THREE CANS and a SPIDER: Thoughts on WRITING (and LIVING) from the HEART

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Not long after my mother’s death a well-meaning acquaintance offered this condolence:  “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.” He was wrong. When you lose someone you love, you don’t get over it. Over time you adjust to it. The new reality settles in, but you don’t get over it. How could one even think that?

I no longer mourn my mother in the intense way I did in the months following her death. Still, every so often, something catches me – takes me by surprise- and I feel my heart wrench.

It happened last month when my daughter wrote her weekly reading letter to her teacher about the book she was currently reading, Charlotte’s Web. In the letter, my daughter said she understood how sad Wilbur felt when Charlotte died because she had lost someone special too (my mom). She also remarked that Wilbur would be okay, eventually, because he would always have Charlotte in his heart.

This wisdom from my sweet 10-year-old wrenched my heart, but then led to a great mommy/daughter chat about the joy of loving someone deeply and the hurt of losing them. We then gave thanks for Mattie’s life and reminisced about the wonderful hours she and Mattie spent drawing together.

My heart wrenched again this past Friday when I was, of all things, organizing my pantry. In the process of sorting and straightening, I discovered three expired cans (pictured above). See the dates written  on the sides of each can? My mother wrote those. These were cans from her pantry that made their way into mine after she got too sick to cook. And, you got it, they caught me by surprise and, suddenly, and unexpectedly, filled me anew with sadness at the permanence of her loss. Instead of stuffing those feelings back inside, I said to myself, “Okay, I’m feeling sad, so what am I going to do about it?”

And what did I too? I picked up the phone and called my sister. She wasn’t there, so I left a message. I felt better though, proud even, that I’d acknowledged that wrench in my heart.  And as I finished organizing the pantry, my mind flooded with all sorts of memories of the fun things my mom and I had done together involving, of all things, cans! I remembered taco dinners with canned beans, hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park with the kids and canned tuna fish sandwiches, and cold winter afternoon lunches with canned tomato soup – spiked with a little sherry, my mother’s favorite! And the next day, when my sister returned my call, we shared all over some of our best “mom” memories.

I believe that as writers we are called to write from the heart and thus we must be honest with ourselves about “heart” moments like these. They are the beat that keeps the heart soft and open, ready to receive and ready to give. Happy writing all!

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22 thoughts on “THREE CANS and a SPIDER: Thoughts on WRITING (and LIVING) from the HEART

  1. What a lovely post. Your daughter is wise beyond her years. And who would think a few old cans would spur such memories and offer an opportunity for heartfelt reminiscence?

  2. Laura, Good advice for life and writers. I had jam preserves in my fridge that my Aunt Peggy made for me before she died, and I couldn’t part with them. And so they stayed there, untouched, for years till I was finally ready to throw them out. 🙂 p.s. My sister also kept her jam preserves for years. I guess we’re very similar in some ways.

  3. Thanks, ladies, for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. As Nancy so beautifully put it, life does happen among the cans of tuna fish and soup (and jam preserves made by special aunts!) Blessings, all!

  4. I recently had a similar experience while in AZ in January. We traveled there to see my mother with my oldest son and his family. While we were there we drove to Sedona and stopped at a church that my father loved when he was still alive. I was completely taken by surprise of the memories with my Dad that flooded over me inside that church – it was stinging and yet so warm at the same time. I truly looked for him to do the impossible and walk in there. I tear up thinking about it even now. Carrying their hearts in our hearts is such a blessing.

  5. Wonderful post, Laura. Everything you said resonated with me completely. There is a new normal to adjust to — one never gets over losing a loved one.

  6. It is hard and we don’t ever get over it. Your post was timely for me as I lost my father in January, and was just thinking of him yesterday after a similar event took me by surprise. My young daughters were with me at the time and we spent some time talking about our happy memories of him. I’m not sure yet how it’s affected my writing yet but reflecting on the shortness and fragility of life has certainly helped me to live from the heart more.

    • I am so sorry for your loss, Rebecca. I bet you and your daughters had a special time remembering him together. Living from the heart hurt sometimes, but it sure is nice to have lovely daughters and family nearby when you lose someone you love so much – like your dad. Blessings…

  7. Laura, I am so glad you wrote this post and took a picture of those cans with that handwriting of your mom on them and called your sister and spent time with your daughter remembering your mom. Now a piece of her lives in my heart too. You are so right that one merely adjusts to the new normal … and sometimes even after 25 odd years you still feel the ache in the most ordinary times. Funny about the pantry … I still cannot look at a can of Morton salt without thinking of my mother.

  8. Someone told you you’ll get over the loss of your mother??? Really.
    We don’t get over, we adjust to the new reality. Your daughter said it perfectly. We adjust because we must, and we “move” our love from our daily life into our hearts.

  9. Such a bittersweet post, Laura. You’re totally right about writing from the heart. We writers must wear our hearts on our sleeves, certainly in this way. And I love that you called your sister. I hope she would call you, too in that way.

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