I recently used some of my grandma's old handmade cloth napkins for the first time. Maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal but to me, it marks an important point in the healing process after losing my parents.
When Mom passed away suddenly in 2008, my dad and I were in a state of shock for quite some time. Their house was full of her things -- and my own childhood belongings -- and it was just too painful for Dad and I to handle them. He was comforted by leaving the house exactly the same so with a few exceptions, nearly everything stayed just as she had left it. And I wasn't strong enough to even touch her belongings, so frankly it was easier for me just to let it all be. Still, having all of my mom's things there made it very difficult for me to even visit my childhood home, as it somehow augmented the incredible hole her passing had left in our lives.
In many ways, I was so focused on helping my dad through his insurmountable grief for my mom that I suppressed my own. Of course, it is not healthy to do that and eventually I had to fully process those emotions. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), they all came to the surface in 2013 when I lost my dad. So while I was cleaning out my childhood home, I was really grieving both of my parents. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the pain of all of that grief simultaneously was almost too much to bear.
So what do my grandma's linens have to do with my grief? For me, certain items carry strong associations with people I've loved and lost. Many of Grandma's handmade items were in my parents' linen closet and my mom (her daughter) used them often. Going to the bottom of that linen closet was one of the hardest parts of cleaning out my childhood home, as each piece I pulled out evoked such vivid memories of love and loss.
So after choosing those with the strongest associations, I brought many of Grandma's linens home and just packed them away. The memories made them too painful to touch.
But at some point in this tumultuous process called grief, I began unpacking the linens from storage. I carefully unfolded them and felt the fabric in my hands. I could still smell the spray starch my mom used when ironing them. With time, some of the sharp ache softened and made space for new emotions -- the many good times we shared a lunch or a picnic on one of the tablecloths, or the times when I was sick and my mom covered me with one of Grandma's quilts. Some of that aching hole in my heart began to fill with gentler memories.
So when I pulled out Grandma's napkins to use for a recent family lunch, it didn't seem like a big deal to anyone. But for me, it marks what I believe to be an important point in my healing process. My life doesn't look like it used to, but some of the original pieces are still there. They're just sewn together differently. And I can now see that this life, although changed in nearly every way, is still a thing of beauty.
My mom and my grandma would be delighted that I kept so many of the linens from my childhood. They'd be even happier to see them being put to good use for a family lunch, then laundered, ironed, and carefully tucked away until the next time. Although it is bittersweet, I'm so grateful to have these simple linens that connect me so strongly to those I've loved.