April 3, 2013

Her Suitcase (written yesterday)

Me and my siblings sorting through Mom's things before the funeral

None of this makes sense...trying to rescue her from among the filth. Her helmet, her make up, her sobriety chip, her grocery list. None of the clothes smell like her. Everything worth saving fits in one carry-on suitcase. Is this all that's left of her life?

 - from my journal after collecting her belongings-

And so it happened that everything in that suitcase became a representation of her. A symbol of my loss. A reminder of her suicide. For the last year I let a simple piece of luggage become a tomb of sorts. Stuffed full of anything I had thought to grab from her hotel room that night, it was a chaotic jumble of painful memories that haunted my closet.

Like my thoughts and feelings, her suitcase is more organized than it was last year. I can go through it without falling into the darkest of pits - though many things do still bring me to tears.

Today, on the anniversary of her passing, I looked through those few belongings again and had a number of different reactions:

I felt grateful to her for writing my birth story.

I felt angry as I witnessed her last writings disentigrate into meaningless babble. So angry that mental illness took her from me.

I felt incredibly sad to read the list of things she wanted for her life - an ambitious list written just weeks before her death.

I felt loved and absolutely torn apart to read the wishes my 16 year old mother wrote for my own life. She wished for me a life of love and abundance. She said that she enjoyed carrying me for nine months and that she would enjoy loving me for the rest of my life.

Those words stuck in my gut today.

Today I decided to move my baby book from her suitcase into my own hope chest. Decided to work some of the clothing items she had purchased for the girls into their rotation. Decided to throw away some of her well meaning gifts that I knew we would never use. I snuggled her girlhood bunny and listened to her voice in a book she recorded for Eleanor.

Today I hugged a suitcase and wailed against the heavens that there wasn't more of her left for me.

Today I stood up to that shrine and began to take it apart.

Just like this grief, her life, and her death - I'm learning to unpack it a bit at a time. I'm learning how to work pieces of it into my life instead of keeping it sealed in the closet forever.

Today I am grateful that I don't hate that suitcase as fiercely as I did one year ago.
I'm grateful to feel my heart healing, in the tiniest and most significant ways.
And that's what I thought about today.


  1. I often think about what I am going to leave behind for my children and future generations; seeing this window into what might be useful and meaningful to them was incredibly enlightening and beautiful.

  2. You are such a wonderful person!! I admire you SO MUCH for all your strength and courage that has gotten you through this past year

  3. Oh, Whit. It's crazy how grief starts so horribly suddenly, but healing is a long road. For what it's worth, I think you are processing it all really well. You seem to be taking your time and piecing your way through it and not forcing your way through it. Also crazy- how much impact our mothers have on us. I think God was on to something there.

  4. I just want to echo what Holly and Allison wrote. The strength it takes to share these thoughts blesses those who read it.

  5. I love what all the other comments say and they pretty much say what I wanted to. I love you and think of you often. You are a blessing in my life and I'm sad we don't get to live closer. You really should consider coming here when Joe is done with school...

  6. I still can't believe its been a year... :(

  7. Wow, Whitney. Your post made me cry. It's so...real. I'm in awe of how eloquently you can express your feelings and grief. I love you!

  8. So I'm coming to this late (after discovering your comment on FMH -- aha! another FMH reader here in Ithaca!), but I just wanted to say that I admire your honesty in confronting your grief. The loss of my Dad last December still continues to baffle and confound me. We are only just beginning to sort through his belongings, and at this point I waffle between clinging to the few items I have claimed so far, and wanting to shut them away so I don't have to remember he's gone.

    We should talk more. Like, really TALK more.