With eight or nine months separating them, I lost my friend Patrick, my mother, my grandmother and others in between. My faith, which normally sustained me through difficult times like my mother’s cancer a few years before, was challenged. Patrick died suddenly at sixty-three from colon surgery complications. My mom died of a heart attack at age sixty-four and my grandmother was in her late eighties. The loss of my friend and mom, especially so close together, really jarred me. I had enough faith to know that my loved ones were safe with God and I searched for signs of their continued presence with me, mostly as a way to reconcile that our loved ones never truly leave us.
My mom was the best bargain shopper. She got a thrill out of the ninety-nine-cent tag sales and checked the sign in the front of the store for the color of the sale tag for the week. In a way going to the Goodwill was a pilgrimage for her. She walked the same path no matter what location she was shopping. My mom started with the clothes, worked her way over to the knick-knacks, then the purses. I know the Goodwill is a place to find bargains, but is it possible to connect with a deceased loved one?
Three months after my mom died, I visited the last store we shopped. As hard as it was to go there again, I desperately needed to find a way to connect with her. I turned it into a pilgrimage. I looked in each aisle for items that reminded me of her. If I had started this practice earlier, something I saw might actually have belonged to my mom. When she died, my sister and I gave her clothes and things to the Goodwill. We thought our mom would approve of it because she most likely bought many of the clothes there to begin with. I put the list into my phone so that I could keep track of where I found my mom. I figured the best thing to do was to follow the same path she took so I first checked the color tag of the week in case I found any clothes. The ninety-nine-cent tag was red so I walked the clothes aisles and grabbed only for the red tags. I didn’t see any clothes that reminded me of my mom so I moved to the knick-knacks hoping it might be more productive. On one shelf I discovered a bright orange dish that reminded me of home. I picked up the dish and turned it over to confirm my suspicions that it was Pyrex. It was just like the one my mom reheated our Spaghetti-O’s in and like the multicolored dishes that lined the cupboards inside and out at our old house. I remembered the annual dusting of the dishes displayed on the top of the cupboards that I would have to climb onto the countertops to reach.
Pleased with the Pyrex find, I moved through the rest of the aisles and headed to the purses. The racks were full of purses of all sizes and colors, some in better shape than the others. After examining two racks I found just the one for me on the third. It was a Stone Mountain purse, a staple in my mom’s purse collection. “You get your love of purses from your mom,” she would say each time I’d stand in front of my new favorite purse that I’d just have to have. My mom contributed to my purse collection many times over the years. Most of the purses have key chains that snap inside so you do not lose your keys. My brother once found one at a thrift store in New York City and knew it was my mom pointing it out.
As I walked toward the checkout line, I saw something in the glass case. Whenever my mom attended a wedding, she bought the couple-to-be a Peggy Karr glass plate. I kept the tradition going when my brother got married after my mom died. I found a New York plate for the happy couple with images of their new home state painted in the glass. My sister-in-law emailed me to make sure we got one for my sister’s wedding. Tucked in the corner of the glass display case was a Peggy Karr Omaha plate. If I ever wondered if my mom could hear my earthly thoughts, I now had my answer.