Saturday, September 12, 2015


I spent the last 2 hours today on the 5-6 hour project that was sorting through all of my mother’s papers and files. My brothers “gifted” me with this task as a way to get out of it and it is patently unfair that they left me with the task of throwing/sorting out our mom’s precious memorabilia. I will get revenge, trust me.

There were 5 boxes of stuff, put in a larger box, too heavy for even Dick to lift (does that tell you the quantity of stuff?). So smaller box by smaller box, I have had to sift through everything my mom kept that meant something to her. I had files on: pictures (hundreds), bits of wisdom, new cards, stationery, her Norwegian sweater patterns, how to care for the quilts (she made many—an expert quilter), Christmas cards, devotionals, obit programs, newspaper write-ups, including her own wedding, Gretch/Bets Project (don’t ask ME), letters and cards received (I would not have needed to write a new eulogy for mom in May…..all I would have had to do was choose one of the dozen Mother’s Day cards or letters I wrote to her). All here in a file. And all for me to decide what to do with.

It was emotionally tough. You pick up your mom’s engagement calendar from 1998 with sweet words on the square days……”Kids coming!!!!!!” or “Going to visit Mary, Dick and Sam….so excited.” You read letters from my brother writing home from college needing more money and telling the folks how much they meant to him. You find your mom’s high school diploma and her wedding registry book. I could make this paragraph a foot long and not even touch on most of the tidbits.

On several of the files was my heavy magic marker: MOM, please go thru these files and throw out stuff. That was in 2013. The answer to your burning question is clearly no.

The first toss-out was the hardest. I had steel my emotions and realize that these were the things that SHE prized, not me, and that for me to hold onto things that had no history for me did not make sense. All that does is push the same problem down to Sam one day; Nanny’s treasures along with his mom’s and dad’s. That was my criteria. If I knew that Sam would have no connection or interest in the item, I could throw it. I kept a handful of special things that were dear to me because they were dear to Mom.

There is a weaving of guilt and freedom in this process, and every adult child who has done it understands that. It is impossible to part with it all, because part of it is our history, (our numerous, yearly, family skits, for instance, written in longhand) and part of that history is OK to pass onto your own children. The guilt comes with every throw-out where you hear your mom’s voice, “Oh, no, you’re not gonna throw THAT away, are you?”

The one conviction I am taking from this task is that I will do all I can to go thru my own memorabilia now and toss what I know is not important in my life anymore (i.e. cheerleading scrapbooks???). Things Sam does not need to drag through his life in MY boxes after I am gone. I want to be mindful of the things only that would touch his heart (all the Mother’s Day cards he has ever made me…..think he only missed a couple years) or that he would feel is important history (copies of the two genealogy books I’ve written and the 4 books I have written for him). 

I promised him already that when I am done sifting through my own stuff that he will have minimal miscellaneous paper to go through someday. I think it is time that I can throw the file full of child-raising advice, philosophies of aging, and  picture albums with pics that Sam wouldn’t have a clue who anybody was. Meaningless to him.

And so my sweet mama’s life has come full circle in a way. With every move the last 9 years, she had to leave behind “things.” In the last 18 months, from condo to apartment, to a smaller apartment, to the nursing home room, we watched as her world was diminished down to a bed and a couple easy chairs, with none of this precious memorabilia for her to enjoy…..she couldn’t see anymore. It is hard to see a life once rich and full in people, conversation, travel, hobbies, giving, entertaining….. diminish in front of your eyes. Pat loved life more than anyone I’ve ever known. The end was hard on her and all of us.

I kept a handful of items that meant a lot to her. I will treasure them. But I realize that in the end, I wouldn’t have needed to. I had her unconditional love, support, encouragement and wisdom every day of 60 years as she spoke into my life. That is the only memory I truly need to hold onto.

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