After Mom died, Neil and I cleaned out her house. I kept a few Christmas decorations, the photo albums, a candy dish. It was maddening sorting through the truck-loads of stuff. How does one decide what to keep and what to let go? I am not a very sentimental person; I don’t hold on to birthday cards, report cards, or photographs where I think I look fat. But, suddenly, everything held value: the cookie sheets, the blue wool blanket, the broken statue of St. Francis.
I had nightmares about my attic and closets bursting with Mom’s things, vomiting out macramé table cloths and my ancient Snoopy bedspread. In the end, we held an estate sale and gave things away for next to nothing to save ourselves one more trip to the Goodwill.
When I opened the doors for the sale, folks were waiting to get in. It was a mob scene. One man ran to the freezer and offered $5 for everything inside it. Another woman wanted to negotiate the price of a fruit bowl. It was marked at seventy-five cents. “I’ll give you a quarter,” she said.
And so my parents’ life was quickly reduced to dollar bills and change.
At the end of the day, I loaded a box of items into my car. Some sandwich bags, paper towels, a box of brownie mix, practical items my family would use over the course of the summer. We are almost to the end of these much-used products. Yesterday I wrapped up some left-over spare ribs. This is my dead mother’s aluminum foil, I thought. Just a few months ago, she was wrapping up a baked potato with this very roll.
It all sounds so heavy, dark, and full of regret, but freeing myself from the burden of my parents’ things has left me with room to grieve. I can hold the weight of my loss without the weight of their living-room furniture. I will mourn for them one sandwich bag at a time and when the bags are gone, I will always have my mother’s candy dish.