On My Surrogate Mother’s Passing

For days and days I resisted, ever since learning of Barbara’s passing, opening the gold treasure chest that sits atop my mirrored antique hutch. This 19th century American made beauty, originally sold for $6 and a number of dry laundry detergent box tops, has been repurposed in my bedroom to function as if a sacristy. Its honey oak drawers and cabinet space keep my most divine valuables, like heirloom jewelry and framed photos of four generations. On the top exposed shelf I display the keepsake treasure chest where I have stored Barbara and Ed’s correspondences, some from as far back as 22 years, layered with other love letters all impossible to part with.

Several years at a stretch will go by — as though in some unnatural cycle with no predictability other than its inevitability — and I succumb to the gold treasure chest, with its whisper only my soul can hear. It asks for me to take the gold tassel at its front and lift it so the chest will open. It asks for the contents to be carefully removed and read, despite its knowing that by me doing this I will intentionally separate my breast bones to expose my vulnerable heart.

An emotional universe, too vast to fit in that domed container is somehow compressed inside the envelopes of each handwritten card and letter, most postmarked from a time in my life seemingly light years ago. Yet these are messages, declarations, and cheers of kindness, love and wisdom that I saved precisely because I knew they were infinitely important to me then, and that their worth would increase over time, becoming even more poignant with each successive reading. Several with fading ink hold scripted words that can still levitate from the page and reach across the ethers, carrying evidence as solid as gravity.

Traces of fingerprints of people whose joy came natural, like mine did, flowing from living on the razor’s edge of life’s passions — who cherished every memory we made together, who took a pen in hand to claim to me and to themselves it was all true and real. So it is that I re-read today Barbara’s heartsong telling me how much she loved me, her 6th child. In another card, sending me her love, claiming me her 4th daughter.

How I adored her, held her esteemed above all, for giving me the warmth and light of her hug whenever my days were dark, for blessing me with the peace of her kitchen as we delighted in watching the birds at the feeder, and for inspiring me in ways only a woman and mother of grace can do.

Giselle M. Massi © February 10, 2014