I’m tired. I’m achey. I just want to relax. I’ve been spending time reflecting on why I feel like I’ve been dragging for awhile and I think I have it figured out. I have been a part of 5 major moves in the past five years. And let’s just say I am a bit over it. Now, the only move that actually involved my household was last summer. And that certainly was a doozy.
But this story begins way back in January 2014.
I had been noticing for quite some time that my mom was changing. Macular degeneration had compromised her eyesight to the point of not being able to drive. It was getting harder and harder for her to stay on top of things around her house. And the prospect of packing for a trip to visit us was completely overwhelming for her.
My brother and I finally had to face the fact that our mom could no longer live in her own home. We found a nice apartment in an assisted living facility and began the process of sorting through her belongings to decide what to keep, what to throw, what to donate and what to sell. I volunteered to do the bulk of the work as my brother was working full-time.
A sentimental woman with many interests, my mom was a collector and a saver. In other words, she had a LOT of stuff crammed into that 2-bedroom townhome and garage. The elegant decor my mom had so painstakingly developed over the years belied the chaos that lay hidden within drawers, cupboards, baskets and closets. Realizing far too late that this process should have begun YEARS ago, I threw my entire being into going through EVERYTHING. And yes, I had to go through every stack, every file, and every box because if I hadn’t, I would have thrown away her Social Security card, some antique Christmas ornaments and a beautiful embroidered piece made by my grandmother.
This process would have been difficult enough if I lived just down the street from my mom. But no, we lived two hours away and I literally spent 15 of 30 days down at her place working like a maniac trying to get everything done. On top of that, I had a two-year-old who, overall was a real trooper, but of course, got board easily. Thank goodness for Grandma along with endless amounts of interesting things to look at!
But this process was more than the simple act of going through my mothers stuff. I literally was going through her life. Her passions. The things that she worked so hard to accumulate and the things that made her happy. Items that represented her work and her interests, not to mention her marriage to her late husband. To the untrained eye, this stuff was a pile of garage sale junk but to me, these things were my mom and deserved to be treated with respect and honor.
Don’t get me wrong – as in many parent-child relationships, I am not like my mother in many ways. I am not terribly materialistic, I couldn’t care less about having my house perfectly decorated and have never been much of a collector. But because these things were important to her, it felt so disrespectful to get rid them, impractical as it was to keep most of the items in question. Disposing of her precious items felt so insulting to her dignity and worth. In not keeping the things that were important to her, it almost felt like I was saying what was important to her didn’t matter anymore. Like her life didn’t matter anymore. It tore me apart.
At the same time, she couldn’t take everything with her and I agonized over what to keep and what could go. It didn’t help that she was reluctant to part with anything. I ended up sending many of her precious things to her new place as I just couldn’t bear to take them away from her. I also ended up bringing way too many items to my own home. Like I needed anything else there!
After all the sorting (and agonizing) there was the sale, after which we had to box up all the unsold items and arrange for them to be picked up along with the unwanted furniture. Then there was the move, which thankfully was orchestrated by a company specializing in moving seniors. Finally, my daughter and I spent 3 days with my mom helping her get acclimated to her new surroundings.
So that was move #1.
Move #2 happened two and a half years later, when my mom had to downsize to a smaller apartment in the same facility. The chickens had come home to roost and I definitely paid for having my mom keep so many items from the first move. Now we had to go through the entire paring down process all over again! Since she would be moving to another floor, we recruited friends and got everything moved – on the hottest day of the summer.
Move #3 happened in January 2018. My mom had begun falling frequently and it was determined that she could no longer live in her own apartment. She would need to move to a nursing home and therefore could only keep the bare essentials and her most precious photos and mementos. Once again time to pare down. The extreme limit on space made it easier to part with her things and since this was starting to get old, we gave almost everything away – to the point that now I regret letting go of a few of the more valuable items.
Things didn’t work out at the first nursing home so poor mom had to move again, thankfully to a much nicer facility. I don’t really count this as a major move as she had so few belongings at this point.
Move #4 was our move last summer from a 2400 square foot house to one with 1500 square feet. ‘Nuff said on that one. Except that we moved next door, which made perfect sense to us but struck most people as being a bit odd. Just so you know, it’s the same amount of work whether you move 500 feet or 500 miles. And of course, once again, our move was on the hottest, most humid day of the summer.
Move #5 was helping my uncle move this spring. At 92, he was still living in his own home but was getting to the point of needing the support a senior apartment community could provide. Now, my uncle didn’t have quite as much stuff as my mom but he had the same pack-rat tendencies and I found myself sorting through decades of bank statements and other sensitive documents, deciding what to keep and what to shred.
I went through the same emotional turmoil with my uncle’s things. His life passions were mountain climbing and woodworking. Over the course of a few decades, he had meticulously documented each of his climbs through slides that were carefully catalogued and referenced in several journals. One of my favorite childhood memories was when he came to visit and show slides and talk about his mountaineering adventures.
Well, his slide projector is ancient and it’s been years since he’s entertained us with a show. We went around and around on what to do with the slides. In the end, since he had extra space in his new apartment, we decided to store them there until we made a decision. Maybe somebody will appreciate this comprehensive documentation of peaks in the Western U.S. from the late ’50’s to the ’70’s. Maybe I should collaborate with my uncle on a book. Maybe… maybe…
Whatever we decide, I want to give the utmost honor and respect to the lives and passions of my mom, uncle and other elderly relatives. I want to keep the memories, meaning and love alive for as long as I possibly can.
Maybe I’m not so different from my mom, after all.