Sunday, March 20, 2016

Day 20:#SOL16-The Final Clearout


The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!


Yesterday morning, my mom and I drove the 70 miles west to Katonah, the small town outside New York City where she grew up. My grandmother lived in the same house for 62 years. Sixty two years. Last week, a builder has made an offer on the house that my mom and her siblings have accepted. We had to finish clearing out the house in order to close in 30 days, and the builder will renovate the house, then sell it again.

"We have to do one final clear out," my mother said. "I don't know when we're going to get there." 

I would dread this trip if we put it off, so even though I had a lot to do yesterday, (including preparing a surprise birthday for my second daughter who turned 18 yesterday!!!) 

"Let's just go this morning," I said to my mom. 

She got dressed. 

We've gone through Nana's things now several times. We went through a layer when she succumbed to full-time live-in help, another layer when she couldn't remember the day of the week, another layer when she passed---People took what they wanted, we made trip after trip to the local Goodwill store, we made piles to be hauled away. In 62 years, anyone accumulates a lot. Yesterday, there wasn't much left. With a roll of masking tape and a wide blue sharpie, I marked items to be taken to the rummage sale or to be brought by movers to our Connecticut home. I scribbled labels while my mom talked on the phone with her sister who lives far away. They couldn't decide on the andirons, and there was a painting Jill remembered that we couldn't find. 

"If they're causing that much debate, we'll just take them," I said, writing "to 139" on a piece of masking tape. I touched the not-yet-dry ink as I attached the tape, and it left a blue blotch on my thumb. 

Is it possible to be prepared but to still be surprised? To be ready but caught off guard. When my mom looked at me and said, "I hope you go through my things with more emotion," I was wordless. She was teary and raw, but I felt attacked and defensive. I wanted to comfort her, but I also wanted to explain that emotion takes time.  It wasn't that I didn't have emotion or sentiment about the work we were doing; it just needed to get done, and I was missing Julia's birthday. I had shopping to do, a party to set up, some schoolwork to finish. Pausing to acknowledge the finality of the work would get in the way of efficiency. 

"We've gone through her things, though, Mom," I said. "Could you just appreciate that I'm here and we're getting this done?" 

Not a good response. 

She crumpled. "I never say the right thing with you." 

I paused. Emotion won out over efficiency. 

"You do, Mom," I said, and I out my arms around her. "And there are some really important reflections to talk about on the ride home."  

We hit rewind, finished the job, and I went out to the garden before we left to say goodbye to the house that had been her home for her entire childhood. In hindsight, I wish we had sat down in the garden and I'd listened to a story or two. 

Isn't hindsight always 20/20?  But maybe this reflection will be close and fresh enough for me to do a better job the next time efficiency challenges emotion whether it's with my mom, my husband, my daughters, my colleagues, a student---anyone, really.

Margaret Simon wrote recently how writing is like praying. It's Sunday morning, and I'm not a churchgoer, but here is my prayer.

Happy Slicing,



11 comments:

  1. The final clean out is difficult no matter how you do it. I understand your efficiency as well as your mom's emotion. When we are in the moment, things are not so clear. Writing always helps. Yes, your prayer is heard.

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  2. This is beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. So many emotions and perspectives. And the finality of it... It's a beautiful prayer. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This is beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. So many emotions and perspectives. And the finality of it... It's a beautiful prayer. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. I couldn't agree more writing is a bit like praying. Being able to compartmentalize is a way to survive and be efficient, sometime we need to stop and be in the moment. Hope you made it home to make memories with your own family.

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  5. It's hard when you have so much going on in the present and feeling the pressure of your "to do" list and others are feeling the emotions of what's happening right there and then. Hindsight is 20/20 - I just always hope that I can remember what I learned or thought or had a feeling from the next time around.

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  6. The process is so hard and the one thing I learned is that there is no one right way to do it. I totally connected with your pull between being a mom and being a daughter. That pull has been the story of my life for the past five years. When we stop to reflect on these moments, as you have, I do think we grow and change. I get wanting to get it done... so hard to realize someone's life comes down to bags and boxes; yard sales and trash; mine or yours. Hope you have a quiet moment for you today.
    Clare

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  7. It is never easy, and everyone responds differently. I've been through it myself, for me, when I moved, and with my children. It was a goodbye that I knew would be tough, but needed. When we all gathered to clear Arvie's mother's home, it was both hard and joyous because the whole family stayed there, reminiscing as we loaded, organized, etc. The hardest part, like your garden walk, was the final walking out and closing the door. It sounds like a tough day for you, but I think it's nice that your mother at least told you how she felt. Some keep it all in, and the anger grows. You are wonderful to have taken the day to go, Melanie. Thank you for sharing. And Happy Birthday to your daughter!

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  8. This was a beautiful post and stirred so many thoughts and feelings as I'm sure the experience did for you. Emotions vs. efficiency. That's a tough one to balance. Thank you so much for honestly sharing your experience with your mother and your different perspectives. I hope you and your mom had the chance to reflect together on the ride home.

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  9. This was a beautiful post and stirred so many thoughts and feelings as I'm sure the experience did for you. Emotions vs. efficiency. That's a tough one to balance. Thank you so much for honestly sharing your experience with your mother and your different perspectives. I hope you and your mom had the chance to reflect together on the ride home.

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  10. This is so real to how life REALLY is--so rarely does it work the way it does in books or movies. The moments that you shut down just to "get it done," when other people are so open--this is just lovely. Well done.

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