Grief · Life

Packing Up a Life

As of this weekend, Mom’s place will be occupied again. This is good and right. It will be good to see lights on again in the evening, and people to-ing and fro-ing. I think it’s been helpful for all of us to have a deadline. It’s been tempting to put off decisions indefinitely, even small ones. More times than I care to admit during the past weeks, I’ve decided to go work at the apartment a bit, gone over, and turned around and come home without moving anything more than the air.

Because I’m facing a deadline, I’ve actually gotten work done the past couple of nights. There was a mighty pile of trash at the road for pickup this morning. The auctioneer is carrying off things from the garage and the living room as I type. (I moved a lot of things to the garage last night to consolidate. I didn’t fancy moving some of the furniture myself, though. Bookcases are one thing. A tall, wide, china cabinet with lovely breakable windows is another.)

I posted just a bit on Facebook about it, and the responses were varied (although uniformly kind and empathic because ya’ll are the bomb). What we choose to save, and to give away, and to sell differs for everyone. Grief is so individual and unpredictable.

I didn’t keep the red food coloring, or any of the five boxes of powdered milk I found (Mom made hot chocolate mix every year). I didn’t keep the hilarious red white and blue ankle weights that laid in the top drawer of Mom’s dresser since before Jane Fonda pulled on her first leotard. (I did take a picture of them.) I have no memory of Mom actually ever wearing them, though that doesn’t mean much. I didn’t keep the jingly apple toy.

I did keep the half-used laundry detergent, mostly because mine is running low. I did keep the letter I wrote her one Mother’s Day in the late 90s that I had no previous memory of. I did keep the letter my dad earned as the manager of the Rittman basketball team in the 40s.



While there were, of course, significant objects in every room and closet and corner, I was mostly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ordinary things. Mom had pared down her life to a few rooms, and given away a lot of things already, and the act of packing up her life still seemed monumental. I don’t really use hairpins, but does Goodwill take them? I tend to feel bad about throwing anything away that might have useful life. Toward the end of this process, though … my decision-making muscle had reached exhaustion. I’m sure I threw out some things that I should have donated because I was too worn out to think very well.

When my brother died in the spring of 2012, I remember helping to get a few things from his house. I didn’t help with most of it though. Mom must have done it, and I’m sorry now that I didn’t help her more. It must have been a terrible job, packing up after your son.

In the here and now, I am glad to have this job done. The boys and I ran errands today and I made a drop at Goodwill. I hope her clothes and things will find their way to someone who needs them.

Elias, as we were pulling in, said, “Oh, Mama! This is where we brought my elephant!”

I seriously can’t even remember how long ago we brought his toy elephant to donate. I do, though, see why he has a particular affinity to that animal. The memory on this kid sometimes.



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