When mom passed away, all of her things were boxed up and put into storage. As part of my compartmentalization/survival-mode of medical school, I chose not to go through any of it. I just allowed it to be stored - for better or worse. This has been looming over my head for the past 2 years. I knew that I would someday have to face the 5 storage crates packed to the brim with all of my mother's belongings.
A few weeks before moving to San Antonio, I set out to go through everything and decide what to take and what to leave, knowing that I may never be living in mid-Missouri again. What I wasn't quite prepared for was the amount of stuff mom accumulated. She was, by accident or by choice, the family historian of sorts. We have literally 1000's of pictures dating as far back as the 1880's from family members in Canada. We also have letters, cards, slides, books and other keepsakes from the same time period. It just didn't feel right to be the one to decide the fate of these memories so I have taken it upon myself to scan them and digitize them and share them with the entire family... that should keep me busy while in Texas :).
I was amazed at how easily I was able to get rid of most of her clothes and other things (furniture, linens, etc). I was also not particularly drawn to keeping my own things such as awards, artwork, notes from friends, clothes. It was the small things... grocery lists in her handwriting, pictures of her taken when she wasn't paying attention, her perfume... her scarves. When I touched these things, it was as if I were closer to her. Closer than I have been since she passed away. It is hard to explain, but picking up a piece of paper with HER handwriting on it made me feel as though we were connected again. Needless to say, I saved a few of the strange things such as old Yahtzee score cards that we both wrote on, and lists and cards she wrote to me. These are some of the small things that I will touch, hold, and remember her by.
I learned several things from this adventure with my past. Here are just a few:
1.) In my life Dan and I will strive not to hold on to as many "things" as she did. It is really hard as a child to know what to do with things your parents leave you. In her case, she didn't know these were things she would be leaving. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's doesn't afford you the clarity to throw things out. Instead, it leads to hoarding and holding on to tangible memories, almost as if when the memories you can touch are gone the ones in your head will cease to exist as well.
2.) Be kind to yourself when you are going through your parent's things. Take breaks, embrace the memories, and let yourself feel what you feel. I was surprised which things really triggered emotion in me and which things didn't. Remember that most of the tangible things are just that, things. The memories you have from those things are forever. Take a picture of items that you don't want to forget, and then let them go.
3.) For me it was important to pick one of mom's many signature clothing items that I would keep and cherish as a constant memory of her. For those who knew her, you remember her style and flair. She was always classy and well put together. She wore the most beautiful suits to work every day. But the most vivid memory I have of my mom was getting ready in the mornings. She would stand in the mirror and put on her make-up and I would watch so closely. The way she put blush on her beautifully high cheekbones. The way she put on just the right amount of eye shadow. She always finished off her routine with a dab of her Gucci perfume... first both wrists, then her neck. Then she would wrap a beautiful scarf around her neck and tie it just so. She had a silk scarf to match every outfit... literally. I found the box of her scarves when I was unpacking. I knew in an instant that THIS was the thing that I wanted to take with me. THE tangible memory that would be mine to carry on (if I can somehow pull off her look). I took one out and smelled it... and I swear... I could still smell the faintest scent of her Gucci perfume.
This is the scarf collection - a picture doesn't do it justice.