I haven't cleaned my bathroom mirror for nine months. The other day my eyes were finally opened to it's filth; layers of toothpaste, dust, and water stains speckled its surface. I was in the throes of a manic Saturday, in which I felt compelled to clean everything. I vacuumed every room, dusted floorboards, wiped grimy fingerprints from door jams, and freed the ceiling fan from dust bunnies. I was thorough and efficient until I saw the bathroom mirror. My eyes scanned it's surface and I wondered if I was brave enough to wipe it clean.
My angelic sister-in-law, Leah, was the last person to clean my mirror. She appeared the day after Jonah's funeral to "help" me clean my house. The whirlwind of visitors, and meals, and grief turned my home upside-down and I desperately needed order. I needed the peace of clean house. Without hesitation she scrubbed my toilet, and mopped my floors. She organized and sanitized while I wandered around aimlessly, occasionally picking up Jonah's things. The emotional weight of each item eventually anchored me to the comfort of my couch, where I spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the ceiling. I wasn't much help. But at the end of the day, the material realm of my home seemed right again, even though everything else seemed wrong.
The next morning I dragged myself out of bed and took a hot shower. I forgot, as usual, to turn the fan on, and the bathroom filled with a thick and heavy steam. I followed my mindless routine: dried my arms and legs, wrapped a towel around me, twisted my hair into a turban, and looked into the bathroom mirror. I was shocked. Five or six perfect little hand prints were scattered across the my newly cleaned yet clouded mirror. My immediate thought was of Jonah. I felt like they were his. My heart accepted them without reservation as a lovely sign from my sweet boy. I stood without moving, and my breathing slowed. I hesitated to open the door, knowing the cool air would destroy the humid sanctuary of my bathroom.
Then my brain started churning. I recognized that I was in the depth of grief, and wondered about my mental state. I began thinking of all the possible explanations. Perhaps my niece and nephew wandered into the bathroom after Leah cleaned. Then I contemplated forensic testing... I thought about measuring the prints and comparing them to the prints we took the day Jonah died. I tried to eyeball their size and shape and to make a mental match. I contemplated how I could know for sure how the prints appeared before me, and who they represented.
And then I stopped. My heart and mind collided and I realized that it didn't matter. Those little hand prints made me think of Jonah. They made me feel him for a moment, and I loved them.
The next time I took a shower I placed my own hand print next to his. And each day that followed, as I have prepared myself to face a world of grief, I have been greeted by five little fingers hovering over my heart in my reflection. I have felt strengthened by the symbol. Those perfect prints remind me of love, and that is why I haven't cleaned my mirror. I haven't felt capable of erasing them.
But Saturday I felt strong. Not strong in a pretend way, or as a way of overcompensating for sorrow. I just felt like I had finally internalized the strength, and hope, and faith that those hand prints represented to me for nine months. I felt like I could let go of the outward symbol and still feel all the love and peace that is represented in his sweet little hands. As I contemplated letting go of this source of strength, I felt confident and peaceful. To me those emotions felt like healing, so I sprayed some Windex, wiped the surface, and gazed at a newer brighter reflection of myself.
The Japanese say that when the spirit departs, it will return once more to the home and leave a message for the person in greatest need. Chieko Okazaki