiness; it made her happy, as well as those who enjoyed her clothes and jewelry.
I have her engagement ring that I often wear. There’s a funny story that goes with it; Dad had been engaged to a young woman (years before he met Mom). He had presented her with an engagement ring, and not too far from that, their engagement broke up. Dad still had the ring, which had to be sized down to fit Mom’s slender finger. She always referred to the ring as “old fat-finger’s ring,” which cracks me up to this day.
It’s sort of a metaphore for the things that really count in our lives when we give our things away. Material things are fun and fine, but who we are and the way people remember us are our real gifts. I still have my grandmother’s amethyst ring; when she died, her daughter (my Aunt Jane) flew up from South Carolina made sure that I was given it. My grandmother used to tell me the story of it; one of her uncles was a barber, and one day a sailor came into his shop. He said that he had been out to sea for a long time and badly needed a haircut and shave.
He didn’t have any money, but he showed the barber a beautiful amethyst stone as payment. The barber had it made into a ring for his wife. When my grandmother was a little girl, she would sit on her aunt’s lap and admire the ring. Her aunt told her that, when she passed on, the ring would be hers.
Years later, I was the one who admired the ring. My grandmother told me that it would be mine when the time came. True to her word, the amethyst ring is in my possession, and I always remember its history when I wear it.
Gifting friends and family with our material goods is actually a wonderful thing; we divest these things because where we are going next, no fripperies are required. I have already thought of our grandgirls and how much fun they will have going over my own “bits and bobs.” These things are part of the ties that bind us to each other; they are living memories of those we love.