My mother-in-law used to close her eyes as if by doing so she could close out anything that was weighing on her mind, or unpleasant in her life. Confrontations she didn’t want to have, realizations that were too late, the Cancer that in the end would claim her life. Next month will mark a year since her passing and she is very much on my mind.
For most of my married life we would speak almost every day. We shared a lot of secrets. I miss her. There were so many details of her life that I know she still wanted to tell me, and much I wanted to talk to her about. That is the pain of loss. Those missed moments. Those are hard to reconcile.
The other day I closed my eyes to shut out some things I didn’t want to deal with and I understood her. She was an intensely private woman, and rarely would allow anyone to see what lay beneath the surface. Julia was in every explanation of the word a ‘remarkable’ woman. Her particular passion for life was born from the hardships of being raised in a tight walk up in Toronto’s Harbord village in the 1920’s. Her parents were immigrant Jews and she the eldest of three; and the one with the absolute yearning for her own bed, heating and beautiful dresses. She married and moved to the same situation in her husband’s small family home. She worked hard and created her way out.
Her particular gift was her vision. And with that she orchestrated and navigated the voyage from shoes distributed in the basket of her husband’s bicycle to the flagship store on the best retail corner in the city. He might have had the charisma to charm his clients and suppliers in New York, Florence and Milan, but she had the foresight. She understood what branding the store was before it became a catchword in the industry. She knew it in her bones.
She was our Jackie ‘O’, with her small frame, beautiful features, legs that could enchant a sailor or president, and a flare for putting herself together that honestly deserves a coffee table book. This was very much a big part of who she was and the image of the public Julia, but there was more to her. I knew the intellectual woman who was open to far-reaching ideas, incredibly well read, interested and interesting, who loved art and science and was deeply inquisitive. And I loved how she felt at home in my home. And, the whimsical side of her, that sat at tea parties with my daughters, and kept the soft bunny we bought her on her bed.
I thought I would have more time with her. In her last days, she would rest her head on my chest as I tried to stroke the pain from her forehead and shoulders. I can’t tell you how that feeling of her releasing any façade to me, the softness and the love that I felt from her in that small moment resonates through all of me.
I understood the things she locked away in her heart when she closed her eyes. I think that is why I feel her so profoundly in my chest, as I write this. In some ways it has connected us like a locket, with both our pictures on the inner sides and closed.