Many years ago I wrote a blog post on the pain of having and losing the "stuff" of my family - the physical, tangible reminders of them. I wrote about how hard it was to have had all of my family's belongings lost in a fire, to have a lifetime of memories drowned in soot. I wrote about my envy of others who cope with their loss by smelling an old sweater, or wearing a mother's old dress, or sitting in a loved one's room.
I wrote that post because I had lost one of a pair of earrings that my mother had made for me. At the time, it was absolutely devastating. It was maybe a year, no more than two since she had died, and even the most insignificant things could still hurt me profoundly.
I remember a few years back when I lived in London, I recognised that the physical reminders of my lost family no longer mattered as much. On a night out in town, I lost the iPod that my mother had had engraved for me. I was hurt, yes, very much so - but I was also excited, because it was outdated and I relished the excuse to put behind me a relic and move on. It was an expensive, personalised gift from my mother, and my getting past that loss was, for me, a major turning point in how I viewed my remaining relationship with them.
I am now immune to "the stuff," I thought.
Fast forward to today.
"Your coat caught fire."
"What, what do you mean?"
(And so it goes.)
As they say, you don't know love until you've lost it.
The last time I properly went shopping with my mother (her favourite pastime) was to buy me a coat. I knew exactly what I wanted going in: a double-breasted, black-and-white houndstooth coat, with a belt. My mother told me again and again that I would not find exactly what I was looking for. I was adamant. And - we found it. Not only did it fit exactly my requirements, but it had an incredible red and gold Chinese-inspired lining, which for the next 8 years I would receive compliments on.
One thing my mother always expected of me that I could never quite obey was that I take care of my material possessions. I'm clumsy. I break things, spill things, tear things - I've come to terms with this aspect of myself. But I took care of that coat. That coat lasted me over 8 years, and was nowhere near falling apart. It was one thing I treasured and really treated well.
The irony is not lost on me. One of the few things from her that I saved from the sooty destruction of my home has been lost to its own idiosyncratic fire.
The memories flooded in. The emotion flooded in. My mother's smile, her touch, her warmth. I didn't think I could still break like this.
(It makes me wonder: what other tiny, physical things in my life have so much power over me? Power that I will never know about...until it is wielded?)