Tokens, Symbols and True Knowing

Because she died in a tubing accident, the personal effects we received with Cameron’s body didn’t amount to much. A bathing suit, a hair tie and a silicone bracelet.  There was a wetsuit, too. It wasn’t ours.

The hair tie she had around her wrist.  She wore it to create a tan line.  There was a slight line when she came home.  Only I knew to look. I have the bathing suit and hair tie in my room at home.  The hair tie doesn’t fit on my wrist, it’s a bit too snug but I wanted to keep it, to keep it separate from all the other hair ties in our home.  I wonder who took the things off of her?  When?  Was there was any conscious thought or ceremony involved?  I think it must have been Phil, the funeral director in Toowoomba.  I wear the silicone bracelet every day.

On the middle finger of my left hand, I now wear a ring I gave Cameron.   It has two interlocked hearts.  Unlike the other things I wear, I don’t take the pink bracelet off and I wear the ring all the time, too.  Even at yoga. They have become part of me, like my engagement ring, wedding band and earrings.

On my right wrist I wear the purple “Cameron and Paris” bracelet SPSG had made last year.  The 10th grade girls sold them as a fundraiser – we’ll use the proceeds from the sale to plant a tree in Cameron’s honor and a butterfly bush for Paris.

The silicone bracelets are visible reminders of the girls and they symbolize part of their story.  I find it fascinating how they bookend each other.  Paris was wearing her pink one when she died, too.  They form a version of “before” and “after.”

I wear three necklaces every day.  One connected to me the very day she died.  I couldn’t recall the specifics about it but I knew Cameron had had me buy a dog tag that was designed by Nick Jonas and supported his diabetes fundraising/education efforts.  I also know she wore it when she needed extra courage and on special occasions.  If you look carefully, you can see the chain in almost all of the photos where she is wearing dress clothes.

Imagine my surprise when I googled it that night – the 5th of April – and was reminded of the inscription:  “Just a little bit longer and I’ll be fine.”   There are no coincidences.

I ordered three that night – after I shouted out the inscription to Kylie and Tim, they, understandably, wanted one, too.  But get this, when our three came, they were cheap imitations of the original.  Same content, ordered from the same place but clearly a different and cheaper version perhaps from a different vendor. Guess what I did?  I kept hers, the “real” one as my own and we buried Cameron wearing the “imitation” one.  On to the dog tag chain – next to Nick I placed a tchotchke from another necklace.  You rarely see it hanging there but I know.  It says “sisters’ and has two hearts on it.  I gave matching necklaces one year to my girls.  I want to honor their sisterhood.

The second necklace I wear is the one she chose for me when she went on the SPSG trip to Costa Rica in the 8th grade.  I used to only wear it intermittently.  Perhaps not even enough.  But I started wearing it again in January before she died.  I wonder, too, about that sometimes – there are no coincidences.  The shirts I got from JoAnna and Gram for Christmas has the exact color purple in them.  The necklace complemented the shirts and the shirts the necklace.  I am sure it made her proud that I wore it.  I am grateful that I wore it more those final few months.

The third necklace I wear is from Angus Wilson.  It’s a beautiful piece of “adult” jewelry. Better suited, perhaps, to Sandie his wife and Cameron’s “upgrade” of a mother.  In fact, Sandie and Angus and I laughed a little in New York about his buying me jewelry.  I’m not much of a fashionista.  I am so proud to wear it.  I honor the Wilson’s and the gifts they gave Cameron ever morning when I put it on.  The beautiful butterfly reminds me of Paris and how carefree Cameron felt when she was there in Australia.  How light of being.  How loved. As I write this, on the back deck of Lara and Tim’s place in the Bahamas, I can see all three of my necklaces reflecting in the screen’s monitor.  There are no coincidences. I smile – seeing them as I write this.

I have a fourth necklace too – are you thinking now that maybe, just maybe, I look like a professional athlete with all my “bling?”  I don’t.  Even if I did, I wouldn’t care. I’m just not the type to be overly worried about what others think about me.  What’s the sense in that?    The fourth one I only wear around my neck when I don’t have pockets.  Most every day, I am able to loop it around a belt loop and place the two dangling Team Jonas Fan Club emblems in my left pocket.  One of the emblems is on a guitar pick.  Cameron learned to play the guitar after she quit basketball.  There are no coincidences.

When I put the necklaces on in the morning and when I take them off at night, I repeat a mantra to myself.  “I love you – the Nick one I bought for her; you love me – the Costa Rica one she bought me; and we both love the Jonas Brothers – the fan club one.  And then there is the Wilson’s – acknowledging Paris’ butterfly.”   There are lots of stories about butterflies.  I’ll have to remember to write about them, too.

Around my left ankle I wear a leather bracelet with beads.  Kylie’s name is etched on one of the beads and Cameron’s on another.  You see, I isn’t just Cameron I carry with me each day in my heart and through my tokens.  I carry Kylie, too.  There is the love for her as my daughter, my first born and the love I have for her as the sole surviving child.  The big sister whose little sister went away on a dream come true trip and never came back.

In my back pocket – usually the left but today I only have a right pocket on these shorts – I carry two pocket-sized cards by Blue Mountain Arts.   They are number 430 and 463.    I bought them at a gas station convenience store near BWI.

One I gave to Cameron a long time ago, probably around the time she turned thirteen.  She always kept it on the nightstand next to her bed.  She didn’t take it to Australia.  I’d like to think it is because she knew it by heart having had it for years.

                                                      For My Teenager          


I have so many wishes for you.  I want

you to be safe, smart, cautious, and

wise beyond your years.  Don’t grow

up too fast.  Come to me with your

fears.  Get your feet wet with new

experiences, but never get in over

your head.  Realize how capable you

are!  Your possibilities are

unlimited.  You are loved

beyond words, and I will

love you beyond all

time.  So many treasures

await you in your journey

through life, and being blessed with you….

has been mine.

Here is the second one:


From Mother to Daughter

In your life, if I could give you

a very special gift, it would be this.

When you look in the mirror in

the days ahead, may you smile a

hundred times more than frowning

at what you see.  Smile because

you know that a loving, capable¸

sensible, strong, precious person is

reflected there.

And when you look at me,

may you remember

how very much I love you…

and how much I’ll always care.

~ Laurel Atherton

I tucked the second one in the things I sent with her to Australia.  We buried her with copies of these cards.  I frequently told her how much I loved and respected her.  Yet, we both didn’t mind when I found small ways to reinforce the message.

I wear her clothes now, too.  Not all of them.  You’d have to double check with Kylie or Kate but I think I have enough sense to try to choose tasteful, age-appropriate clothes.  Cameron was born right before I turned 33 – did you know that her official due date was my birthday?  I always said I “didn’t want to share my birthday.”  Really what I didn’t want is for Kylie’s first day of her new preschool to be interrupted by my giving birth.  Ever the wise one, Kylie at two told me that “it wasn’t nice to not want to share with the baby.”  I stopped saying that about September 7th.  Cameron and I were 32 years and 10 days apart.  At least we used to be.  Kylie and I will always be 30 years apart but now that Cameron will be forever 16, I’ll start aging without her.

Sometimes I sleep in her bed.  There were a few times in the earliest days when I didn’t want to be in my bed – the one week anniversary comes to mind so clearly and I think there was one other.  Now, however, I give up my room as the guest room (the 3rd floor is sometimes too hot and now it’s too messy) and I move over there.  I wish the room had a hold on me. I wish it made me feel happy or sad – just something when I stay in there.  It seems to have no power.  It’s a room, her room for sure but it hardly even smells like her anymore.

Saturday will mean it’s been 7 months since she died; 8 months since she left for Australia. She left on the 5th and died on the 5th. There are no coincidences.

Rituals and tokens are mere symbols.  I know that. I took the pink bracelet and heart ring off only once since she died.  Kylie wanted me to go in the Atlantic Ocean with her in Rehoboth this past summer.  Something her sissy would have done every day.  I took them off because I was afraid of losing them in a rough wave.  Things didn’t feel any different when I did.  The same “no change” occurred when the pocket sized “poney” that I had given her ran away.  I carried that “poney” with me from my first trip here to the Bahamas in April until Sunday of Labor Day weekend when I realized he had headed for other pastures as I made my way back from a wonderful weekend in Charlottesville.

I wish things had felt different, when I lost my “poney” or when I took my ring and bracelet off.  I wish I’d felt a diminishment of self. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the bracelet really did have an actual connection point between her and me; like an electric current, a lifeline?  Then we’d know that she had the capacity to find me on the other side of that line and I her.

Rituals and Tokens are mere symbols.  Cameron’s love, her presence, can stay with me.  But to be carried on by me, she must exist inside me.  External things are reminders – ways of acknowledging and honoring her each day.  In the end, however, it is my life, my purpose, my being that will continue to live.  To love.  To thrive.  I must find a way to see that what she and I had/have carries forward with me each day. The memories we made and the choices I make are how I honor her now.  How I will water the secret garden that grows in the place where our love resides.

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