I will always have her candy dish

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.

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It would have been, but it wasn’t

Wednesday, August 15th, would have been my twentieth wedding anniversary, except it wasn’t.  It’s like watching the Olympics a few weeks ago and thinking Meg would be winning a gold medal right now if she were a sixteen-year-old gymnastic phenom, but she can’t do a cartwheel, so this was not her Olympic year.

There are many things in life that were never meant to be.  For example, I was never meant to work in the health care industry.  A few years ago, Meg had oral surgery to help prepare her teeth for braces.

“Just wait until the gauze is saturated with blood,” the surgeon said. “Then remove it and replace it with a new piece,”

In the process of removing the nasty cotton, I vomited.

I am not proud of my squeamish tendencies.  Surely, a mother should be able to nurse her own child; but I have a weak stomach and a strong sense of smell, a terrible combination when dealing with bodily fluids.

Racing horses was another career I was never meant to have.  As a child, my brother once asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  “A horse jockey!” I declared.

Neil laughed, “That will be interesting,” he said.  “The horse will run a lap with you on his back, and you will have to jump off to carry the horse the rest of the way.”

Neil will probably deny having said that.  I state with certainly, that of the two of us, I have the better memory.  Neil killed a lot of brain cells doing stupid things in his twenties.  However, in his defense, I was 5’9” by the seventh grade, not the ideal body type for racing equine.

My fairy tale didn’t pan out the way I thought it would; my happily-ever-after took some twists and turns, and many things I counted on never happened.  Instead of celebrating my twentieth wedding anniversary with Scott, I celebrated my fifth with Tim.  Thank God my night-in-shining armor arrived just in time to hold Meg’s hand during surgery and replace the bloody gauze.

A bucket full of grief

I was thirty-six years old when my first husband, Scott, died in a motorcycle accident. I was upside down for a while. I took me a long time to turn myself around.

Eventually I realized that holding onto grief took a toll. For my sanity, for my children, I needed a break from the constant, overwhelming torture of loss. I started to think of my grief as a tangible thing; if I could hold it, and I could feel it, I could release it. I needed a place to store my grief, a bucket I could shed my tears into and then put away, so I could function, so I could manage the new life I was constructing.

My grief bucket gets fuller every year. Since my husband’s death, I have lost my uncle, my father and my mom.

I imagine someday I will need a grief dumpster, like the ugly metal bins lined up behind supermarkets and busy restaurants. Or maybe a storage shed, a strong, four-sided contraption with a high-pitched roof to hold all the pain and longing.

In the meantime, I will cry into this bucket until I outgrow it and move on.