Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mom's Legacy

When I returned to work, I wondered how I should've spent my bereavement time. By then it was too late, and I felt as though I'd wasted it. I imagined turning back the clock to do it over again. I'd talk with our Pastor. Or look for a copy of Grieving For Dummies. But what's done is done. Sadly, I have no recollection of the three days that I took off from work.

All I really remember about my mother's recent death is the very low-key memorial gathering that my brother hosted. My brother-in-law arranged the catering for it. It was held conveniently on a Saturday, so I didn't even need to take time off from work. No one officiated with a prayer or eulogy. My mother didn't want any fuss, not even an obituary. She got her wish.

This was in stark contrast to my father's passing twenty years earlier. There was a wake and an immensely moving funeral mass, attended by nearly everyone who ever met him. Even my closest coworkers were there. I remember shopping for a casket and grave marker. I tossed rose petals into the grave just before shovelfuls of dirt rained down on the casket.

There was one other vivid memory I have about mom's last days. It was when I visited her in the hospital. She was re-admitted to the hospital because her cancer came back. I hadn't seen her in nearly a year. I'm glad I stopped at the ward desk to ask a hospital attendant to take me in to see her. I did not recognize the old, thin body that was in the bed. I was sure I was in the wrong room. But when her familiar green eyes opened and she spoke, I realized it was her.

She was thin because cancer had spread into her abdominal area. She felt nauseous all the time and couldn't keep food down. She was tired and seemed confused. When I left, I knew it was our last visit together. I walked back to my car overwhelmed with grief.

My brother and sister are cleaning out the house now. I went back a few weeks ago to help.

We learned one aspect of her personality was that she was a professional complainer. We learned this because of scrupulous records that she kept of phone conversations, letters and refund check stubs (many for small amounts like $0.99) with companies whose products were defective in some way. So there were stacks and envelopes filled with carefully kept notes. It was important that we not discard whole stacks without first going through them. Mom kept money in the oddest of places.

She also collected anything that folks might want to use for crafts: yarn, egg cartons, frozen dinner platters, whipped topping tubs, glass jars, pipe cleaners, ice pop sticks, etc. Again, each of these objects needed to inspected. One stack of egg cartons had some jewelery in one of the middle cartons. My siblings must've already tossed the toilet paper rolls, or we have not found the stash yet.

Growing up, we had no inking that it was unusual for a person to keep such collections. In fact, it was really convenient for when we'd have a project that required dozens of buttons or bottle caps. There was not a thing she couldn't produce if you asked her. "Hey mom, where's that old blue and white striped shirt I used to wear about eight years ago." It wasn't a question of whether she still had it, but where she'd put it.

But with the three of us out of the house, mom's hoards grew. So even though my brother and sister did a great deal of clearing of things, the house looked even more cluttered than when I last visited. At one point, she stopped having people over.

All I can do is wonder. Was her life so empty that she had to fill her free time and space with acquisitions? What could she have done for a local school, library or senior center with all that time and energy? How would our lives been different if she had treatment for OCD and hoarding?

At first glance, mom's legacy would seem to be a house filled with hoards. But I see now that her legacy is my own tendency to hoard, which, admittedly is not a good thing. But with that comes the motivation to eliminate my own hoards and fill my free time and empty spaces with love.


Square-Peg Karen said...

Oh YES!!!! I giggled at the hiding money thing - in the 70's (when a couple hundred bucks meant something) a b/f and I found a couple hundred bucks in the pages of a book of my mom's while hunting for an obscure quote.

She told us she did that often (i never knew!). Hmmmm...maybe I should borrow books from her more often...

Anyway, I doubt you "wasted" those three days - unplanned time is important all the time, but especially while grieving!!

And it's good that looking at your mom's hoarding is helping you consider yours (I get that nudge when I visit my mother - makes me think I dont' want to leave this earth with the "gift' to my children of 6,000 boxes of junk to go through)...

also cool that you are considering WHY your mom might have hoarded - looking at what she might have gotten from it, it's reasons..that can help you be kinder in your thoughts toward her memory..which'll also help you be kind to yourself about your own stuff...

humor helps too - we joke about a family friend's mother who used to have a category of saved string she called "string too short to tie" - looking at someone else's WAY over the top stuff can make you felt better about your own (does for me, anyway..grin)

thanks for sharing! love your writing! your heart shines through!!

Author said...

Thank you so much for commenting! I really enjoy your feedback.

I did bring home some of my books hoping to find money I might've put in them. But I found no money in them.

I'm hoping that my wife and I can set a good example for our daughter. I realize that my parents conditioned me to collect things. I don't want to do this to our daughter.