Tomorrow it will be a month since my mother passed away. It was unexpected. Nearly a decade ago she had surgery to replace a heart valve. After that she had lots of energy and spunk but she would be on medicine for the rest of her life. It is that medication that is likely responsible for her death. “A catastrophic bleed.” A stroke, she simply laid down in bed one night really tired and never regained consciousness – it’s how she wanted to go, but probably not when.
I share this with you not to elicit sympathy or use her life as a cautionary tale, but by way of explanation for my absence from the interweb. And to share a little story about a lot of stuff.
In the weeks since she died I have been handling her “estate” and its contents. She had no money, was on social security and Medicaid, but her modest two-bedroom apartment told a different story.
My mother was not a hoarder, but she did have an affinity for all things crafty and written. She had three enormous bookshelves packed with books – floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall, sometimes two rows deep. She had one bedroom, the larger one, dedicated to crafts. She sewed, knitted, made jewelry, painted, drew, fantasized, dreamed and created all sorts of things in this space. She had 5 bookcases in this room filled with fabric, beads, yarn, paper and more books. Two desks for working. And when those filled up she opened a table.
Her closet and dresser were packed with clothes, good quality, known brands, yet she often complained that she needed new clothes. She had items stored in her kitchen that she never used. At least a dozen cups full of notepads and pens, crochet hooks and feathers, dotted the landscape of her home. She had multiples of personal care items like deodorant and soap – different brands, not like she bought them in bulk – just in case, I suppose.
Dealing with her home and its contents provided a welcome distraction from grief for a while, but in the larger picture it was full of life lessons on prosperity, abundance and stuff. It felt like a cruel joke at first: this is my year of letting go of stuff, of purging my home and now I have added a whole (almost) two bedroom apartment to the mix. It wasn’t about me of course, only it was.
It was a lesson for me. So many lessons, some still being revealed.
I brought a lot of her things home, but I was also able to off-load a ton of the fabric and craft supplies to a crafters guild she belonged to, I left some furniture behind for her neighbor and donated some clothes and kitchen items to the local charity thrift shop. But I still filled 6 car loads, an SUV and one of those super tall vans.
It overwhelms me, but it was very clear to me that I wanted to take my time with what I culled. And I’m glad that I am. There’s not much of monetary value, but a lot of memories and clues to the woman that was my mother.
I was completely prepared after this “year-long purging project” to chuck all my personal things and never look back. That could still happen, but as I paw through the personal effects of a life that spanned 75 years, and a handful of states from coast to coast, I’m starting to recognize value in things.
Not all things. I am not changing my tune completely.
But finding the book my mother read to me as a child stirred the sweetest of memories. All the bad artwork my brother and I created as children was saved, as were a tiny outfit or two, a blanket, locks of hair.
I uncovered a poem my grandmother wrote and some of her artwork. Tucked in a folder I found an autobiography my mother had written for admittance to ministerial school that revealed a few things I did not know. And a mountain of cards and letters from my mother’s friends showed her to be much loved.
While it’s true the memories do not live in these things, they do serve as a touchstone that creates a picture of the person who elected to hold onto them. These things convey what was important to her, what mattered. It’s a comfort.
I have already released many items. I just needed to touch them, to take my time with them, learn something from them, investigate. But now, they have served their purpose. I am slower in giving up photos and items she made and maybe I’ll always hold onto them. I have set aside a few items I know she particularly loved. But I have also been able to gift specific books and items to my friends who are a perfect match.
I have let go of the self-judgment that would have forced me to toss them before I was ready. My mission for my own home. Instead I am learning the value of a few items to bring comfort.
My mission for my home, even with her stuff in it, is still the same. I am going to go through everything and release that which does not serve me or bring me happiness. This was never about living in an empty home, but about lightening up, I just have more stuff to go through now.
It’s a process, a journey, and like all journey’s it’s made much sweeter by taking time and moving mindfully.