It’s been 10 months since my mum died, and we’re still struggling to clean out the house. We knew she was a saver, and had joked for years about “Heaven help us when the time comes…” But I don’t think any of us truly comprehended the magnitude of the task — I, for one, figured all 7 of us would pitch in for a couple weeks and just get it done.
I kid you not when I say my mother saved virtually everything. From her entire 93-year life. The ridiculous as well as the practical, with very little discrimination about what was important or valuable and what was not. From big pieces of furniture to tiny, unidentifiable doohickeys from some long-broken trinket — in her eyes, it was worth saving. A product of the Depression, she simply did not throw things away.
And don’t get me wrong — the house did not look like an episode of Hoarders. She wasn’t living in chaos or squalor. Things were generally “redd up” (basement and attic notwithstanding). But every possible unvisible nook and cranny in a large, three-story house that could be filled with something was filled with something. And for us, her post-middle-age children, it’s like opening a time capsule of not only our long-forgotten pasts, but of her past, long before any of us came to be.
It’s overwhelming. It’s maddening. It’s bittersweet. It’s caused endless laughter as well as a few tears and frustrations that really only the 7 of us can understand or appreciate.
It makes me wish, on any given day, both that I could just turn the keys over to a clean-up company and say, “Here, make it go away,” and that I had a big empty room at home that I could bring a thousand things to to save, share here on the blog, or possibly eBay away at my leisure. The memorabilia alone is fascinating — pamphlets and cookbooks from the war years; ads from a fancy radio or hi-fi my dad had coveted; the sales receipt from their 1949 stove (still in use in the kitchen), heck, the sales receipt from her flowers for their wedding…so much interesting point-in-time, slice-of-life stuff. Her beautiful hats and suits from another era. Knickknacks and doodads galore. The WWII letters between her and my dad before they were married. The hundreds of cards she received over the years, from all of us as well as from long-ago passed relatives and friends. My grandma’s recipes. My great-aunt Sister Augusta’s wonderful notes to each of us on our birthdays. Stuff from her childhood. Stuff from our childhood. Stuff from 30, 20, 10 years ago. Stuff from last year.
So much stuff.
We;re just not not able to save everything, even some things we’d like to save. I struggle with how much time and attachment to have to all these “things” and with how much of my own life to spend attending to the remnants of someone else’s life. If I didn’t know something even existed, do I really need it now? And what about when I’m gone? — I have no children to pass it on to.
And so we persist. Slowly winnowing the mountain into smaller hills of ever-more-agonizing decisions. Always wanting to do the right thing, but not always knowing what the right thing is, and fighting our growing fatigue and waning ability to be as thoughtful and discerning as we started out to be 10 months ago.
And still, with each item picked up, considered, and too often put right back down, with each thing recognized and recalled, and even with things never seen before, there’s a “mumory” attached. And a realization that she’s gone. And there’s so much you wish she could tell you about and laugh with you about. And so much you know she’d never let you throw away. And you miss her. A lot.
To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.
~ Thomas Campbell