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Mothballs and Memories


Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – Center for Family Care

by Presvytera Melanie DiStefano

What does the phrase “eternal memory” mean really, for us mere mortals? This question begs at me much now that I am in my sixth decade of life and have witnessed so many lovely souls pass on to the next life.

My sweet grandmother passed away on Theophany 6 years ago. She is in my thoughts at times, but I must admit not at all times – thus her memory is certainly not eternally in my small mind. There are moments when my heart throbs with ache for her embrace. There are also many moments when I mostly, admittedly, forget about her.

Recently I found myself struggling through an emotional enigma.  I felt like one of the walking dead, stiff-legged, slowly shuffling through the tasks and duties allotted to me in daily life, my mind in a foggy murk. During a particular outing to the grocery store I made an unusual diversion in my typical shopping route within the store and circled into the household section. Not sure why, as I didn’t need anything there.

And so there I was, doing my zombie shuffle down the laundry basket/kitchen gadget aisle and immediately I was jarred to life again…by the smell of mothballs. All at once a rush of warm emotion swelled as if from my gut and up into my chest and throat. I felt with all my being that my grandmother was with me, at least in my memory.

Most people don’t hold the smell of mothballs dear, but what if it is associated intricately with the memories of someone who is treasured in your heart? Well then, even such an astringent odor can unlock waves of suppressed emotions, and the longing for a love which is perceived to be lost and far away.

She comforted me. I don’t think she realized what a special gift that was to me. Everyone needs a refuge from the storms of life. Gram was mine. She rejoiced in me – as in the very sight of me gave her joy. I realize how blessed I am to have been loved so deeply, to have been seen with “rose-colored glasses”… She saw my gifts, accepted my weaknesses, cheered me on, defended me, rejoiced when I rejoiced and wept when I wept. (Rom 12:15) Largely because of her, I know what it means to be cherished.

One of my earthly comforters is no longer alive on this earth…but she is not gone really, completely. She is far enough away that I no longer can rest in her physical presence or hear her laugh alive and in real time, or feel her soft, gentle touch against my face. I don’t like it, but that’s how it goes. Life circles around. People die and are born every day – some born into this world, others into the next – and each of us must take our turn.

I don’t fully know what “eternal memory” means for me and my Gram. What I do know is that her precious memory is buried oh so much deeper in my heart than her body is buried in the earth. I have learned that a human heart can hold the essence of memories even if the brain forgets. They may not include chronological, exact details of an experience or words shared, but are more like the force of love’s wellspring just waiting to be tapped into.

Sometimes I have dug deep for the precious flow of my grandmother’s warmth by looking at pictures of her or praying in church with her in mind, and yet my heart remained dry and unaffected. And then, when least expected, the pungent scent of mothballs chiseled with one fell swoop into the clay of a heavy heart and unleashed what can never be forgotten. And that is love.

And love is, I suppose, an eternal memory.

Presvytera Melanie DiStefano is the Resource Developer for the GOA Center for Family Care.


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