My mother and father were married for 38 years. So when she passed, I did not have to assume the duties of estate executor. I did not have to review her will or submit for death certificates. My father did all of that. In some ways this was a great relief though I tried to help with as many things as I could. My hope was to ease my father’s pain in any way that I could. I asked for a few of mom’s things, grasping at anything that would keep her more alive to me. I wanted the jewelry she wore as it was the last thing to touch her. I took some of her clothes because they touched her skin; I took some of her shoes even though we don’t wear the same shoe size, but because they were hers. When I got home I placed the clothes in a box to “save” her smell.
My mother always taught us that home isn’t a house, it’s the family within it and the memories you make. She was an avid collector of a variety of things to include pill boxes, silver, figurines, and crystal. She was a hoarder of photographs, ordering many, but never sending them out to family and rarely displaying them. Until my brother scanned every.single.childhood.photograph. I only had one or two photographs of me or my family as a child. I remember countless times polishing and cleaning mom’s silver – even doing this mere hours after she passed. I recall searching for pill boxes that symbolized or meant something to her – a duckie pill box, a wedding cake pill box, a margarita pill box (that broke as she opened it or as I packed it – but I gave it to her anyway). She was afraid to move her beloved figurines for fear of breaking them. Once I broke a Christmas ornament and you might have thought I had killed a puppy her reaction was so great. She only brought out the “good china” and “good crystal” for special occasions so many of my memories of holidays have these “rare” items in them.
She had exquisite taste. She dressed impeccably and was the epitome of class. A year or so before she passed, we went through her closet to purge the clothing she could not wear anymore. Up until that point I had not realized what a clothing snob she was. Her closet was filled with designer shoes, clothes and bags. She had a story for almost every purchase and seeing the old relics reminded me of watching her dress for parties as a child. That was a particularly fun day for me and mom. I itemized, listed and bagged each item of clothing – which then sat in her foyer for I do not know how long. Mom was a firm believer that “possession is 9/10ths of the law.”
I was the beneficiary of many wonderful items of my mothers. As the only daughter I expected (and felt entitled) to these items. They were my mothers. And, frankly, if I had found an old tissue I may have kept that too. See, once someone is gone, there are no more memories with them to be made. There are no more hugs to be had or kisses exchanged. No more words. No more moments. And when you open that box of items that you delicately stored and “hoarded” as your own, you might be surprised when the smell is gone, just like mom.
After mom was gone I had assumed that going through mom’s things would be left to me. I envisioned delicately going through her things, folding them and packing them up. In my vision, I could see her smiling at me, just like she had when we went through her closet. I imagined gliding through the house and being given her things for my own house… items from her collection. The reality of this was quite different.
From my experiences I have learned:
1. Talk to your family.
2. Be your own advocate: If you want something make it known. Write it down. Voice your wants. And don’t stop yelling until you get them.
3. What might be endearing and precious to you, may seem indiginifant to someone else. Let them know why it is special to you.
4. If you suspect something amiss, it probably is.
5. Follow your gut.
6. People’s timelines for grief are varied and different. Don’t be surprised if you are still mourning three, four, five years later; and don’t be surprised if someone else is not.
7. Don’t wait to take care of things until the right moment (ie. Packing up mom’s things). That moment will never come. The pain will never lessen. The moment IS the moment.
8. Realize that if things you desperately and soulfully want aren’t received that no one can take your memories.