I open the envelope labeled "personal memories" and a yellowed newspaper clipping falls out.
It's a quotation about sadness by Abraham Lincoln, who lost three of his children before they reached adulthood.
I wonder if my mother cut it out herself or if someone sent it to her after the death of her own child half a century ago, at age 9.
That she kept it all this time starts me weeping. At first it's for her loss and sadness, then it's for mine. This is the first spring she'll miss — and that we'll miss together.
Each year we eagerly observed the first signs of the season: the trill of red-winged blackbirds and spring peepers in the fields and ponds around her farm, the budding of forsythias and lilacs and pussy willows in neighborhood yards, the backyard bustle on weekends as people shook off the cloak of winter.
I called her with reports during my commute to work. "The first green tip is poking up at the iris farm." "The cherry orchards next to the farm market are pinking up." "The willow trees near the hospital have just a hint of yellow."
Now, without her, the signs of spring unfolding are bittersweet, like the mementos I recently found packed away in a suitcase in her closet.
Besides the newspaper clipping, there were envelopes for each of her daughters, stuffed with our notes and letters, articles we wrote or were featured in, proof of our accomplishments, big and small.
But it was the envelope marked "personal memories" that opened the floodgates. In it was evidence of the life, and a deep sentimental side, I'd never seen: my grandmother's driver's license and Social Security card bearing her neat signature, my brother's birth certificate and obituary and memorial card, my father's wallet and funny little notes to my mother, signed with hearts and hugs and kisses.
There was her nurse's aide cap from the time before she was a registered nurse, my adventurous grandfather's plaid bathrobe and luggage tag, a baggie of fur from a long-ago pet, my mother's favorite poems and snapshots.
As I give in to my grief, I remember the clipping and read Abraham Lincoln's words.
"In this sad world of ours sorrow comes to all and it often comes with bitter agony. Perfect relief is not possible except with time. You cannot now believe that you will ever feel better. But this is not true. You are sure to be happy again. Knowing this, truly believing it will make you less miserable now."
I fervently hope that he was right.
Reach staff writer Marta Hepler Drahos at firstname.lastname@example.org