Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday's Reflections: Vintage Handkerchiefs for When Tears Come

One of my traditions when someone in my circle of life dies is to send a vintage handkerchief to one who mourns. For when tears come. 

Over the years of collecting antiques I have gathered quite a lovely stash of these colorful floral and holiday-themed hankies. Carnations, roses, tulips, lily of the valley. Scalloped or lace-edged. I  recently washed and ironed the heart-filled Valentine hankies I used in February, and when I put them back in a drawer, I noticed hankies wishing a Happy Birthday, given to me by friends who know I always have a hanky in my purse and one tucked in a pocket. I have a few state-themed hankies--Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio--and recalled how I had attempted to collect one for each of the 50 states, but they are long gone, having sold them in garage sales or at one of the antique mall booths we used to have. One especially fun hanky in my collection illustrates the calorie count for favorite foods like strawberries  or almonds or even a scotch and soda! In the square with a picture of a box of candy it says "danger." Too cute. 

When I packed for my trip to attend this recent funeral, I ironed a fresh hanky to fold into the sympathy card for my dear friend whose husband had just died and one for me, too, for I knew it would be hard to hold back the tears when I saw my friend in her newly-widowed state. 

When I unpacked after returning home, I added to the pile of laundry the rumpled, slightly damp hanky I held onto as I approached my friend during the visitation before the funeral itself. She has been a good and faithful servant. Steadfast during her husband's long illness. I don't know the whole story, and I don't need to know more, but perhaps someday I will, if it is helpful for her to share it. If and when she does, I hope I will have hankies handy. For when the tears come.

Sometimes when I sit with a spiritual director, tears fill the eyes--hers and mine. Sometimes the directee is embarassed, and if so, I try to reassure that if tears come, it is because they must. They signal a moment of truth, of light, of release, of depth and new understanding, of love and connection. 

In a way I am not surprised I have collected these vintage hankies, for I am someone who cries easily. I cry when I feel something deeply and when I am touched by the poignancy of someone else's feelings, whether I know them or not. Sometimes my tears have gotten in the way of complex and sometimes painful conversations that need to occur, bringing a difficult discourse to a halt. Long ago, however, a therapist told me I could learn to talk through my tears. Having a hanky in my hand helps. 

Unfortunately, my supply of these vintage hankies is diminishing, and I need to replenish my supply of sympathy cards routinely, as well, for the need seems to arise more frequently. Yes, we  are touched by loss more often the longer we live. That can't be avoided, and it is good to be ready. Therefore, my handkerchiefs are folded neatly in a pile in a drawer scented by a lavender sachet. For when the tears come. 

An Invitation
What loss or event or feeling has caused you to cry recently? What do you do when the tears come? I would be honored to know.  


  1. My collection of hankies from my mother and ones with lace edging tatted by my grandmother go to my special friends and family when they become the mother of the bride or groom. I have kept one for myself in hopes that I can take on that role.

  2. Oh, yes, I hope that is in your future (near future!), too. The big events of one's life are good reason for a hanky.


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