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I sit here surrounded by the contents of my “Mama Box” — a beautiful box that I’ve stuffed anything death- or cancer-related. I’ve never gone through the box… today is the first time. I’ve only opened it just wide enough to slide a new memento in.

There are sympathy cards that I read for the first time today. Some are generic and simple, some contain hand-written condolences, some even include stories. My favorite card came several months after Mama’s death from one of her best friends. It’s a long, chatty recounting of what Mama’s friendship meant (and means) to her — the trinkets that Mama bought her over the years, the shopping trips they went on, the first time they met, when this sweet lady thought, “She has great friendship potential.”

There are cd’s of MRI’s and CT scans from three difference cancer centers… we were so determined to find someone who would give us hope. There are lab reports — the final one, dated Aug 13, 2007, says “Evidence of extensive progression of metastatic disease involving the lungs, liver, and bones diffusely.” And that was a week before they found it in her brain as well.

There are leftover invitations to Mama’s 50 birthday party in April 2007. We had to have it early because we were going to Duke’s Cancer Center on her actual 50th birthday, on May 1.There are a few pictures of that day — she’s wearing her favorite pink dress, the one we chose to bury her in, the one her body is still wearing in the cemetery of Town.ville Bap.tist Church.

There’s a pink enamel butterfly pin that Jennifer and I bought her in the Duke Cancer Center gift shop. It became a favorite, and she wore it on her linen dresses often during the following months.

There’s the luminary bag that I decorated for the 2005 Relay for Life in Charlotte, NC, when we thought cancer was behind us. It reads, “In Honor of Denise. We’re so proud of you, Mama! Love, Sarah, Jennifer, & Susanna” She was so, so proud when she participated in the Survivor Lap, and we watched her walked by and cheered.

There’s a silver charm from Jennifer’s wedding in 2006. At her bridal luncheon, we did a “charm cake” where each attendant has a charm with a fortune attached to it. I did all the charms except my own, which Mama said she would take care of so that it would be a surprise. Mine is a tiny baby carriage, with the attached fortune: “A Baby Carriage for Sarah. A baby carriage is coming your way with a sweet little bundle to light up your day…”  So much pain and regret I have that I waited to start this baby process.

There are pink ribbon items, so many I can’t count. Bracelets and pins, all with the pink ribbon. People wanted to show support, to show that they were thinking about me. They didn’t know that the pink ribbon makes me want to vomit.

There’s a program from her funeral, along with the beautifully haunting pictures that Tiffiney took. It seemed like we put so much time into that program, selecting the perfect poem, the perfect hymns, the perfect people to be a part of the service. Yet I realize now that it was only a few hours during those blurry days from Sept 17 to Sept 20th, when the funeral took place.

There are notes written in Bobby’s handwriting… people to call, phone numbers, his contacts at the funeral home. I didn’t realize how much Bobby did during those wretched days.

There’s a pretty fabric-bound journal. On the inside cover is Mama’s neat, small handwriting. It’s dated Dec 12, 2006, just a few days after we received a prognosis of 18 months to 3 years. It says:

Sarah, who I’ve loved the longest,
We ARE thankful for the time we have been given — and will receive! We have incredible happiness in our futures. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
I love you with all my heart!

Wrapped in a piece of white tissue paper are her eyeglasses. We kept them instead of sending them down into the ground with her body.

There are hand-drawn sketches of her gravestone that I did to show the gravestone guy.

And the business cards of oncologists, and triage nurses, and office staff.

A copy of her online obituary.

A copy of the FMLA paperwork so that I could take medical leave after the brain metastasis diagnosis.

Her toothbrush that I kept at my house with her name on it.

And there’s a children’s book called “Someday.” We found three copies in her room afterward, and knew that she meant them for us. If you have a daughter, you should consider buying this book for her. It’s lovely.

I hope to read it to my own daughter one day.