The Unexpected Thing to Save When Your Parent Dies

My mom died in a car accident.

To me, she is forever frozen in time as a larger-than-life, full-of-zest, tell-it-like-it-is, 52-year-old.

Her 65th birthday would have been yesterday.

The reverberations of her death echo through my family to this day. It irrevocably changed us all in ways that are still unfolding. Not a day goes by that she is not on my mind. Not one.

When someone dies, there are immense amounts of mourning. Understatement of the year.

There are also practical matters that callously intrude upon your grief. Decisions to be made. Items to be sorted. Paperwork to be completed. Things that must be done RIGHT. NOW. Before you’ve even laid the deceased to rest. Or worse, just so you CAN lay the deceased to rest.

Case in point. I was instructed by the funeral home to pick an outfit for my mom to be buried in. Complete with underwear.


Underwear? You’ve got to be kidding me.

If you were going to pick one pair of underwear to wear for all of eternity, which one would it be?

To this day, I can remember standing in front of my mother’s underwear drawer and the thoughts that broke through the haze of grief were just borderline ridiculous.
-No one should go through their mom’s underwear drawer. EW! 
-Oh, racy underwear. Go mom!
-Ew! My mom has racy underwear? 
-Why are you holding onto THIS pair? Seriously, mom. The elastic is all stretched out.
-Is this all of it? I wonder if I should check the dirty clothes basket.
-EW. I don’t even like checking MY dirty clothes basket.
-Granny panties or thong for all eternity? Hmmmm. Decisions, decisions.
-How DO you get underwear on a dead person?
-Should I just buy a new pair? Nah. That seems crazy. 

-Why do you have to be buried in underwear anyway?
-I mean, what if you always went commando?
-What are they going to do? Not bury her because I delivered a suit sans underwear?
-The funeral home wasn’t messing with me, were they? Nah. They wouldn’t do that. Would they? 
-How long have I been standing here? This is getting awkward.

Sadly, that was the least horrible thing I did in the days leading up to and after my mom’s funeral.

As life marches on, so do the practicalities of dismantling a life well-lived.

I sorted through clothing, pictures, keepsakes, paperwork, jewelry and so on and so forth.

The one unexpected thing I’m glad I saved are copies of my mom’s handwriting.

A Christmas sticker that says “To: Annisa, From: Mom and Dad.” We all know Dad had no clue what that Christmas present was.

A nickname written on a cardboard box filled with childhood trinkets.

I discarded the trinkets, but kept that piece of the box because no one else called me that.

It was just one of those sweet things between a mother and a child.

Similar to DNA and fingerprints, a person’s handwriting is a physical manifestation of their individuality. There’s just something so incredibly personal about someone’s handwriting – especially their signature. It is uniquely them.

I can recognize my mom’s handwriting at a glance from every birthday card she wrote, every permission slip she signed, every note she left me on the kitchen table, every shopping list she handed me. From years and years of communication via pen and paper.

And every time I see her handwriting, I am slammed back to a time when my mom was a living, breathing force to be reckoned with. A time when I could call her, see her, hug her. A time I, no doubt, took for granted because I didn’t know it was ending.

Her image fades, her voice fades, her smell fades, but her handwriting, to this day, is bright and bold. It is a piece of her…a thought and an action that flowed out of her heart and onto paper especially for me.

Something so insignificant at the time – a nickname written on a box – is now something I cherish with all my heart.

I still get a lump in my throat – all these years later – whenever I speak or write about my mom. I find myself lacking the words to express the totality of my emotions, so I will keep it simple. I am so happy I saved pieces of her handwriting after she died.

I promise you will be too.

Hugs to you today. Here are some other posts you might find helpful. 

Mothering Without a Mother

We’re Not Catholic But I Sent My Kids to Mass

Mom? Do We Hate Donald Trump?

How I Accidentally Got My Kids Excited for College

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  • Sandy Smith

    I always enjoy your mom when you kids were just little. After all I have know each of you since you were born. She was fun , creative and was always trying new things to make money. (such as the cow pie pen holder). I enjoyed her friendship for many years and was sorry to see her go at such a young age. However, we can rejoice because we will see her again in heaven.

    • annisa

      That’s right! I’ve been telling my kids stories about growing up and they love hearing about my days at Bridgeport where you and the other school workers were such a big presence! Thank you for your loving thoughts.

  • Cara Marsh-Rhodes

    Having spent so much time at your home for many years, I also remember your mom’s beautiful handwriting…and the homemade sausage that she knew I loved and never let me get out the door without. 🙂 Her generous and always feisty spirit lives on in you, friend.

  • Karolyn Love

    I, too, have a note that my Mom gave me when she gave me my grandmothers china. I touch it, re-read it and it’s in my hutch with Grandma’s dishes. That note from her to me, now I’m teary eyed! is something tangible I can touch and hold when I’m wishing I could just stop in for coffee! I’m 76 and that love and missing her is as great as when she passed in 1992…and that note gives me such comfort.

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