With less than 30 days till Moving Day, I have started to pack and sort through my stuff. I have boxes filled with what to keep, what to give away. I recently went through some of my mother’s things, asking the same questions.
There is a lot of energy in things. Taking time to sort through them can bring us clarity, space and memories, of course.
There was no urgency. My father wasn’t moving out of the house. And he has his own closet so it wasn’t even a matter of needing the space. Still, I knew we needed to remove my mother’s clothes from the closet, empty her dresser drawers, clear out everything that was hers that wasn’t hers anymore.
I had put it off for so long that, almost two years after she had died, my father finally did it without me. He quick-folded everything into four large black trash bags and brought them over to my house one afternoon before we went out for burgers. He wanted me to go through the bags before donating them to Goodwill. I live in a very small house so there was no place to stash the bags and avoid the task any longer.
That evening I untwisted the bag tie on the biggest bag. The top item was my mother’s velour bathrobe, magenta with embroidered pink flowers, that zipped from her neck to her calves. She wore it all of the time around the house over a turtleneck and nightgown because the house was always too cold for her.
Tears rushed, no surprise, but it was too much for that moment. I wasn’t ready. I folded it back into the bag and took Laddy for a dog walk.
When I got back I tried again, this time with the intention of just seeing what there was, what might be donate-able, what might fit me or a friend. And I started with a different bag.
It was easier to sort through her pants and skirts. Somehow they were just things that she had mail-ordered and there was less emotion attached to them.
The bag of her tops was a little harder since I had picked many of them out for her on our various shopping trips. The pink with green floral scoop neck from Macy’s that lit up her face, the denim, short-sleeved checkered button up, the light blue cotton long sleeved shirt with the snaps down the front for easy chemo access.
I put the snap shirt in the save-for-me pile next to a long sleeved brown LL Bean t-shirt and a black mock turtleneck, smiling that my mom was providing me with warm clothes for my pending beach life.
I put the six pairs of her brand new, not yet worn white briefs in the donation pile along with the powder blue knee-highs from the hospital with the rubber-like traction lines on the bottom and several pairs of beige nylon peds, the only socks my mother ever wore.
I paused at the two matching brown corduroy jackets. When we bought them, I wore the 16 and she wore the 18. A year later both of our weights had changed and we had swapped sizes. Now neither one fit me. I checked the pockets, then put both of them in the pile for my friend to try on.
I didn’t linger on the three pairs of Andrew Green slippers marked with the indentations of my mother’s slender toes. I didn’t stop to reminisce about the yellow t-shirt with the birdhouse on it that she bought because it reminded her of Marika’s love for birds. I didn’t even pause to hug the softness of her nightgowns to my face. I worked fast, detached, focused on the task.
I had sorted through my mother’s clothes with her several months before she passed. She’d sat on her bed in her magenta robe as I pulled her largest sized clothing from the closet. They were from eight years ago, fifty pounds ago, before she was originally diagnosed.
Together, we pared down her wardrobe to the few things that really fit so that she could buy new clothes. It was always a fun outing for us, even though neither one of us enjoyed shopping.
I’d push her wheelchair through the narrow aisles of the Macy’s Women’s department, the racks of sleeves sometimes brushing her arms as we passed. Some days we found nothing. Other times she’d end up with a stack of possibilities on her lap and then I’d wheel her into the handicapped dressing room to begin the fashion show. Sometimes I’d find something too and try it on and she’d happily add it to her purchases.
And always, after shopping, we’d go out for lunch. We’d sit across from each other in a booth so she could prop her back against the softness of the cushions and her traveling pillow. She’d tell me about her recent get together with a friend or what she wrote about in her class at the senior center. I’d tell her about our last camping trip, or the next creativity class I was leading or ask for her input on a particular situation.
She was happy to offer a suggestion, a solution to the problem. But she phrased it as a possibility, as something I might want to consider, not with the words “you should” or, “what you need to do.”
She said she learned that from me, from our many conversations when she vented about my father. Instead of telling her what to do, I’d sit back and listen, asking her what she needed from me, from my dad, from the situation. Often, it was enough that she could just talk about it and be heard.
Some days we’d have those same conversations at the kitchen table when my father was out food shopping or watching the Leher News Hour in the family room. She’d be wearing her magenta robe if she was cold, or a turtleneck with no bra, whichever was more comfortable.
Remembering this, I reopened the bag with her robe in it, and it was easier somehow, to move it to the donation pile. I sorted through the rest and, as I folded the last turtleneck into the pile for my friend, I was delighted with the size of the stacks of things I had saved for her and me.
A few days later, after I had delivered the bags to Goodwill, I found a single beige nylon peds sock on my living room floor. It was camouflaged on the earth toned carpet and I almost didn’t see it.
I remembered when my mother went through her first round of chemo and was too weak to put on her own socks and shoes. She had sat propped against three pillows in her bed, her robe tucked around her while I slid the socks over her feet and toes.
I have no use for a single beige ped sock. I certainly don’t need a canoe shaped piece of nylon to remember my mother. But I had already dropped off the donation bags and I just couldn’t throw it away. So I kept it. At least until I have another bag of donations to fill.