Lessons learned from the search for an elu­sive neck­lace.

How a shared wardrobe con­nects shared mem­o­ries.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - ByIshaniNath

not long af­ter my mother’s death, I dis­cov­ered a bit of magic in her closet. It was a few days af­ter she’d passed away, and I in­vited fam­ily and friends into the small walk-in in my par­ents’ Ot­tawa home. Sur­rounded by pointed pink shoul­der pads, em­broi­dered In­dian kur­tas and boxes of jew­ellery, I watched two of my cousins, sep­a­rated by six inches of height and a few dress sizes, find crisp white blouses that fit each of them per­fectly—items they then wore to Mum’s fu­neral. My mum’s friends came and chose pat­terned in­fin­ity scarves that re­minded them of a shared night out, the mem­o­ries blurred by nu­mer­ous drinks and laugh­ter. My aunts went through racks of tops, pants and dresses, di­vid­ing the items amid heated de­bate, tears and shared nos­tal­gia. I had wit­nessed this scene be­fore, dur­ing our fam­ily re­unions, but this was dif­fer­ent. My mum’s mid­dle sis­ter, the one who looks most like her, found a chic white dress with black pan­els and the tag still on. It fit her per­fectly.

“It’s like Mum bought it for you, like she wanted you to have it,” I said.

“No,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “I don’t like think­ing that.”

Cer­tain items in the seem­ingly end­less piles of clothes brought up mem­o­ries for me, like the green hound­stooth sweater Mum so fre­quently wore when I was a child; oth­ers were a quick toss in the do­na­tion pile. Through­out the process, I had to fight the urge to crawl into the heap and sur­round my­self with things of the past to block out what was hap­pen­ing in the present. It seemed unimag­in­able that Mum would never wear these clothes again. I caught my­self look­ing at the closet door, ex­pect­ing her to show up, smile and jus­tify why she still had an ’80s pink shoul­der-padded polyester dress in her closet. As we sorted through her things, I found my­self con­stantly search­ing for one item: Some­where, buried deep in the closet, was a small heart-shaped gold neck­lace, a Valen­tine’s Day gift from my dad. I had seen it in a photo, and I knew that, now, it was meant for me.

Dur­ing my eu­logy, I de­scribed my mum as “easy to brag about.” She went sky­div­ing for her 50th h

birthday and threw tequila-fu­elled par­ties be­fore go­ing for her chemo­ther­apy ses­sions. This vi­brancy was re­flected in her colour­ful out­fits, com­plete with chunky jew­ellery and, of­ten, a bit of sparkle. Her wardrobe, like her life, was a fu­sion of mod­ern Western trends and her In­dian her­itage. She loved to mix In­dian kur­tas with sleek pants or add ban­gles to a hip lit­tle black dress.

Af­ter her fu­neral, I brought the brown leather purse she car­ried to ev­ery doc­tor’s ap­point­ment, the long grey sweater that still faintly smelled of her favourite JLo per­fume and some of her jew­ellery back to my home in Toronto. As I strug­gled to ad­just to life with­out my mum, I wore an item of her cloth­ing ev­ery day—her sil­ver bracelet that read “Fuck Cancer” or her Prada sun­glasses. And ev­ery time I re­turned to see Dad, I con­tin­ued search­ing the closet for that neck­lace. The walkin was now half empty, with my fa­ther’s dress shirts and pants hung sparsely. He’d added new clothes to the racks, try­ing to start afresh, but the draw­ers still held Mum’s ac­ces­sories. Nei­ther Dad nor I were in a rush to fin­ish sort­ing through her things. No mat­ter how much time passes, I don’t think we will ever fully clear the closet, or our lives, of my mother.

Dur­ing my searches, I would of­ten dis­cover a new keep­sake to take back with me or give to some­one else. I be­came like a strange ver­sion of Santa, tak­ing small pieces of cloth­ing and jew­ellery to Mum’s loved ones. Some­times af­ter re­ceiv­ing a me­mento, peo­ple would look at it fondly and re­call a story about Mum that I hadn’t heard be­fore. Other times, peo­ple were un­able to say any­thing ex­cept “Thank you.”

When we were pre­par­ing to take her ashes to In­dia for her fi­nal farewell, I re­turned to the closet one more time to put to­gether a col­lec­tion of her jew­ellery to share with fam­ily and friends abroad. As I dug into a col­lec­tion of tan­gled neck­laces, I found a small box. Inside was the heart-shaped gold neck­lace—per­fectly in­tact, as if it had been wait­ing for me. I was stunned.

For some, like my aunt, it may be un­com­fort­able to think that the de­ceased leave be­hind gifts. But I took com­fort in the feel­ing that, af­ter los­ing Mum, I had found a piece of her again, right when I needed it most.

Nearly six months af­ter Mum passed away, I stood at the edge of the Ganges, un­sure if I was ready to say good­bye. As I watched the cur­rent pick up her ashes and carry them to­ward the set­ting In­dian sun, my hand in­stinc­tively went to the small gold pen­dant around my neck. n


The heartshaped neck­lace that be­longed to the author’s mother (right); the author and her mother in 1996 (be­low)

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