When my mother lost her six-year battle with ocular melanoma at the age of 57, I felt pain that I could have never imagined. I remember standing on the driveway of my childhood home while friends and family comforted each other inside after her funeral. I didn’t want to go inside. I couldn’t fathom a world – let alone that house – without her.
Several weeks later, a therapist suggested I write down my thoughts, my memories, my whatever it took to help me begin the grieving process. As a person who likes to have a plan, I agreed to this one. I wrote, I wrote, and I wrote – late at night when sleep eluded me, and during the day when I couldn’t focus on anything else. It seemed that in so many of my wonderful memories of my mother, she was shopping – with me and with her mother and her sister.
As I wrote, I realized that in every shopping adventure (and there were many), there was a life lesson learned. I re-discovered all of that love that was exchanged between my mother, my aunt, my grandmother and myself. So many of these exchanges occurred in the confines of the ladies dressing rooms of our favorite boutiques, the shoe department at Nordstrom’s and the makeup counter at Saks. Shopping, it seemed, had become a metaphor for the way we lived our lives – with honesty, laughter, encouragement, strength and most especially for my mother during her long illness – with hope for the future.
After I completed the shopping stories, from the search for my prom dress right down to the outfit we selected for my mother to be buried in, I showed my work to family members and a few close friends. They said they were moved and inspired by them, and they believed others would be too. I started to believe. With lots of encouragement from those I love and trusted, some confidence that only my mother could have instilled in me as a little girl, and a wonderful self-publishing company, my little shopping stories became the book, Shopping for Love. It was released in 2008.
While part of me was nervous for complete strangers to read about such personal feelings and relationships that I put out there (not to mention the part of me that wondered if people would in fact read it at all), another part of me was excited to keep my mother’s memory alive through this book. I was amazed at the response.
I got to do fun things like go on TV, attend book signings and fashion events to promote the book. The book was even optioned for film. In all honesty, the most rewarding aspect of putting my story out there were the amazing responses I got from the complete strangers.
I heard from cancer survivors, others who had lost family members to the disease, people who shopped, or gardened or read or cooked with their loved ones, people who don’t have good relationships with their mothers and people who are trying to make amends with their daughters. I became involved in a local cancer support community – a place that my mother had no interest in when she was sick – but a place where I somehow found a connection.
Writing a book was something I never thought I would do, but then again my mother dying young was something that I never planned on either. Somewhere along the way, after losing my mother and my marbles, I managed to find those marbles and then some. I’ve developed a new career as a writer, a passion in volunteering in the cancer community, and most especially an understanding of what real loss means: That has made me a better mother, wife, daughter, sister, niece, friend and really, person.
I wish I never became that more self-actualized person. I wish I never had to write the book because I wish my mother never died. But I know that these are not choices. Life throws at you what it will. You lose your marbles and then if you are lucky like I have been…. you find them.
Rachel Levy Lesser is a freelance writer and PR professional who received her BA from The University of Pennsylvania and her MBA from The Ross School of Business at The University of Michigan. Rachel lives in Newtown, PA with her husband and two children. You can find her writing at the Starbucks in town or shopping at stores all around town. See more of her work at http://www.rachellevylesser.com/work and learn about her book, Shopping for Love at http://www.rachellevylesser.com/books