Finding What’s Lost

I was not young when I lost my mother in the mall; I was probably in my mid 30s. We had walked into the huge department store together, side by side. Once inside, I somehow ended up a few feet behind her, looking at her back as she walked along the front of the store, past the wide-open area between the cashiers and the end of the aisles, and disappeared before my eyes. I was not distracted, not looking at the jewelry for sale on the display case, nor was I studying other customers; there were only a few, and she was not hiding behind them. No, I swear to you, I was looking right at her. One minute she was there, her back to me, walking toward the home goods section. The next, there was only blank space. Panic engulfed me, as though I were a child of four whose greatest fear was the loss of my mother. But I was grown, a mother myself.

“I must have blinked,” I thought, with that fervor that people have to explain the inexplicable. “Mom must have walked down one of the aisles in the time that I was blinking.” And I frantically checked the nearby aisles, looking down their long empty chasms; but I could see down each aisle all the way to the back of the store – and there was no Mom anywhere. There hadn’t been time enough for Mom to get further than that in the time it took me to blink, I reasoned.

The next few moments comprised one of those times we describe by saying, “And time stood still.” For that is how it seemed to me. I thought perhaps I was living in some alternate reality than the reality in which store and everything around me existed. Or, more likely, what I thought was that my mother had disappeared into an alternate reality and left me in the store. By now, dear reader, you are probably asking for a resolution, an explanation of “what really happened,” and, as much as I hate to disappoint, I have to say, nearly fifty years later, that I do not know how it happened, but I remember the moment vividly.

In a short while, I found Mom in the home goods section where we had been headed, and, while all those logical explanations are the ones I usually add to the end of this story when I tell it, I have to be truthful here, and say, to this day, I still believe Mom disappeared. And came back.

Objects have a way of disappearing like that, although the moment of panic is certainly at a different level than losing Mom. For example, yesterday morning, my neighbor, Rosalie, came over for coffee. She brought some babka to share and some bulbs for me to plant in the garden – Winter Aconite, small, low yellow flowers that will bloom in late February or early March. When she came through the sliding doors from my courtyard into my dining room, she handed both to me, explaining how to plant the bulbs. On our way to the kitchen, we stopped in the dining room so that I could show Rosalie the red fabric with a zebra pattern that I had chosen to cover my dining room chairs. Then, we went into the kitchen and sat at the table for our coffee and chat.

When Rosalie left, I looked to see what I had done with the bulbs, which had been in a little plastic bag. It was nowhere to be seen. I traced and retraced my steps between the dining room and the adjacent kitchen several times. I moved the plants on the kitchen table to make sure they hadn’t fallen behind those. I checked through the upholstery swatches. I studied the floor in the dining room and in the kitchen. I even pulled out drawers that I knew I hadn’t opened. Finally, I went through the trash, pulling out every item. Nothing.

Rosemary was always the finder. Our friends turned to her more often than to St. Anthony. When searching for something, she was methodological, always asking the person to walk through what they had been doing, but she mostly relied upon her intuition to guide her, especially with long-lost items. And I trusted her intuition.

So, I went to my phone and texted Rosemary, asking for help. I still text her at least daily, although it has been almost two years since she died. Then, I put the phone down and my eyes made another sweep around the kitchen. There, on the floor, under Rosalie’s chair, was the plastic bag with the bulbs. I texted a quick thank you to Rosemary.

When you move as many times as I have had to move in the past few years, lots of things are lost. I keep a list on my refrigerator of items that I am currently searching for, and I cross them off as they come back into my world. There were two items which were lost in one of the moves that really troubled me. One was a tool box that Rosemary had given me on my 60th birthday, when we celebrated with many friends in the wine cellar of our neighborhood restaurant in the West Village. That toolbox had every kind of tool, and, even though I no longer used most of them, I treasured the gift, because it was from Rosemary on a very happy occasion, and because she knew me well enough to know that the tool box was the perfect gift. The second item whose loss broke my heart was a painting of a mauve tree with many roots that Rosemary had brought home from Taos when she attended a conference in the Southwest. I looked everywhere I could imagine for those two items over a six-month period, to no avail.

Finally, in March, I wrote to a friend who had been brought up Catholic and asked her if she would please pray to St. Anthony to help me find these two items, the tool box and the painting. She wrote back:

You don’t need Catholics to pray to St. Anthony – you can pray to him! Have you asked Rosemary where those two things are? Do you know where/ when you last saw them?

The prayer I use a lot is:

I ask for a most benevolent outcome that: I find those two items. I will pray that you find them too. And just keep visualizing them and acting excited like you found them. You will find them.

Love and hugs


The idea of visualizing how excited I would be when I found these items appealed to me, and I tried it whenever I felt sad about their loss. The summer came and went. In September, I hired a woman who helps people organize their homes, a woman who had helped me several times in the past. Maura is terrific in many ways, but I didn’t realize until she came this fall that she, like Rosemary, is a finder. The first day that she came to help, she found the two shoes for my left foot that matched the two I had for my right foot. Then, when I was at a doctor’s appointment, I received a text from her with a photo of the missing tool box! I was as joyful as I had been in all my imaginings of this happy event.

Later that week, I was writing about the Queen’s death and remembering a tea cup commemorating the Queen’s coronation which my grandmother had owned. I wondered what had ever happened to that tea cup and wished that I still had it, but I didn’t remember having seen it since I was a young girl, ten or eleven years old. I was standing in the pantry with Nanna, who was born and grew up in Canada. The Queen had actually been her Queen, she explained. My mother might eventually have had the cup, I thought, and probably the auction guy I hired took it when he went through her condo, collecting saleable items from all that my mother could not take to her assisted living apartment.

I finished writing the piece I was working on and sat in my recliner to rest. Maura was working in the living room, emptying some boxes that I had not unpacked. I heard her at the door and looked up. There she was, holding the Queen’s tea cup! “I’ll bet this is even more valuable now,” she said, referring to the Queen’s death just days earlier. She put the tea cup and saucer on the bookcase, where it still sits.

In Lost and Found, Kathryn Schulz writes about the Valley of Lost Things, and “the curious and long-standing habit of the human mind to try to gather all…lost objects together in one place,” a place which “has haunted our collective imagination for centuries.”[i]  She mentions that lovely verse from the recent version of Mary Poppins, where Mary explains to the children that their mother is just on the other side of the moon,[ii] a commonly imagined destination.  I had never visualized where things went when they disappeared, but I did like the notion that they were somewhere, because then it seemed more possible that they could be restored to my worldly experience.

When something went to wherever things go, I tended to go into an immediate spin, sure it was “gone forever.” With Rosemary to help me, though, I learned a degree of patience, an ability to stay calm longer in that period between when things disappear and when they return. Whenever I lost an item, Rosemary would wait a few minutes before reacting, and during that pause, I was inclined to report, “I found it.” And she would look at me and grin. So now, when I lose something valuable, “Don’t panic,” I say to myself, “It will return,” and, most of the time, it does.

When Rosemary died, even though logically, I knew she was “gone forever,” my psyche refused to accept it. Didn’t all those other lost items return in due time? I used what I had learned about patience. “I just have to wait,” some part of me said to myself, “She is just in that somewhere place. Like my mother lost in the mall, she will return.” I think that is why, during those first months after she died, some part of me kept expecting her to be waiting for me in each new place I ventured, or at home when I returned. “One of these times,” that part of me that doesn’t respond to reason argued, “one of these times, she will be there.” Rosemary had taught me that “gone forever” was my alarmist self speaking.

The list of lost items on my refrigerator door waxes and wanes. Rosemary’s name is not written on that list. I don’t want visitors to think I am senile. But I know her name is there, along with the mug that said “Some of my favorite people call me Nanna” and the glass top of a planter that I hid when the flooring guys came to install new floors. The painting of the mauve tree that Rosemary brought back from Taos is still on the list too. It has not come back yet, but I can see it in my mind’s eye, and I will be filled with joy when it appears. The title of the painting is painted across the bottom of the purple tree with many roots. It says, “Finding That Which Is Not Lost.”

Where the Lost Things Go

From Mary Poppins

So when you need her touch
And loving gaze
Gone but not forgotten
Is the perfect phrase
Smiling from a star
That she makes glow
Trust she’s always there
Watching as you grow
Find her in the place
Where the lost things go

[i] Schulz, Kathryn. “Lost and Found.” New York: Random House, 2022, p. 30-31.


10 thoughts on “Finding What’s Lost

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  1. Nice to have you on my mind. This piece seems timely, with the losing of sunlight each day, which
    I would love to be able to bring back but cannot. Happy Fall! Barbara

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a lovely, lovely post. I can imagine your mother disappearing seeing as how she was pretty magical! Thank you for stirring such hope in me for lost things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brenda, that was beautiful and sad. It hit so many emotional chords with me. I am going to take more time to digest it but I wanted you to know how it touched me. Definitely worth the wait! Jody


    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your “Finding What’s Lost” post. I can relate! Susan would walk me through the “‘where and when did you use it last’ process with uncanny success. She has been gone 4 years, but I still call upon her for help to find that critical lost item that has been eluding this solitary mortal. Your Canadian Cousin, Mahlon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I started reading this a couple of days ago but something interrupted me and I knew I could come back to it. That it would not be lost to me .
    And this morning I found it again. Read from the beginning this deeply moving, lovely meditation on things lost, found, and somewhere else.
    Thank you, Brynna!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful, as always. Reading it I recalled Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking”, where she held on to her late husband’s clothes, in case he came back. xx00, Kathi


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