If you’re of a certain age it’s inevitable that you’ll face the unpleasant task of cleaning out your parent’s stuff. My father-in-law passed away in 2010 and my mother-in-law has been in a nursing home for a few years now – visited daily (sometimes twice) by my husband and I. The home where my husband grew up in Mississippi, the home that was built by his grandparents back in the 30′s, has been vacant over 7 years now but is now being renovated by my sister whose daughter will be living there while she attends school. A house that’s been vacant for that many years suffers from being empty, holding nothing more than memories and deteriorating furniture. Cleaning out a home that held three generations of family, and the precious keepsakes collected throughout those years, can bring forth some surprising and heartrending mementos. You get a glimpse of moments frozen in time through newspaper clippings and letters and it gives you a completely new view of those you thought you knew well. It makes you realize how much you really don’t know about those you hold most dear. And it’s sad, in a way. It’s sad that you didn’t hear those stories or see those black and white photos when memory was still clear and words still coherent. It’s also gives you a kind of creepy feeling, a feeling of being a voyeur, that you’re invading their privacy even though it’s done with respect and love.
In my last post, I talked about my mother’s death. We haven’t gone through her things yet and I don’t know when we will but it’s something I dread, really. What do you do with your own mother’s personal items? The clothing that you remember her wearing, the shoes, the jewelry she loved so well. The makeup and toiletries she packed in the little bag she took with her to the hospital was finally, tearfully, dispersed by my sister weeks after her death. And just a week or so ago my dad found something very, very precious that she had kept hidden for years that none of us knew anything about. What does one do with such personal and sacred things? Almost all of us have things in our lives that we never share with anyone else – the very essence of our beings. Finding the sacred things of someone’s life after death is a feeling that can not even be put into words. Sifting through a life’s privacy is unsettling and emotional.
I haven’t spent a night at my mother’s house since her funeral. I’ve been home but I’ve stayed with my sister. Is that wrong? I don’t know. I only know it’s really, really hard to be in my parent’s house now with all the reminders of my mother everywhere around. I don’t want her things to disappear but I don’t want to see them, either. I want to touch her clothes, hold her hairbrush, breathe her perfume. But in another way I don’t want to.
I want to pretend she’s still up there in Mississippi and I can pick up the phone and call her whenever I want. But I can’t.
I apologize for being so obsessed but writing helps.