The Things We Leave Behind

My maternal grama became sort of reclusive in her later years and had been living that way by choice for ages when she passed away. She was so very different to my dad’s mother who always had a full house. By choice. And also kept the old half pack of cigarettes in her dresser drawer from when she quit smoking back in the 60’s. She would show us. Forget. And show us again at a later date. She was very proud. My mom’s mom, though…This particular grama, I’m pretty sure she held stock in R.J. Reynolds until she died. Even a stroke hadn’t slowed her down. Groan…anyhow…

My mom was left with the task of cleaning out her place after she passed. And I remember not understanding then how pissed she was about the things left behind in my gramas house. Allll. The. Things. She wasn’t a hoarder by any stretch. But she kept things. She kept things from her younger years when she and her husband entertained great amounts of people. An amazing number of table settings in several styles. Barware enough to open a few pubs of her own. Tons of hobnail and milk glass that my mom hated cleaning as a kid. She kept things she didn’t need. And she kept things she thought she would be able to use, which I found out later was a repercussion in Depression era children and families. She was also a very vain woman and the beauty products, makeup, and wigs left behind were massive. Closets full of shoes and clothes long out of date from her years in the working world. My mother took it all in stride. For a while. She sorted through it all, keeping necessary papers and making a small box of family mementos and pictures. Everything else went to Goodwill. My mom gradually started asking out loud why her mother had kept all of these things. Quietly it went. Until the day she found a linen closet full of Kleenex boxes. And it broke her.

They were not full and useable boxes of tissue. They were empty. Stacked in the closet. Of all my mother had cleared from that house, all the heavy lugging and deep cleaning and phone calls for pickups and arranging for things and garbage bags full to capacity…these empty boxes changed something in her when she came across them that day. They were a representative answer that allowed her to finally grieve. To finally voice and acknowledge her mother’s lifelong selfishness. They allowed her to be angry. Angry at the inconvenience. Angry at the way things had turned out. Angry about her childhood. Just angry. Things she needed to feel. Unfortunately, she never really stopped feeling them after that.

My mother spent the next ten years or so paring down her own possessions. She made it her mission to not leave a burden for me and John in that way. Why have what you don’t need. Why keep things you won’t use. Why leave that for your kids to deal with. She thought about it every day. There wasn’t much to be done about my father, the perpetual hobbyist’s personal things. But, hers…everything she owned came across that chopping block of downsizing at least once.

When it came time for me to go home to make sense of everything my mom did leave behind, I saw just how deeply those tissue boxes affected her on that day. All her papers were labeled with instructions for us, in order of importance. Including ones we could get rid of entirely if she passed. All in her desk. A list of phone and account numbers for companies that needed to be notified or services that needed to be canceled. One box of old schoolwork and awards for each of us to keep. She kept minimal clothing and shoes, very minimal beauty and self care products. Just what she needed. Same with jewelry. She had even cut their linens and kitchenware down to a quarter of what they had once been. I went through it all. A matter of function and necessity. And it all went quietly and systematically for me for almost a week.

Under her bed was a plastic tub with just a few things inside. There were two cell phones I’d given her years prior. Ones she didn’t use once she got a smartphone. They were stored back in their original packaging, along with their cords and instructions. Tidy and unassuming. Heartbreakingly symbolic. And I lost my fucking mind.

These phones were my Kleenex boxes that gave me permission to grieve for my mom. On my own. I let go. I sat there on my knees at that box and said over, and over. And over again, “she tried so hard”. I know that she did. I always knew that she did.

My mother didn’t leave behind torment. Burden. Or rememberances of a selfish nature. When she moved on, she left behind her a lifetime of hurt and pain. She left behind journals full of words from a woman whose life did not turn out as she’d planned. A woman who followed God to better understand a husband she could never reach. She left behind every sign she could of how hard she tried to make everything easier on everyone while she was suffering for so long. And I had to carry on and feel that of her. Still.

We are often allowed to choose what our memories are of our loved ones. What we will hold to our hearts, smile, and what we will set aside. But some memory we do not get to choose or filter so nicely as it is formed of a private reality and that reality only. Though, it is uncomfortable to accept, I do believe my mother was always suffering. Just as she believed her mother was cold and uncaring for the duration. And there were objects remaining that defined those realities. I have given much thought lately to what my kids will have on their hands with me. What their nicely filtered memories will be, weighed against an object that may represent a converse reality only they will understand or see. Private to them, I can never know what it will be. But I do think about it. Because I have come to know that whatever it may be, they will carry it with them, and feel it of me. And that they will never really stop feeling it.

Sam

24 thoughts on “The Things We Leave Behind

  1. Yes…I feel this on several layers but writing about it ? I just don’t want to because I have enough trouble trying to keep up with my bloging friends. (Typing and spelling isn’t my thing…to slow). Love you Sam..you are doing things well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🤗 I figure each year that passes brings more of a reason to work through and pay attention to these lingering things.

      Like

  2. Wow such an emotional post, Sam! *hugs*

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was touching. Thank you. I downsized my parents, downsized my grandmother, and moved my family in the span of 18 months. I was already an anti-hoarder, but these experiences sealed the deal. My husband jokes he has to nail down even his T-shirt’s at this point. In the downsizing experiences, I found 20 years of unopened gifts piled in each basement. I now only give perishable gifts of food, flowers, and experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome 🤗🤗🤗 I think having to go through a process like that, not to mention multiple times, really alerts us to all…our…items, and what we’re bringing in our homes. Moreover, when the time has arrived to begin letting things go. I’ve been the same way lately…if you havent touched it, thought about it or used it in 6 months you obviously won’t miss it!!! Those are great gift ideas! I’m so careful to give useable things to fellow teachers and friends for just these reasons, nobody needs MORE stuff to worry about!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful, thought provoking post. My mom is still living but I am trying to help her thin her possessions down a bit. She has been pretty good about hoarding. Still though, it is hard to deal with a lifetime of possessions….my mom has lived in her current house for about 35 years….so a lot of stuff to go through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kate! It’s amazing what had accumulated at my parents home in the years after I moved away. They have been there since I was in high school and…it’s just a lot more “lived in” than I ever remember. My dad decided what he was and wasn’t comfortable still keeping in the house of my moms. It became more of a purging exercise for *his* future sake than it was removing her personal things but still…difficult all around. Im glad she put in work ahead of time for us!

      Like

  5. Very touching and thoughtful writing. Something I will face with my mom in the very near future and what my daughter will eventually face. Food for thought. Sam, you said your mom left behind journals. Do you write and keep journals?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Anna 🤗 I do, as a matter of fact! I have many going back to high school! It’s going to be quite an insight for my kids the day they come across them. My mothers were fairly sobering. Hopefully mine won’t leave them feeling that way 😣

      Like

  6. I have always been a very sentimental person. Certain things mean something to me, mostly because I have memories attached to those things and I want to hold on to them. When things blew up with my family several years ago, those things and memories felt tainted by that experience and I was forced to look at them differently. I was also forced to accept that what is important to me, isn’t always (actually rarely) going to be important to my kids because they don’t have those same memories. I seriously doubt that very many of the things that hold sentimental value to me will be anything they care about. I have learned to be okay with the fact that those things will probably either be tossed or sold at some point because they will have their own things that hold meaning for them. There are things I always thought I’d end up with that now I never will and I’ve learned to be okay with that as well because they never held a level of importance for my kids. Yes, so much of it is all just stuff and it is easier letting it go because of that, but I think so much of that stuff is tied up in how we view ourselves, our hopes and dreams, or how we view others and our relationships them. Letting go will never be easy and you will never know for sure what thing or event will trigger an emotional reaction.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think I attach to things sentimentally as well, and usually not for the obvious reasons. I keep things aside for them that may or may not mean a thing later, but have been important to me in regards to them. My mom saved aside…different things for me even back when I was really little that Ive sort of lugged along throughout my life. And now i cant ever release them because of guilt i feel for a million and one reasons! I think a lot of that is part of having things I havent yet processed properly though, to where i can look at the happy aspects of things rather than be consumed by guilt feelings or sadness. Sounds awful, lol 😂 But you’re right, when my second daughter came, if things I had in “storage”, etc, didn’t benefit my kids, at that point I offloaded them like crazy. I never want them to hang on to stuff because they feel like they have to. As you say they will have plenty of their own sentimental things in life.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a beautiful post! The things our parents leave us with, both physical and mental….💗💗

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! 🤗🤗🤗 I’ve been having guilt triggers around every corner lately. While I was beating myself up a few days ago, all this came back to the forefront ☹

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have so many things I know my kids won’t want. My own mom had things I didn’t want. BUT, I loved going through her stuff. I loved thinking about why she’d bought this and why she’d kept that, and it was very comforting for me to sift through her belongings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately, I have my “collections” of toys that they will have to reconcile that I think they know were important to me. And some writing. But I also hope that they don’t have guilt for not keeping certain things, especially if they can’t use them. They each have memory boxes set aside in the storage closet. I do hope they are comforted too when the time comes, I cant say that I or my mother were. Oy!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a stash of Star Wars memorabilia.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. A couple of years ago I decided to inventory my sentimental stuff – photograph and provenance . Because they are important to me. And perhaps, in the sifting and sorting after my passing, my kids will look and understand the ‘stuff’ I left behind regardless of what happens to it after. And perhaps in the process they too will have their grief triggered. And that is a good thing. A healing thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a fantastic idea! When i did finally let go of most of my childhood things my mom kept for me, I kept pictures of all of it so I wouldnt forget. I make picture books for the kids and luckily so much is documented in picture form and we remember their things through the years that way (which is how im able to keep their actual memory boxes on the small side!) I’m going to give some thought though to any ‘sentimentals that may warrant their own documentation 🤔🤔🤔 Probably things that were once handed to me. I have a tiny box with a cat carved into it that belonged to my great-grandma, haha….just remembered that! Not entirely sentimental but cool to pass down 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That box sounds awesome. I have an old fashioned coffee grinder from my grandma. We still occasionally use it to grind beans.

        Like

        1. My grandparents ‘willed’ me their old aluminum coffee press from their cabin/camping days 😂😂😂 I couldn’t figure out how to use it so I donated it, lol!

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close