Lessons learned from the search for an elusive necklace.
How a shared wardrobe connects shared memories.
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
I BECAME LIKE A STRANGE VERSION OF SANTA, TAKING SMALL PIECES OF CLOTHING AND JEWELLERY TO MUM’S LOVED ONES.
The heartshaped necklace that belonged to the author’s mother (right); the author and her mother in 1996 (below)