Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

My mum once pierced her ears with a needle and an ice cube.

Well, not exactly. Mum was eighteen, travelling in the US, and it was her American friends who happily volunteered to do the piercing for her; Mum’s friend Lainey who slightly misjudged the needle’s point in Mum’s right earlobe and made the hole a few centimetres too low.

Uneven piercings didn’t seem to matter to my mum. Wearing earrings, like every other form of jewellery,  quickly became a decorative statement which she embraced wholeheartedly.

And jewellery is something I ended up loving too.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

A lifelong love of decoration

This December my dad and I drove through the streets of South London, our eyes peeled for house-fronts covered with Christmas cheer: blow up reindeers on roofs, Santas perched on chimneys, strings of fairy lights in trees and hedges. As my dad pulled up outside our family house for the holidays, I asked him whether Mum ever suggested decorating the outside when she was still alive.

“Never,” said Dad, checking his mirrors to park the car. “Mum was much happier creating her vision of Christmas inside instead.”

I looked through the windows, remembering what Mum’s vision used to look like. There was a tree of ridiculous proportions, shedding pine needles all over the carpet; cardboard boxes full of ornaments which my dad had to fetch from the dusty attic; a nativity scene built from little red block houses on a side table; sprigs of holly and ivy stuck into every framed picture on the walls.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

My dad and I, ever similar, often used to mock her for being over-the-top, but there’s no doubting how much my mum loved creating this fantastic festive environment out of nothing.

So it makes sense that after she died, the idea of decorating for Christmas seemed like a horribly empty endeavour.

Coping with loss through imitation

Losing a parent can provoke the sudden desire to imitate their best qualities, so despite not loving the need to decorate, for the last eight years I’ve tried my utmost to be like my mum in other ways.

Thanks to her good nature, I make constant effort to be more sociable. Her charitable side inspires me to volunteer whenever I can. Because she loved my writing, words have become my primary focus in life.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

Yet one of the most challenging parts of this year has been writing a book about our relationship – which proved to be much more complex than I thought. When I handed in the first draft to my tutor, her main critique was surprising.

“It seems to be more about your loss of your mum,” she said. “As a character though… Well, I still don’t really know who she is.”

Later, when I scraped through the text of this newly breathing beginning-of-a-book I’d created, I discovered she was right: out of 120,000 words, I could only find two thousand which actively referenced her.

Mum was barely there.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

The joys of long-forgotten jewellery

This year, my dad asked if I could go through some of Mum’s many boxes of jewellery. “It’s a bit silly to keep dusting around all her stuff each fortnight,” he said, knowing without asking that I’d easily be able to identify which pieces I’d want to keep.

It’s something we’ve both learnt – that not all objects are worth the same. While some become talismans, others lose their importance once their original owner no longer holds onto them.

Deciding which is which can take time, though. So on Christmas Eve I sat on my childhood bed and surrounded myself with the physical parts of my mum that still exist.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

From a carved wooden box I picked up gold-set clip on pearls; pieced together the hooks of broken earrings; sorted through snapped necklace clasps and the occasional silver charm from a Christmas pudding.

Pair after pair went into a ziploc bag as I imagined myself wearing each set. Not every piece of jewellery had a memory, but many of them did – and yet most of what I decided to keep wasn’t reliant on any association with Mum.

Instead, the predominant memory circling through my mind was one I realise now means more than any pair of earrings can.

Holding on, and letting go

After a lifetime of wearing heavy gemstone earrings which swung back and forth, Mum’s right earlobe eventually tore and had to be stitched back up under general anaesthetic.

A few months later, I sat close beside her on the cushiony grey seat of a beautician’s treatment room, while Mum squeezed my hand tight. At her head was a piercing gun, held by a kind woman who didn’t tell us her name.

“Ready? This won’t hurt a bit.”

I looked at Mum’s face to see her eyes closed: her skin pressed against mine, her pulse racing. I never saw her scared, and suddenly I felt acutely maternal. I squeezed her hand just as tightly, a rush of fierce love pounding in my ears like a shell held up to hear the ocean.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

Every Christmas means a period of reckoning, and I grow scared again. How will I feel this year? How will the season affect me? Remembering Mum’s death and the immeasurable ways it influences my life is the worst kind of Christmas tradition, and however much I try to avoid it, the feelings still find me.

I’ve come to think they always will.

Yet even after eight years and even with those feelings, I’m still terrified that I’ll forget her. The idea of losing her edges, her solidity, her vibrancy, is overwhelmingly sad.

But to those of you who are also grieving at this time of year: you know as well as I do that this fear only lies at surface level. Despite the worries, despite the years, the people we’ve lost still appear in our mind’s eye at night. We still hear their voices, unbidden; still see them at unexpected moments in the faces and bodies of strangers.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

Too often, I see all the ways in which I’ve lost her with more clarity, when actually I should be noticing the places where she continues to exist: not in the lack of Christmas decorating mania but how I feel when I realise I’m wearing a pair of her earrings.

So, yes: Christmas is still difficult. We still cry, and feel acutely vulnerable, and wish to any possible semblance of a higher power that we hadn’t lost them. But we still know deep down that it’s our loved ones, not these losses, that make us who we are.

And occasionally we’ll see them in the most unexpected places. Even somewhere as seemingly silly as a jewellery box.

Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

For anyone who’s missing somebody this Christmas, this article is for you. Allow yourself space to grieve, to feel and to hopefully heal – and remember you’re loved, even if it’s hard to see it right now. 



About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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9 Responses to Love, Loss and Jewellery, Eight Years On

  1. Lynne December 28, 2016 at 2:40 am #

    Oh Flora! I loved this! I lost my mom just a year and a half ago so just got through the 2nd Christmas without mom. I’m much older than you at 50 and my mom was 82 when she passed away. I got 49 years with her that I treasure every single day. It doesn’t matter how old you are or your mom is, you’re never ready. I’ve felt just like you…that I’ll forget her. But I won’t. Just like you won’t. You remember so many times over the years that you shared — good and bad, happy and sad, funny and quiet. You never stop grieving either. But somehow, over time, it doesn’t hurt so bad…until something hits you and you have a meltdown. And that’s okay. Know that your mom is with you in your heart … always.

    • Flora March 9, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

      Thank you so much for sharing, Lynne 🙂 It truly doesn’t matter when it happens: the loss of a parent is never something you’re ready for. But strangely enough I adore our capacity for still wanting to share the stories & memories of those relationships with others, even if it hurts while doing so. The healing process does work in some strange ways! Sending lots of love to you xx

  2. Gilda Baxter December 28, 2016 at 8:48 am #

    I lost my mum in 2001, she was 65 years old. I went over to Brazil to visit my parents, never expecting that I would also attend my mother’s funeral. Few days before she died we spent a lovely afternoon together, one last time chatting and sharing memories. Having children myself helped me to get through the devastation of losing her. Your words in this post resonate with me and even after so many years Christmas is a difficult time for me. I kept a red jumper that she used to wear. I do hope you write the book Flora. Best wishes to you for 2017😄

    • Flora March 9, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      Oh Gilda, I’m so sorry – that must have been such a shock for you. I’m glad you’ve been able to construct methods to bear the weight of the grief and the loss – it’s definitely a proactive way to be 🙂 All the best for the year ahead to you too (and the book is most definitely being written – currently on my third draft!) x

  3. Caroline Eubanks December 29, 2016 at 1:52 am #


    • Flora March 9, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

      Thank you darling 🙂

  4. Sam Parker December 30, 2016 at 11:03 pm #

    Hi Flora, Just been catching up on a few of your posts, they’re great. I experienced a loss this year and this article really resonates.

    Was looking for advice about initial as I have time of work in March to go back to India for a month, it’ll be my third time. Your article about being there took me back … am now feeling more prepared.

    Sam Parker (from San Fran!) xx

    • Flora March 9, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

      Hi Sam, how lovely to hear from you! So sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you’re doing a bit better now.

      As for India, that’ll be really exciting! I have to visit again soon, it’s been way too long. If you’re there now I hope you’re having a fab time! xx

  5. Gustavo Woltmann January 29, 2017 at 6:14 am #

    This is a really awesome blog! I love your content and your page! Have you guys already written a post or written content talking about your plan s for the entire year of 2017? What are you guys planning to do? Any giveaways?? Please let me know!

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