In 2013, I wrote a piece for Huffington Post, "No Place Like Home", on how after losing my mother, 20 years before, I still would never get used to Mother's Day. Nothing has changed since that article. In my memoir, "My Charmed Life" (Penguin 2012), which I dedicated to both my mother and my grandmother, I recalled many of my most significant memories through pieces of jewelry handed down to me as well as those we purchased together and those I remembered her wearing or watched her get dressed up in when I was a kid. The memories are still vivid. The jewelry, I still wear. Some pieces I have pass along to my niece, while I tell her stories of the grandmother she never got to know. They are joyous recollections times we spent together, laughing, joking, of the push and pull of our relationship and of an understanding mother who was also my best friend.
My mom died unexpectedly at 55 from a brain aneurysm when I was 32. Sometime after my nightly 11PM phone conversation with my mother, ending with her usual "lock your door. I love you and I'm always here for you" and her getting dressed for work in the morning, she blacked out and went into a coma. Three hours after the ambulance rushed her to the hospital and the doctors started working on her in the ICU, she was gone. I had lost my confidant, best friend and the person who was--home.
It was incomprehensible that I would never see her again. I had no time to prepare; not that I could have been ready to lose the woman who put my life back together every time I had my heart broken, who made friends for me when I was shy and ate Mallomars with me when I was sad. My mother believed I could be anything I wanted, that I was intelligent and beautiful, even in my adolescence, while going through my awkward stage, with braces and a badly feathered haircut. She viewed any guy who dumped me as unworthy of me and "knew in her heart" that I would find someone when I was ready who would love me as much as she did.
I didn't know how long it would take me to grieve, when it would start, if it would ever stop. I didn't know then, that it would turn into something deeper, a sense of loss, an emptiness that could never be plugged up, that would get more bearable with time but would never go away. There would forever be something missing--my reflection--the woman who looked back at me in the mirror and said, "no matter who you are, you're okay by me."
As far as jewelry, She taught me how to keep it simple, that fine pieces are meant to add a little sparkle while still allowing your personality to shine through, how to mix antique and modern, faux and real and somehow make it all work. In the seventies, we would check our Mood Rings, like we did the "Magic 8 Ball" as if they were cheat sheets for our lives. These were the moments, the simple ones that I longed for most and still do just like I still go to pick up the phone to call whenever something small or big happens or if I am just in need of my closest friend.
My mother had an eye for fashion and an innate sense of taste. I had the most fun dressing up next to her, first in her jewelry and clothes, as a young girl and then helping each other get ready for an important meeting or date. My life changed forever when I lost her. But the lessons that she slipped in along the way eventually helped me to figure out who I was. I only began to realize my passion for jewelry and the meaning and sentimentality attached to different keepsakes when she passed away, how her jewelry, along with my own-- the pieces handed down, given and not given to me as gifts-- would eventually tell the story of my life and would shape my career. These memories and mementos will always be with me and have linked together my past and my present.
When I was five, my appendix almost burst, and I was rushed to the hospital and straight into surgery. I was petrified by the flashing lights and the speed with which the doctors got me onto the gurney. I woke up during the operation and they had to put ether back over my nose. They kept me for two weeks, ended with me being obsessed with the scar that was the exact size and shape as the one on Frankenstein's head. "It will fade," my mother said as convincingly as possible but I could not stop looking at it with disbelief.
She took me shopping to find something to make me feel pretty, "maybe a new dress for school, pair of shoes or daisy pendant," she had offered. But, as we passed through the accessories department, I saw a tiara sitting in a glass class in Manhattan's 59th Street and Lexington Avenue Bloomingdales. It was all twinkly and sprinkled with glittering rhinestones and Swarovski crystals, dripping off of the sides and decorating the top. It had a metallic sheen that changed from a noble purple to a more royal blue when it moved with the light. I knew that it had to be mine.
Many years later I would learn that it was what my mother called "a monstrosity, rivaling only Cher's most ostentatious headdress." But in the store, she knew she had to get me out without a tantrum and sat me down in a chair and explained: "Oh honey, there is only one and they are holding it for a very important duchess from some far away land. It's amazing that you chose this one. You definitely have royal taste. But let's see if we can find something else worthy of your style and beauty." The sales associates were in awe of the way in which she handled the situation and got into their roles, two of them bringing me a tray of more toned down tiara-like headbands, more befitting a five year old. When I was adorned in one that had just a few seed pearls with a tiny floral design and one single tiny diamante teardrop surrounded by a delicate scroll on top, my mother held up a mirror and told me it was me.
She was smart enough to realize that my taste was like every young girl's, more glitzy than glamorous and she let me think it was me who decided that I was more Grace Kelly than Elizabeth Taylor, although I do believe that style is inherited and that I developed her knack to choose pieces that would allow me to wear my jewelry rather than have it wear me.
Throughout the years, I continued to notice interactions between mothers and daughters.
I listened to my friends who vacillated between complaining about how their mothers still pinch their sides and ask, "have you gained a little weight?" and criticize the care of their children. These same women also fear their mom's aging and eventually losing them. After all of this time, I still don't know what to say: that the pain will grow duller into an ache that will always be there? I don't think they will want to hear that it never goes away. That no matter how old or how many things you've been through, whenever you go to a doctor, have an emergency or someone hurts you, you will always need your mother. That no matter how strong or tough a woman you are, you will always long for her love and her protective words, letting you know that everything will be all right.
When I look into the mirror, I see lines forming around my eyes. At fifty four, only one year younger than when my mother passed away, I see her friends-- beautiful women like her-- who grew up too soon, with children they were too young to raise and husbands like my father, who were still wild. They have gotten facelifts and injectables; I have watched them turn more taut and tightened and filled in, fighting against aging. I wish with all of my heart that my mom had the chance to fight along with them, and that I had the ability to discuss with her the benefits of Botox and the art of detracting with a few precious colored gems around the face.
Although I think my mother knew how much I loved her. I might have liked to tell her that I realize that she wasn't just a mother but a woman too. That it must have been a bitch after being divorced at 35, to raise three kids with very little help from my dad. I'd like to apologize for never acknowledging that she might have felt just like me-- flawed and imperfect, hurt and sometimes angry. I would have liked to tell her that she did a damn good job and that there is never a day that goes by that she is not missed or remembered.
Each year, when mother's day or her birthday rolls around, I take out the pieces of jewelry that were passed down to me. I slip on her long strand of creamy Mikimoto pearls and pretend that I am standing next to her once again, a young girl, dressing up in her jewelry, imagining her looking back at me, her smile filled with understanding, her eyes warming over with pride for the daughter who so wanted to emulate her. As I continue getting dressed I slide on her Victorian bangles--"three for luck" as she used to say--and hope she knows that it's her voice I always hear whenever I need courage, strength or a good laugh.
When I fasten a black cashmere sweater that has lost a button with the baguette stickpin, I feel her eternal presence beside me. I hope that I am reflecting the woman she would have wanted me to become. And, I thank her for passing down her compassion her big mushy heart, her style, and for always allowing me to believe that I had royal taste.