Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bringing Mom Home

A Warning: I am feeling a bit muddled, a bit conflicted, and a bit sad, and I suspect this post will reflect all that, but I know that writing helps me clarify my tangled emotions and also helps me clear a space for a next step. Thanks for your patience.

After my mother died almost 8 years ago, my father wanted me to take a number of my Mom's treasures, and I was happy to do so. As she was dying, she told me about some specific things she wanted me to have, including a collection of brown and white English transferware dishes, which I have showcased in an old painted cupboard in our dining room and use lovingly and carefully. In fact, there are touches of my mother throughout our home--many antiques she and Dad collected over the years, and I love having them as part of our decor. Well, Dad is now urging me, and I assume my sister and brother also, to take more things, saying he wants us to have what we would like to have now. Before, when Dad has urged us to go through her purses or the Christmas decorations one more time, I have suggested we say "thank you" and then take something and put it in a bin and not worry about it. This time I had a hard time following my own advice. Now why is that?

* I am a major collector with excellent antiquing buddies, including my husband. Bruce and I have loved roaming back roads and finding small towns with antique shops. Over the years we explored Ohio that way and now are doing the same thing here in Wisconsin, although not buying to the same degree because--you guessed it--WE HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF! Not only do we have too much stuff, but we don't have a barn where excess can be stored. The summer before we moved to Madison, even before we knew that was a possibility, we had a series of garage sales and worked hard to eliminate, to strip ourselves of some layers. Even so WE HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF! True, my stuff is well organized and I love to decorate for the seasons, but still I am overwhelmed by the width and depth of what I have. Instead of this being a time of acquisition, I prefer to think of the 60's as a time for shedding and sorting and simplifying. Now how do I do that if I add additional layers? Plus, we anticipate moving to St Paul in a few years when Bruce retires, and we know that move will mean a smaller home. Where will I put the bins of Mom's cut glass and handpainted china?

* Yes, I know --this is not just about stuff. This is about grieving. As much as it sometimes bothers me to see how stuffed Dad's house is and what a shrine to mother it is, I guess I don't want it to change. As long as I can open the closet in what used to be my room and see the few remaining party clothes Mom wore for special occasions and as long as I can still catch a breath of her Estee Lauder smell, then I can pretend for just a moment that she is still present. Over the years my sister and I have made a few changes in the house, not to erase Mom, but to bring more of my Dad into the house--his books in the family room book case, and his collection of Kuchina dolls on the mantel, and for the most part he has appreciated those efforts, but I still want to walk into the dining room and see the collection of colored glass pieces--cranberry, pink, green, lemon yellow, purple--reflecting the day's sunlight. I want to peek into the living room, which was only in use on holidays, and see the little enamelware boxes on her desk, a desk never used for writing letters or paying bills. I want her there, and furthermore, not only is my grieving unfinished, but I am anticipating the loss of my father. I can hardly bear that thought.

I did as my Dad asked, not wanting to hurt his feelings, and I picked out a few more things to bring home with me. Yet another purse, a beautifully framed print of birds which I hung in the guest bathroom, two figurines, two plates, one with a sticker on the back that said "Nancy," because we gave it to her once, a cut glass perfume bottle from her collection on her dresser, and a couple framed pictures--one of her as a little girl and one of mom and dad when they visited us at the farm. None of these treasures are hidden away in a bin in our storage room. I have somehow found places for them all. That will not always be the case, I know.

What am I learning? Well, for one thing I am relearning the lesson that the grief is simply always there, lying in wait for me to notice it. Most of the time it is a shadow and sometimes even a comfort that I have not forgotten, but sometimes it stabs me and I know how real it is. So be it. That's the way love is.

I am also more determined to clear my own decks; to make good decisions about what I really want to keep at least for now. That is an ongoing process, but one that needs to be in motion all the time. The new blouse in and two out rule, for example. Furthermore, I want our kids to have what they want, but I don't expect them to love everything we have amassed. We've loved decorating our home with our treasures, but that's the key, they are OUR treasures.

Sometimes help comes in unexpected places. On our way home from St Paul this past weekend I read a recent Better Homes and Gardens magazine while Bruce was driving and read a hint: take a photo of an item that may have sentimental value but you no longer want and put it in a scrapbook and then dispose of it. Sorry, Mom, but at some point I am going to have lots of photographs!!!! In the meantime, I will say "thank you," and bring a bit more of Mom home.

1 comment:

  1. Nancy,

    I found this post very timely, given that my husband is helping his parents sort through lovely objects acquired over their lifetime and their parents before them, preparing to move to a smaller place. It is tough, yes?

    Judy K