The Towel

You can catch a big whiff of a peach cobbler baking in the oven,  the smell of crayons in a zip41578062129_.pic.jpgper bag, maybe you have a visual memory of something, or hear a sound that suddenly transports you back in time.  Hopefully to a good time in your life.

Sometimes you crave the smell of a good memory.  I will always  relate the scent of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo to the last time I kissed my son while he was conscious.  I took a long deep breath and took in the smell of the top of his head which smelled of fresh washed hair and baby shampoo. This was right before he was headed into his final surgery. I will never forget that moment in time. I will never forget that smell.

On the other hand, the smell of a carnation stirs up  memories of my son’s funeral. We received hundreds of floral arrangements, literally hundreds from friends and family offering a timeless and thoughtful gesture of celebrating my young son’s life at his funeral. To this day, though I do not like the smell of a carnation. They remind me of death.

My mother passed away in September, 2019. I was fortunate to be able to fly home from China to spend the last few hours of her life with her.  She died at her home of more than 50 years.  After her funeral, we were dealt with the task of sorting through her personal belongings and preparing her home for sale.

Many memories came flooding back of my childhood, of my mother, of all the time spent in that house. 

I think every home has its own distinct smell. My mom’s house is no different. Walking in the front door of my parent’s home always said you were home, simply because it had the same smell it always had as I was growing up.

Memories and emotions are intertwined. I have many memories of the time I spent in that house. But now, knowing I will never go back stirs up many emotions.  Knowing a big part of my life is behind me and gone, knowing the house is a place I will never return, does stir up emotion.  

I knew I had to return to Beijing shortly after my mom’s funeral so I was hurriedly trying to help sort and organize the house and everything inside.  

Digging through the desk drawers, closets and basement brought back many memories, both good and bad.  I knew I didn’t have much time to help with the sorting.  I knew I probably would never be back in the house.

On the day before I returned to Beijing, I opened the hall closet where she kept her linens.  I picked up a purple towel and gave a big, deep inhale.  It smelled of home. It smelled of the good times and not so good times, but it was home. 

I put the towel down, took a final look around and walked out the door.  I drove down the street heading back to my house and was almost home.  I decided to go back to my moms house.  I needed that purple towel. 

I went back inside her house, opened the closet and took the towel.  I went home and packed it in my suitcase. I needed to take the smell with me.


It’s been a rough couple of months for numerous reasons, but I have the towel.  It is on the shelf with the other towels in the bathroom here in my little apartment in Beijing.  

Recently, I really needed to be in Tulsa, however I couldn’t physically be there due to our nation’s tax laws and working abroad. So, I took the towel down and just pressed it against my face, taking in all the memories of home and just counted the minutes until I could be there again.  It was an emotional evening but I was so thankful to have the purple towel to provide a small bit of comfort during this time.

I debated using the towel, but instead I put it back up on the shelf, tucked in amongst the others. I see it everyday. I imagine I will pull it back down in February and give it another inhale, as this is my son’s birthday month.

It is comforting to have a scent so close that you can have instant memories of days gone by.  The scent is starting to fade, but somehow I think that old purple towel will always provide comfort to me during my stay in China, even without the scent as I still have the visual memory of driving back to my mom’s house one more time and taking it from the closet.  Life can suck sometimes, if you let it. But instead, grab your purple towel and think of all the happy memories of days gone by.

Here’s to wishing all of you your own purple towel when times seem difficult.

About cessley

I am a bereaved parent. I write to give hope to other bereaved parents who are fresh in their grief. I want them to know life begins again. It (life) is forever changed, as are you, but one day, you will smile again. You may travel, you will make new friends, your heart will mend, though never heal and it will be a painful ride. It is one step at a time....sometimes, even one breath to the next is all we can seem to live through each day. But each day will be a new beginning, a different beginning, a different you. I have two surviving children: Amy, who is married to Brandon, and they have one daughter, Avery, and one son, Dylan. and Eric who is a doctor and is Clifton's twin brother. Clifton passed away when he was nearly two years old. As any bereaved parent knows, it is tough, REALLY tough trying to live after the death of a child. I lived in Shanghai, China for three years after the death of my son, and then lived in Beijing for two years. I am discovering life again, one step at a time. I returned to Oklahoma in February , 2020 due to the uncertainty of the virus. Little did I know the uncertainty would follow me across the ocean. This is nothing compared to the death of a child. I will survive! View all posts by cessley

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