One afternoon I got a notice from the post office that I had three parcels waiting for me. I had been expecting a script, but not a parcel. I drove to the post office to pick them up. They were boxes from my sister. I recognized them: It was my mother’s crystal.
When my mother had a stroke and developed dementia, she moved in with my sister. My sister got the dining room set, my mother’s Desert Rose china, and a chunk of money to pay for my mother’s everyday care. Mom said I could have her crystal.
The previous Thanksgiving my husband and I drove out to visit them in Colorado. My sister wanted me to take the crystal back with us, but there wasn’t enough room in the car. We’d brought the dogs with us. I told her I’d get it the next time we drove out.
Well, there were the crystal boxes at the post office: covered in Priority Mail stickers, and “Fragile” written on the sides. As I picked up one of the boxes, I heard the distinct sound of broken glass. I picked up the other boxes to put in my trunk. There was that same ugly gut-wrenching shatter sound in all of them.
I got the boxes home and opened them. One by one I pulled out the glasses. Some were wrapped in paper, some in bubble wrap. Almost all of them were broken. Some had the stems snapped from the bowls, but most were shattered beyond recognition. Gone.
How had my sister even packed these? Why did she mail them without telling me? Did she just want them out of her hair? This was my inheritance. She had most all of Mom’s priceless stuff, and here she had sent off these boxes so carelessly. They don’t make this crystal anymore. There was no way to get it back.
I called my sister. Grief and anger gushed out of my mouth. I felt like my share of the inheritance had been carelessly thrown away. My sister forgot that she had packed it for a car, not for the postal service. She felt sickened at her error. She reassured me I could have anything else belonging to Mom. But wanted the crystal. I wanted what Mom had given me. Besides, it wasn’t really about the objects. It was about the loss.
We stayed on the phone with each other and shared what we had remembered about the crystal: Sunday dinners, cousins coming to visit. In high school my friend Julia and I learned how to make crepes. We served them with Martinelli’s, poured into those crystal goblets. The more we talked, the more we realized the crystal represented Mom: how hard she tried to bring some semblance of beauty and structure to our chaotic family. All those Christmas dinners she slaved over, served on that china and crystal; each year the family drifting further and further away, the china and crystal remaining on an ever-shrinking table. My mother is now in the last stages of dementia and lives in a convalescent home. She’s like a child. It’s almost impossible to remember her a vibrant, active woman or a competent chef. And it’s almost impossible to remember our family together, intact. But I look at that crystal and then I remember.
It was a difficult conversation between my sister and me. It was probably harder for her, because she had caused it. Fortunately I was able to find the pattern on ebay and replace over half of it. I called her a week later to tell her I’d found replacements. I asked her if I’d said anything to hurt her feelings. She said no. In fact, we both felt closer by having walked through it and came out the other side.
That afternoon I listened to a song by Sara Groves, “When it was over.”
When it was over and they could talk about it
They were sitting on the couch
She said, “What on earth made you stay here
When you finally figured out what I was all about?”
He said, “I always knew you’d do the right thing
Even though it might take some time.”
She said, “Yeah, I felt that and that’s probably what saved my life.”
Oh love wash over a multitude of things
Make us whole
There is a love that never fails
There is a healing that always prevails
There is a hope that whispers a vow
A promise to stay while we’re working it out
So come with your love and wash over us.
A year later my memoir came out. My sister was shattered by some things I’d written about her in the book. Mostly it was oversight: I was on such a tight schedule that I hadn’t had time to review what I’d written about her or how it came across. When she pointed out the very last line I’d written about her, I was horrified. It wasn’t at all how I wanted her to be portrayed. This was far worse than losing a few crystal glasses. Now it was my turn to feel horrified. It took a long time, but we got through it. We got through it by being angry, hurt, and finally sitting across from each other and talking it all out.
We are closer and more mature than we were before it happened. I’m glad we walked through it. I can almost say I’m glad it happened. Well, I’d prefer it if I were the one who had been hurt; not her.
If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that pain and conflict are part of my journey. Crystal glasses and feelings will be shattered. You have to keep loving those who hurt you. Love washes over a multitude of things. So come with Your love and wash over us.