My grandmother was an artist, self-taught. We received hand-painted items for every single event … Mother’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, our birthdays, and many times we received hand-painted items for no reason at all.
My daughter, Madeleine Rose, had my grandmother’s middle name. Her first name is because I enjoyed Madelyn Kahn, I thought she was a brilliant comedienne. I spelled it, Madeleine, because I loved how it looked when it was handwritten, there were so many vowels, and I loved the above the line loops.
This past Saturday, November 7, would have been Madeleine’s 26th birthday. She died when she was seven. Her official autopsy results declared it an undiagnosed degenerative neuromuscular disease.
This is the time of year that I usually crash emotionally, some days a little bit more than others. Madeleine will be gone twenty years this January, but today it feels as though it was yesterday. And the only thing that helps is writing about her because if I am telling her story, I’ve somehow convinced myself that her memory will live on even if it is only my version of her life.
Today was one of those rough days and I somehow needed to be closer to her. After Madeleine died, I packed all of her belongings into office file boxes and stacked them neatly. I went through the boxes several times but nothing in depth. I can vividly remember pulling her clothes out of the boxes, planning on donating the items to Goodwill but there was nothing salvageable. The stains from her tracheotomy tube and her gastro-intestinal tube were too powerful for my advanced laundry skills.
As the years went by, the file boxes wore thin and I eventually transferred the remainder of my tangible memories of her into a rose colored tote. There were so many things during her life that I could not control, but the things that I could … believe me,
I opened the solitary rose colored packing tote and on top was her jewelry box, a gift from my grandmother. I hadn’t opened her jewelry box in nineteen years. I set it aside, closed the tote, clutched the jewelry box to my heart and I left the attic. I didn’t know what to do next. I thought I would just take a nap with it, I planned on clutching the jewelry box and just sleeping. The sun was shining on my bed and I just wanted to sleep in the sun with the jewelry box. I was afraid if I opened it, the inside may have deteriorated. Today was a day that I could not handle another loss, even if it was just the decay of the fabric interior of her jewelry box.
I sat in the sun with a posse of nosy cats. I seldom sit, especially during the day. And now I fully understand why cats follow the sun. It felt good.
The paint on Madeleine’s jewelry box had yellowed and the lace had grayed, but this was one of my grandmother’s finest painting moments. Madeline’s fifth Christmas and my grandmother was beaming upon presentation. I took a deep breath and slowly, carefully lifted the lid. Everything was exactly as I remembered.
Inside was a tiny, delicate cross on a fine gold chain, a Christmas gift for Madeline. And a note, my grandmother always included notes and it felt good to see her handwriting again. Also inside was the novena my grandmother gave to me the day of Madeleine’s funeral. My grandmother had said, “I used this novena to pray for Madeleine every night and now she’s in heaven and no longer needs my prayers.”
It was my grandmother’s intent to have the necklace and the novena buried with Madeleine. I just couldn’t. I knew I needed things to hang on to for later, like today when I miss her so much.