death of a child, Downsizing, gifts, letting go, Memories, mothers
I have some great memories of special Mother’s Day gifts from all my children, and being the pack rat that I am, I have kept many of those treasures. Lots of them were created in those elementary school classes: flower vases using old coke bottles, masking tape, and paint; pencil holders made from discarded frozen juice cans covered with recycled strips of wallpaper; or calendars made with original art and/or poetry. I am sure you remember those, too!
In recent years my daughter Karin has given me one-of-a-kind treasures. Two more memorable ones were in 2006 and 2009. In 2006 we traveled to Las Vegas on Mother’s Day weekend. And before you imagine us sitting at the slot machines for hours on end, let me say that we didn’t go there to lose anything, we went there to find something.
Or I should say, someone. My older sister had been homeless for over two decades and we knew she was in Las Vegas. I’d had a bit of telephone conversation with her—as best one can with someone who has serious and complex mental health issues—and let her know the date and time we would be arriving at the airport. Even though I had overlooked telling her which airline, she was sitting there waiting for us when we got to the luggage pickup!
My sister and I were able to renew a long-dormant relationship, and Karin was able to establish one with her “Aunt Bebe”—a name that my sister gave herself, summing up her life philosophy of “you can BE you and I can BE me.”
Then on Mother’s Day weekend in 2009, Karin and I enjoyed a long weekend in Ireland! We had been influenced to go there because of stories and photographs my mother had shared with us. My mother had often talked about how much she loved the Emerald Island. She especially appreciated the flora, the rolling countryside, the architecture, the history, and the welcoming hospitality of the people of Ireland.
Mother died in October 2008 and when Karin suggested six months later that we take a quick trip to Dublin and Wicklow County to scatter my mother’s ashes, I didn’t hesitate. Karin researched and booked all the travel and accommodations and in a matter of days, we began our whirlwind mission. Mother is now resting in many nooks and crannies, gardens and castles, and lakes and fields across the countryside in what had been her favorite place to visit during many of her world travels in the last decades of her life.
This year for Mother’s Day, Karin offered to give me a MOST precious gift: her time, energy, and unique skills. Karin is a professional organizer and stays quite busy both doing and talking about organizing. She offered to come up to the farm and help me purge, organize, and clean out the old tobacco barn and country store (both of which were stuffed with an assortment of items for “storage”). She arrived on Thursday afternoon and dove right in as we walked around and did a quick inventory of the work ahead and made a plan. All day Friday we sorted, discarded, loaded in the car for Goodwill, loaded on the truck for county dump, piled onto a “burn pile,” and gathered the “for sale” items. It was heavy physical work, to say the least. But the heaviest toll was emotional. There were 20, 30, 40 years of mementoes, memories, and connections in most of that “stuff.”
My husband and I are at that stage in our lives when we are trying to downsize and simplify. We are considering selling the farm and moving to a smaller house in a small town. So we need to clean up and clean out! Some of the things we had stored in the buildings had not been opened in over 40 years—just simply moved from one attic or basement to another. And because we had so much storage space—which is often seen as an advantage, right?—we had developed a purgatory for the unwanted, unused, undecided. It was more than an overwhelming chore to be done; it was staggering and depressing. I could not get moving on it. I was stuck, and as each day passed, I became more anxious. Our future well-being depended on getting our place in order.
I think a lot of my resistance to doing the work was because I knew that I would have to face some of the memories attached to the “stuff.” And I would have to make some tough decisions about what to do with it all. And this was something that Karin was SO incredibly helpful in nudging me along. With all the love, sensitivity, and compassion she showed, I was able to take one last look at many things that belonged to special people, in particular one special person. Much of Alex’s remaining belongings were there. We stayed on track and thoughtfully, but doggedly, worked until Saturday afternoon until I was satisfied that I could finish anything left undone.
I wish you could have seen it! The loft of the old tobacco barn was clear; the lower level was manageable so that we can now move things out (and can see what we are doing). The old store is completely empty on one side and whatever is left is still being used or is on its way to new homes. A “scavenger” did drive up from Mooresville and bought lots of old relics, rusty artifacts, and “treasures” to use in decorating an old log cabin she bought recently and is refurbishing to use for weddings and other gatherings. I like the idea that people I might never know will enjoy those things; I hope their imaginations will be stirred to feel the connections to the past.
I am happy to let it go and prepare to move on to whatever life brings next!
So that you might have Karin’s perspective on our Mother’s Day weekend, I am including what she wrote below. Or you can see the photo with story on her blog here.
This has got to be my hardest. client. ever. A tobacco barn, horse barn, detached garage, log cabin, country store and 1800s farm house all stuffed with “treasures.” Did I say stuffed??! Some things really are treasures like a potbelly stove, Depression era glass, and an old candy counter that just begs for some penny candy to be displayed in it again. There are lots more goodies where those came from, and my client is hoping to sell them all to a woman who does upscale tag sales. Some treasures are headed directly to the dump. Others are going to the local Habitat thrift store. And some treasures, she holds tenderly and pauses before handing it to me to let it go. I am getting teary eyed as I even write that last line because the things she is letting go of used to be my brother’s, before he died in 1994. We have found old pictures, toys, his cherished Dallas Cowboys helmet, his Navy hat, his Boy Scout canteen…All tangible reminders of who we had and who we have lost. But Mom and I agreed before I came up that we did not have the luxury of time to get emotional. She has a deadline for cleaning up for an appraisal which will be done later this month to possibly sell the farm, so she is motivated to clear out space. And since she can’t keep all the things, we share stories, take a picture, say out loud, “We love you, Alex,” and then pass the item along into the universe. Our mantra is something I’ve learned somewhere along the way: “The THING is not the PERSON.” Lest you think I’m cruel and heartless and forcing my momma to throw everything away, she IS keeping some sentimental things. And there are some things that, as Chad predicted before I came up here, may very well make it back to my house. The emotional part of getting organized is difficult; I tell my clients it’s harder than the physical work. And this job is just a teensy bit emotional for me. My mom just says, “At least I’m still here to help you go through all of this.” I know full well that there are many families that do this kind of clearing out as an estate sale after someone has passed. Sometimes family members fight over who keeps one trinket or another. Sometimes they just hire a company to come in and take everything out without a second thought. But as my mom & I shuffle around the dust and dirt hoping not to find a mouse or a snake, we are not arguing about who gets to keep what. We both get to keep the memories.