So far I have kept almost everything belonging to Zoe. I may not always. But when I go to her room with the intention of clearing out just a few things, I get lost in memories and end up putting everything away again.
A few of the things I’ve kept:
- The clothes she was wearing when she died I keep in a drawer with my clothes.
- Hanging in my wardrobe is the dress she wore to the fairy party we held for her a few weeks before she died, along with the coat her Nan had bought for the 7th birthday she never had. She got it early instead and wore it a few times. It still has a toy mouse in the pocket.
- The note she wrote for her bedroom door in a fit of pique, telling everyone to keep out (she was experimenting early with tweenagerhood).
- The note pictured above she got her Dad to write for her in her final illness telling people to keep out because she was sleeping “by order of Zoe”.
- Her “glass slippers” (acrylic kitten heels with purple fluff).
- The artwork and handwriting her little hands made.
- Her favourite hats (including her Dr Harry Hat) worn while she was on chemo and had no hair.
- The sock monkeys made for children in Starship hospital by volunteers, complete with adoption certificates.
- The radiation mask that was cast from her face. There is a big space in it where the oxygen mask went, but otherwise it is a perfect cast of her beautiful three year old face.
- The port-a-cath that spent 9 months in her body delivering the chemo that in the end didn’t save her, but did buy us another two and a half years after she finished treatment.
- A raggedy pink potted geranium that somehow survives year after year despite my lack of a green thumb and her garden gnome that is in the pot with it.
- The hundreds of paper butterflies I made a team of friends and family cut out that we hung in streams from the rafters at her funeral.
Other parents I know who have experienced loss also keep things. They are not always the things you would expect.
When Keri & Ryan moved towns and rented their house out, they had a clause in the tenants’ contract stating they couldn’t remove the glow in the dark stars from Chace’s room. Keri also dreads having to replace her aging vacuum cleaner, because Chace was obsessed with it and insisted on doing the vacuuming himself (he was only three when he died). His younger brother, born since he died, also loves the vacuum cleaner and Keri likes to think of them sharing some personality traits.
Rebecca has kept a single striped sock from when Isaac was six months old. She also keeps a lego policeman she found under his pillow after he died a d wears a ring he gave her. For a while after Isaac died Rebecca wore a bracelet Isaac was given when he got his port-a-cath in. It didn’t fit him and she promised to wear it until he didn’t need his port any more. It was months after he died that she removed it when she realised that he had no need of his port any more.
One bereaved parent I know has kept every hospital wrist band, medicine bottle and sheet of printed labels. Her daughter’s name and date of birth is printed on them, so she feels she can’t throw them away, because there will be no more.
Zoe’s Dad wanted to keep just one thing. A very well loved little toy dog that Zoe was given on an airline flight that she had rather unimaginatively named Brownie, or Little Brownie after she was given a larger toy dog who received the same name. I think he knew how much I needed to keep everything else and that I was a safe guardian of them.
What we sent
Zoe was cremated in a woven willow casket decorated with sprigs of rosemary and lavender. Here are the things we sent with her.
- She wore the dress she often chose for parties or restaurants (she was only six, but quite the gourmand).
- On her feet were the sparkly shoes from her Dorothy Wizard of Oz costume.
- Around her neck was the silver heart necklace her Uncle had bought her for her fifth birthday. We added the guardian angel charm one of her friends bought her when we found out she was dying.
- In her hand was a carved bone Manaia. Manaia means spirit guardian in Maori and it was given to her by the friend who carries that name.
- On her head was the most beautiful crown of fabric flowers a princess could wish for.
- Purple angel wings were above her head.
- Scattered over her were the paper flowers placed there by some little friends who came to see her in her casket.
- Under her arm was the beloved bunny she was given for her first birthday.
What I let go
A few months after Zoe died I took a deep breath and got rid of all of the medical paraphernalia. Before I did, I looked in the booklet about Rhabdomysarcoma we were given when Zoe was diagnosed that I had never read. I discovered that Zoe’s tumor was likely Stage III when she was diagnosed (more than 5cm and in a nearby lymph node). I did not see the point of knowing that going into treatment and I’m glad I didn’t, just as I’m glad I never asked the oncologist for a prognosis during her treatment.
I was glad to get rid of those things, it was a way of choosing to see her life as not defined by cancer, though in many ways, good as well as bad, it was.
In time I will probably let more things go, but for now, being in the house where Zoe lived, surrounded by her things is what I need.