A plastic bin with ribbons inside. Clear plastic, blue lid. Half full. Inauspicious. Just one of the lingering items to be sorted and put away after our new mattress was delivered.
But ribbons always make me think of Barb. For some reason that is simultaneously unclear and perfectly logical, when I see narrow satin ribbon, I always think of Barb.
Purple ribbons would seem most appropriate, as Barb lost her battle with pancreatic cancer a little over a year ago, but it's the blue ones on spools that hit me the hardest in the spring, along with red and green at Christmas time.
I had a little meltdown over those ribbons at Christmas last year, thinking of Barb's family and the hole in their hearts and their celebration. As a counselor, I'd taught my kids about triggers - simple little sights or sounds or smells that don't just cause us to remember, but send a whole host of emotion crashing down on top of us, leaving us at once vulnerable and questioning our own sanity. I wanted my kids to know this was normal - that they weren't going crazy - and that the memories that came back in a flood were something to be treasured - a way of holding on to the person we had lost.
I told myself all of these things when the ribbons triggered the deluge...and again when I got the beautiful Christmas card from Barb's son - with a letter enclosed that would have made her burst with pride. I wanted to write back and tell him these things - just as I want to tell her husband that I miss her, too - but words fail me. All of the counseling and writing skills in the world still leave me at a loss for what to say.
Who am I to tell them these things? How can my sorrow begin to compare to theirs?
And so I say nothing. And although I know that silence is worse, that sitting here crying over ribbons by myself is silly and pointless, I can't bring myself to start the conversation.
What if my timing is all wrong? I do have a knack for saying the right thing at the wrong time. What if today is a good day, and the thing I say is the thing that splits open the crack that's been so carefully repaired? The only thing worse than saying nothing is saying the wrong thing.
And so I maintain my silence, playing Words With Friends with Barb's husband and replying to Facebook posts from her son, hoping they don't mistake my lack of courage for a lack of compassion, because once you've had a loss that rocks your world, you're profoundly aware of how easy it is to say the wrong thing. To split open the cracks and send pain, once neatly contained, gushing forth. No one wants to be responsible for that.
And so I wind ribbons around spools and remember her smile, our chats, her laugh, her wisdom. I pray for her family, especially at the holidays and in the spring, near her birthday, even though it's snowing outside.
And I write a blog that I now know is the letter I need to send, the words I've wanted to say.
But better late than not at all.