Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | December 21, 2010

A Story from Last Christmas: Drops of Amber

A meandering late night excursion to a friend’s jewelry website got me thinking about gems, jewels, and meaningful bangles.

I tend to wear very little jewelry, and that very simple.

The third finger of my left hand is circled, still, by a plain gold wedding band held safely in place with a gold and green tourmaline “engagement” ring, although Jeff’s proposal was so understated he never actually said, “Will you marry me?” and I never actually said “Yes”, we just somehow reached a consensus which culminated in a wedding, and a marriage, and a child, and a life.

A tiny garnet birthstone in my left ear has been discreetly sparkling there since my sixteenth birthday. The earrings I wore most often last year were small, flat oblongs, a delicate bird perching on a branch worked in silver. Made locally and with love by a jeweler friend, a Christmas gift of a few years past chosen by husband Jeff and daughter Anna, to me they signified the mantra of the last year:


“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune–without the words,

And never stops at all.”

– Emily Dickinson


It is too bittersweet to wear them right now, although I cherish them. We lost Jeff this summer to cancer discovered too late.

I don’t usually wear other embellishments, unless Anna consents to make me an embroidery- thread friendship bracelet or beaded anklet once in a while. I think those days might be over now that she’s in college. Beloved relics of childhood, gone, along with her brightly colored woven potholders that Jeff and I cherished.

This fall at a harvest fair I bought a small amber heart from an herbalist who spoke of amber’s healing properties. But I bought it because it was pretty and inexpensive. I have always liked amber, although never owned any. I put the heart on a chain around my neck and as a kind of afterthought strung Jeff’s wedding ring on too; it makes a little gold circle that nestles around the heart and together they jingle like dog tags. Have never worn necklaces except rarely on a special occasion, but have worn this talisman constantly for months now. It is often the last thing in my hand as I fall asleep and I wake up still holding it.

I recently reconnected with a childhood friend who works with beads and gemstones, and when I told her about the amber heart she sent me the following:

“Amber is a powerful chakra cleanser and healer. At a physical level, it imbues the body with vitality and has the power to draw disease out of the body. By absorbing pain and negative energy, Amber allows the body to rebalance and heal itself. Amber alleviates stress. Mentally, Amber stimulates the intellect, clears depression, and promotes a positive mental state and creative self-expression. It brings balance and patience and encourages decision-making, being a useful memory aid. Its flexibility dissolves opposition. Emotionally, Amber encourages peacefulness and develops trust. Spiritually, Amber promotes altruism and brings wisdom. ”

-Judy Hall

I don’t know who Judy Hall is and I don’t know why the pottery bowl of little amber hearts spoke to me that day at the fair, but that passage makes it a bit clearer. Also not sure why or how this friend has appeared suddenly, now, after 35 years, but again, many things appear to be connected in ways I don’t understand. Now I recall the amber heart in my jeans pocket, and the tears alone in the darkened car, on the long highway drive home from the fair. Cleansing, healing, rebalancing tears perhaps.

For many years at Christmastime my daughter and my husband would slip away one afternoon to the downtown jewelry shop of the friend who works in silver, gold, and precious stones. Together they would carefully choose for me a gift of earrings. But this year Jeff is gone and the jeweler has moved to care for her elderly mother, so Anna would have trouble finding her, if she even wanted to make the trek alone. I was sad for Anna to lose yet another ritual in an already difficult year. I wondered if she was thinking about it- it is so hard to tell what affects her; she is creative and kind, silent and stoic, just like her dad. And she has never been one for buying things. This is a girl who becomes pale and weak at the mere thought of shopping, and the only remedy is to apply copious amounts of restorative Orange Julius. So I decided the earring tradition was gone too, like so many touchstones of this year.

Amid the happy hubbub of our large extended family’s busy Christmas morning, Anna silently handed me a package no larger than a matchbook. The gift inside the tightly taped, minute bundle of bright paper means more to me than anything else ever could. Quietly, by herself, she had chosen a pair of earrings: sensuous drops of liquid gold amber, held in place by tiny purple stones set in a filigree of finely worked silver.

She hates it when I cry.




  1. What a tender story interwoven with the sadness of loss and the sweetness of your daughter finding a way on her own to continue a ritual that was important to all three of you. Thank you for sharing it.


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