I carry her with me wherever I go. As the years have passed, the acute loss has dulled into an amorphous ache that is a constant companion. But, at the same time, I feel like she’s still here. It’s tangible.

You see, I carry my mother’s keychain with me. This keychain was a constant presence in my mother’s purse and in my memories. Since my mother, an avid antique collector for many years, found this keychain, it has always been a conversation piece. A silver handle from a spoon (maybe a fork?), with the utensil part long ago cut off and the rest of the handle bent over. A ring was inserted, and thus the former utensil became a keychain.

As the only daughter, I was given the responsibility of giving away some of her more personal effectsThis keychain was a part of my mother’s purse for as long as I can remember. In a way, it was just part of who she was. I remember going with her to antique shows as kid, walking along with her as we went from booth to booth, looking for that interesting piece of something. Original Coca-Cola memorabilia, an antique letter folder embroidered and covered with silk, a lockbox there, or an interesting picture to hang on the wall. Every table a profusion of tchatchkas, a sight for a young girl’s eyes to behold. Some of the things were shined to perfection, others still had a thin layer of dust on them, but all were treasures waiting for the right collector to come and claim. I know that she got this keychain at one of those shows, though I was too young to remember the actual purchase.

After she died, we began the arduous task of going through her personal effects. Sitting at the dining-room table with my brother, father and my mothers’ siblings, we started talking about “what she would have wanted everyone to have.” As the only daughter, I was given the responsibility of giving away some of her more personal effects. My fingers were already trembling at the thought of this task. Rings, bracelets and necklaces were given to those that wanted them. But my thoughts were on the keychain. As we sat around the table and talked about some of the more “signature” of her pieces (“That ring—I remember when she bought it. She wore it every day!”), my thoughts shifted to the keychain. I slowly took it out of her purse. With shaking hands, I put it on the table. The silence was deafening. “I think I am going to take this,” I said. Everyone looked and sighed. “Oh, that keychain—that is just such a way to remember your mother. She had that thing for years,” said my aunt. With an ever-so-slight hesitation she added, “It’s yours, take it.” With a trembling, sweaty hand, I curled my fingers around the cool metal. As I did so, I felt her right there, next to me.

The years have passed, and life has changed quite a bit. But the tangible piece of her sits in my purse, and the emotional one sits in my heart. She is still here. I see her in the day-to-day events that go by. The tantrum handled deftly (or not). The dinner made well (or not). The closet organized (okay, really not). Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what she would have thought about the way things are now. Our family has grown, and moved across the world, but I feel that she is still here.

Reading this, you may think that everything was rosy, that she was the perfect mother who never lost her temper, who stayed home to make sure that there were fresh cookies coming out of the oven as we walked in the door. She wasn’t. Instead, she was a different kind of heroine. Life had sent her many challenges. She had been forced to leave her first-choice college due to a lack of funds—a direct result of her father’s untimely death. Incredibly brilliant, she never felt as though she fulfilled her full potential, due to the lack of prospects for women at the time. Stricken with cancer in her 40s, the doctors predicted her death within a few years. However, with her typical indomitable strength, she outlived all the predictions. Living an additional 11 years, she completed her Ph.D., saw her both of her kids graduate from college and marry, and see her first grandchild.

She taught me that we are given choices in this world, but giving up is never a choiceIt can be intimidating, living up to that standard. But I always carry it with me. The keychain is a reminder of what I can accomplish; the weight and the coolness of the silver are an anchor that tethers me to all that I hold dear. Since her death, I have faced many of my own challenges. These challenges have forced me to grow into a better person than I would have if not for her example. Never one to cower in the face of hardship, my mother was one who forged on. As I try to emulate. She taught me that we are given choices in this world, but giving up is never a choice. And, now that she is gone, these are the final acts of chesed, of lovingkindness, that I can still do for her. Living a life of mitzvah observance, and being strong for my family, are ways by which I can continue to elevate her soul and keep her alive in some way.

I still have that keychain. It continues to be a conversation piece, and with my growing family, it has at times become a teething ring. Its metal has held its shape, the engraving still clear, as there is still nary a scratch on it. I would like to believe that I can also carry on, regardless of the knocks that I get. Mom, you are gone from this world, but not far from my life. I hope that I stay as strong as your keychain.