Biyee, Bee-ach

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There was a time when I would scoff at the notion of a whole year being bad. I would internally roll my eyes and externally offer Pollyanna platitudes on the unlikelihood that a whole year could be bad. “A year is just time,” I’d say as I would tilt my head just so and bat my eyelashes. “Time is neutral.”

That is true. And time, like everything else, is made good, bad or neutral by our perceptions.

My perception is 2017 is crap. There. I said it. Pollyanna is withering in the corner like a forgotten houseplant. However, with a little water and sunshine, she’ll be back. She’s tenacious. She is simply incubating, hibernating. I feel she has big plans.

To review, you may recall I came out guns blazing for the GIANT PURGE. I started the year counting all my things, tossing bags of things away, taking multiple trunk loads of things to charities and selling some other things. I was disgusted with everything I had accumulated and equally proud of my recent ‘stuff’ enlightenment.

Then a phone call at the end of January shifted everything. My mother was found unconscious in her home and had been transported to a hospital. She had had a massive brain bleed from which she could not and would not recover. Her passing was peaceful, but sudden. Her death likely caused by the medication meant to keep her alive. A known side effect.

Death is a known side effect of life, after all.

While trying to manage my grief – that’s a joke by the way, grief has its own agenda – I was also now tasked with managing her service and her stuff. She was on the edge of hoarding. She did not buy useless trinkets and appliances she would not use, but fabrics, yarn, beads, and crafting supplies she had big plans for. She owned hundreds of books (as do I) and had stacks of magazines that doubled as end tables. Baskets full of crystals, motivational and affirmation cards, CDs and sticky notes everywhere.  Now it was all mine. A two-bedroom apartment two hours away full of her stuff and some family memories. And her life.

Was this a cosmic joke? I decide to purge and now I have an additional whole house to deal with?  It wasn’t so funny. I would learn in the 11 months to follow that the Universe has a very wicked sense of irony. But it’s all for my growth, right?

To summarize:

  • A mentally ill cheeto gets sworn in as president and my mother checks out.
  • It is left to me to sort, keep, purge and organize her stuff, her service and my own grief
  • A planned trip to India to take others began with a hotel fire in Delhi. Like the hotel I was in.
  • Larry (the hubs) begins suffering from serious insomnia. It gets much worse.
  • Bills for my mother are still pouring in. I don’t have to pay them. I can ignore them. Only I can’t. There seems to be some sort of urgency to them.
  • There are countless doctor’s appointments, reiki and acupuncture for Larry that I have to schedule and drive him to because he is tired and dizzy. Nothing seems to be working.
  • My anniversary is forgotten. And I angrily don’t care.
  • He’s out of work. Short-term disability. A planned trip to Europe is looking threatened in the face of his malaise. I assemble a team of helpers and decide to leave. I need to leave. I have not had any space to myself for months and I’m at a breaking point.
  • While in Berlin we hear news of a little disturbance in the Atlantic named Irma. Shit. I did not return until two days after she marched across my state. There was quite a bit of physical and mental clean-up to contend with. I felt I had to make amends for not being there.
  • Anxiety is a new side effect of the insomnia. More doctor’s appointments, less sleep.
  • Thanksgiving is at risk, the holidays are becoming more stressful.
  • Christmas parties become the impetus for arguments and ramped up anxiety, decorations are delayed and the Christmas Spirit is hiding somewhere in the attic. I have gained 15 pounds in the last four months.

Instead of releasing all my stuff to create more space, both physical and mental, I was given more. More actual things to go through, more situations to navigate, more challenges.

Be careful what you wish for.

But here’s the thing: there is always beauty and magic. One year can be defining, it can be difficult. One incident in the year cannot define it. The beating down every time I got back up, the ground shifting underneath me as soon as I felt stable – that can define a year. But more importantly it can define me.

Growth is messy and hard. It sucks. Can I just say that? I’m in the business of growth and self-development and it sucks. And it’s necessary. And it’s beautiful.

Here’s the other side:

  • I am reminded of my abundance by the things I have in my home. I am grateful for all of it even as I release it.
  • The loss of my mother brings with it the love and appreciation of so many whose lives were touched by her. I am able to be with her things and in her home and to take as long as I need thanks to an understanding landlord on her end and amazing business partners and friends on mine.
  • I get to go back to my spiritual home with my friend Karin, and actually take new people to share it. I meet a Vedic astrologer named Mustang Jack who told me what I already knew but was afraid to embrace. I get to see my Indian friends and be soothed by the rush of the healing waters of the Ganges.
  • After India my journey continued with Karin to Spain where we drank delicious wine, watched flamenco dancers and took trains to amazing places.
  • A little overnight trip for my birthday took the hubs and I to a remote island with white sandy beaches where we sat silently together to witness a stunning sunset.
  • The insomnia and whatever else was going on created space and opportunity for real, honest and meaningful conversations between Larry and I.
  • I boarded a plane to Switzerland alone and spent three glorious, healing days finding my own way through two cities and wandering along riverbanks before joining a friend.
  • My friend Sarah met me in Zurich and we traveled to Berlin, Prague, Salzburg and Munich taking in the culture, architecture and food. I got to see the Fred and Ginger building live and in person!
  • My brother booked a flight to come for Christmas.
  • People are coming out of the woodwork that have suffered through insomnia or anxiety or both to offer support and advice to Larry. He’s not alone.
  • Friendsgiving. Amazing food, awesome friends, laughter and intimate conversations under warm low light
  • My brother, niece and son were all here for the holidays. We drank a lot, ate a lot and played reindeer games.

All in all it was just a year. The waves were higher, the water more turbulent. But stormy skies make way for the best sunsets. I learned more about myself through these challenges and some of it was not pretty. At all. But I believe I did purge. I was able to peel away some of the layers of pretense and armor.

I didn’t often ask for help, mostly space, but everyone I considered a friend offered so much support and love and even those I didn’t know that well became little lights in the darkness through their kindnesses.

It was just a year. It’s all perspective.

As I write this on January 1, 2018, it is raining, cold and windy. That feels somehow appropriate. Cleansing. Preparing for the journey ahead that will be this year.

 

Inheritance

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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.

 

 

 

 

Mattering

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I’ve been absent for about 10 days. I have a really good reason: someone close to me passed away. It was unexpected and sad, but ultimately beautiful and freeing. For her.

I, on the other hand, have been gifted the bulk of her possessions. And it’s a lot. She had a two bedroom apartment stuffed with books, creative project pieces and parts, clothes and the normal belongs of a life richly lived.

The Universe can be douchily ironic. Just as I am in the process of purging and letting go I am presented with a whole house of stuff to manage.

I am not being intentionally insensitive, it is just that I am on the business end of handling this parting. Grief comes in waves mixed with laughter and sweet memories. For now, though, the sorting of that life is the task at hand.

It’s always a process.

In sorting through the markers of her life I am both compelled to keep special tokens and simultaneously light a match and walk away.

There will be no fires.

At first glance the items surrounding me point to a life of abundance. But on closer inspection I find evidence of something more akin to lack and fear. Where one stick of deodorant would suffice I find 4. All the same. Five tall bookcases line the walls of the craft studio. They are packed with scraps of fabric, beads, books on creative endeavors, sewing materials, patterns, paper, glue. There are two computers, a sewing machine and a closet stuffed with mystery. A million tiny notes are scattered about. Half as many projects begun then abandoned.

Elsewhere in the home 3 large bookcases are full of books, sometimes two rows deep, a few photos and other mementos dot the shelves. Stacks of books rest next to the spots most frequented, magazines teeter on tables, the freezer is stuffed with food, the refrigerator the same. The walls are covered in artwork and photos with still more framed pieces leaning against walls waiting for a vacancy. And appliances requested sit in boxes unused.

It is a very accurate representation of its occupant: homey, messy in that creative way and lived in. It’s welcoming and feels safe.

But it’s a lesson. In stuff, in love, in fear, in recognizing what is necessary. In recognizing what is true.

I will continue to sort through belongings, donating many to the faceless masses, gifting some to friends of the deceased and keeping a touchstone or two.

There are boxes full of love – letters, cards, photos of trips and good times – that were perhaps felt and then forgotten. Mementos of troubleless times. (I will study these.) But they were not powerful enough to convince the beholder of her worth. Perhaps for a moment, but long term this sense of ‘not-good-enoughness’ would take a seat beside her.

Receiving things, temporarily created peace. Until they didn’t and more things would be desired, procured. She wasn’t a hoarder, but may have been heading in that direction.

The biggest gift I am getting from this experience will not take up any space in my home. It is the recognition of my own self-worth, my place in the universe. That I matter.

She mattered too, so much more than she could accept and believe. She heard the words over and over again from so many people how she had made a life-changing difference to them, how she had given them peace when they thought none existed, how she awakened in them a creative spirit they didn’t know they had. But she didn’t receive those words, she didn’t integrate them. She wore them for a short time, shared them with those close to her as external evidence of her worth, then shed them like dead skin.

In sorting and purging her things I am infected with a sense of melancholy. In purging my own things and letting go I am left bare, all raw nerves and sensitive teeth. It’s necessary. At times I am elated and giddy. It’s a cleansing with far deeper implications than a tidy home. It’s a liberation. And it’s a process.