Last January I wrote a series of posts on decluttering, because this is the month I try to get that done in real life. I still have hope that I will get to it this month, but I’m getting a frightfully late start, so we’ll see. Who wants to declutter in February, the month of love?
However, we can start with this story:
My dear mother died almost eighteen years ago and my beloved father followed three years later. (Those numbers astound me. It seems as if it could have been yesterday. Of course time has mitigated the pain somewhat and I don’t think about them every hour on the hour anymore, but it still hurts to actually stop and look at their photographs hanging in the hallway. Most days I avert my eyes. And I would give almost anything to spend an afternoon with them to “catch up.”)
When my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving us three grown children orphaned, I had just had major abdominal surgery. In the ensuing six weeks, my brother, my sister, and I engaged in the usual frenzied activity that often follows a death. We cleaned out his belongings; we held an estate sale; we sold the house. In our hurry, a lot of paper-related items came to reside in my home.
This past week, some fourteen and one half years later, I invited my brother and sister to spend a full day with me – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – so we could finally deal with the two overflowing drawers, three large heavy totes, and the two-drawer file cabinet that contained the rest of their effects, multiple scrapbooks with multiple pictures, and almost sixty-six years of marital history.
(I stand corrected about the meals. Actually the three of us ate so much for breakfast that we elected to skip lunch and have an early dinner.)
While we definitely had a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, an emotional and physical adventure was had by all.
We tried to sort out and keep anything clearly historical in case one of the grandchildren or great-grandchildren should want to do a genealogy or write a book someday. Or just know from whence they came.
Then we dismantled some of the scrapbooks, each of us claiming the pictures that pertained to our own families. But how do you tear apart volume after volume that your mother had so artistically and painstakingly put together? You might as well tear out your heart.
On the other hand, what good are the scrapbooks if they are stored in my basement? And why would we ask our children to make these kinds of decisions? They already had received many mementos when Mom and Dad died.
So how do you throw away piles of old pictures? Even if you don’t know the names of the people in them? Even if your children will most certainly not know the names? These were real people. They don’t deserve to be tossed away. But as the oldest person left in our family, if I don’t know who or what the pictures are, it seemed useless to keep them.
How do you toss the many beautiful anniversary and birthday cards, invariably signed “Love,” from Paul to Bertha and Bertha to Paul? We ended up tearing off the beautiful fronts and sending them to St. Jude’s Card Project for use in making new cards.
How do you discard letters from friends who clearly loved your parents a great deal, even if your parents and their friends are gone?
It was a difficult day.
How did we do it?
With pain in our guts and holes in our hearts.