I have lived a lifetime in just the last week. In that time, I’ve have stood by my elderly mother‘s deathbed, keeping vigil as she drew her last breath. My siblings and I have mourned her passing, celebrated her life, and sorted through Mom’s most special treasures. After weeks away, I have finally returned to my own home, to my own life to try and figure out how to incorporate some of Mom’s treasures into my own!
As we dug ever more deeply into Mom’s life, we discovered things about her and our Dad that we never knew. By the time any of us was old enough to remember, Mom had run into enough limits that she carried a resentment that would hurt her, diminishing her throughout the rest of her life. I learned to hide during Mom’s tirades, as did several of my siblings (amazing what one learns during a death vigil!). We each had learned to challenge Mom with great caution…the price for implying that she might have made a mistake was always unpleasant, even caustic…often not worth the battle!
But these things we already knew. The real surprises were revealed in old photographs, notes, and letters that none of us realized even existed! There were pictures of young adult George and Louise, courting in the mid 1940’s. Both were smiling, even laughing! Obviously, they loved being together! They loved each other!
I discovered that my love of writing goes back at least to my Dad and my grandmother. My maternal grandmother earned a college degree in English in the early 1920’s. Dad, who was an incurable bookworm, wrote beautiful notes to the love of his life, and she kept them!! Who knew that Dad was such a romantic? Or that Mom was so sentimental? Mother, following the example of her mother, left notes on many of her treasures. We had errantly assumed that many of the “doodads” would be easy to toss. They were Mom’s memories, after all, not ours. But those small hand-written notes, taped to backs and bottoms, or stuffed inside some orifice…those notes tied us to generations past with new or long-forgotten family stories. Those notes are largely to blame for the many extra boxes of stuff that have found new homes with my siblings and me after the funeral!
SO, here I am, at the time of life when I need to be getting rid of things, adding more to my domain and existence instead! As I began to unwrap my “new” treasures, I pulled out a large empty box and began filling it with stuff we no longer use or need. And, I realize that I am falling down on the job! There are a myriad of items in my home that hold wonderful family stories. I need to add my own note on some treasures, telling the stories that go with the memories. My notes won’t have as much personal touch since I can no longer write by hand (Thank you very much Parkinson’s) but they will be preserved via the laminating machine!
The day Mom died, my siblings and I met together in a nearly empty apartment where Mother had lived happily for more than 7 years. We had sorted, donated, chosen our favorite items…and our ability to make further decisions was exhausted. A few precious heirlooms had been relegated to an “Everybody Want This” corner. Numbers were put into Keith’s favorite hat, and we pulled numbers for each item we wanted…until all was parceled out, each sibling with a few very special treasures. There were no arguments…just laughter and tears, stories and agreements about who should really have certain items.
In the last days before Mom died, I felt as if the soul had gone out of that place: Mom’s bright eyes and always warm ( sometimes teary) greeting and embrace were gone, the shell of her body wasting away in an adjacent room. Perhaps most telling, however, were the three grandchildren who sat around the perimeter of that nearly vacant apartment on the evening after Mom’s death. They didn’t gather there in order to get something. Rather, they came to hear the stories we told about the treasures. Kelly and Chad and Great-grandson Ronan caught it: The Essence of Family! It’s not the stuff, the tangible things, but rather the relationships that are reinforced every time we share a meal, make a memory or tell a story reliving family legend. The soul that Mom brought to that special place is very much alive in each of her children and grandchildren! The most satisfying realization of all is that these relationships are the only thing we can take with us into the afterlife