By this time of life, people my age have already said goodbye to all members of the older generation in their families. That’s true for me and most of my friends. We all have tales of woe cleaning up after the life of parents, aunts, and uncles. Every single thing must be liquidated, assigned, sold, placed, or donated. Of course, generally we are all doing all this while grieving for whomever has passed on. And those belongings can be a mine field of emotions and memories. And, fortunately, a few laughs.
My mother passed first. She’d had Alzheimer’s, and her remaining belongings were just as odd and bizarre as some of the things she would do and say during those last years. Like the time I visited her during the evening in the nursing home and found her sitting in the lobby near the entrance.
“Oh, I am so glad you are here,” she began, unable to recall my name, but certain I was familiar. “Have I missed my train?”
“No, Mom. You have plenty of time. I’ll check the schedule.”
“Good,” she said, relieved of her agitation.
After she passed, I sent all her clothes to a thrift store. But cleaning out her drawers and closet was difficult. I tossed pantyhose with runs, stained cosmetic bags, rusty hairpins, and the pink rubber rollers she had once used on my hair when I was small. There were pens that had been out of ink for decades, broken pencils, brochures, dirty tissues and stretched out headbands. But most amusing was an entire drawer full of prostheses for her left breast following a mastectomy when she was 70. Medicare provided a new prosthesis every two years. She lived to her late 80’s. So there was an entire drawer of fake boobs.
“Why don’t you use them, Mom?” I’d asked her once before Alzheimer’s had entirely set in.
“Oh, they’re too hot,” she replied, explaining it was easier to stuff the empty bra cup with a sock. “And I don’t want to wear them out,” she’d added. “Besides, I’m over 70, what do I need two breasts for?”
My father passed a few months after Mom. Then it was important to vacate his two- bedroom apartment before the end of a month, or we’d be charged another month’s rent. I found a Mom with 6 adopted kids that could use all the furniture. Little stuff like dishes and knick-knacks all went to the thrift store which supported a local hospital.
Dad had a lifelong love of books. He’d culled books when he’d left his last house. But not enough. He was adamant that the remaining books were valuable, and that I should get a good price for them. He thought he had something very precious because he had every book Jack London had ever written.
A kind man, a specialist in antiquarian books, graciously agreed to peruse Dad’s collection. After half an hour, he pronounced that the books were still good for reading, but that they had no monetary value.
Most of us are not privy to the romantic side of our parents. I always knew my folks had a strong love story. But I got a good laugh when I found a stack of vintage Playboy magazines in Dad’s closet.
The process of cleaning out someone’s stuff is tedious and dreadful. But what I learned is that in the end, it’s all just stuff. Just stuff. What someone values has little to do with money.
Now, I try to look at my home this way. Everything I have, everything I will have by the time I die, it’s just stuff. My stuff. Stuff that means something to me, and probably not to anyone else. I will try to remember not to collect so much stuff. Because, in the end, it’s just stuff.