Today was the day my sister and I have been dreading the most: cleaning out Mom's bedroom. Except for large furniture, the entire rest of our childhood home is almost completely empty, except for her bedroom. It still looks exactly the way she left it eight months ago. When I close my eyes I can see her packing her hospital bag, kissing the dogs on the nose, and telling them to behave because "I promise I'll be back in one week."
It was a promise she couldn't keep.
When I called my sister this morning to confirm our scheduled 11:30 am meeting time at Mom's house, I could hear the dread in her voice, the fatigue, the sadness. And I knew she just couldn't handle this particular chore, the final dismantling of our mother's life. As I've said before, we all have our sore spots and hers is the house. God only knows, my baby sister has been there for me when I've needed her and I'm only too happy to return the favor.
"Stay home," I told her. "I'll handle it." She gratefully accepted.
But it wasn't easy.
Mom's bedroom is huge: two large closets, two large dressers, a bathroom, sitting room and a trunk. My best friend, Pam,assisted me and I couldn't have handled it without her. As we went through each section, she helped keep me focused when she saw me tearing up, getting weary, slowing down. It felt so intrusive, going through Mom's drawers and boxes, manhandling her possessions, taking her clothes off the hangers, removing her shoes from the racks, smelling her perfume; remembering that this was the dress she wore during formal night on our cruise to Alaska; the "mother of the bride" dress she wore to my sister's wedding; the silly Tasmanian Devil sweatshirt she always donned at the dog park.
As we stuffed each item of clothing into one of three plastic bags ("Keep," "Donate," Trash") I felt like I was losing a bit of my mother all over again. What made it more difficult was that Mom had saved many of Dad's possessions, as well as her mother's, so I had to go through these items too. Passports, photo albums, letters, keepsakes, news-clippings and certificates. Each conjuring up a plethora of long-forgotten memories of people I loved, of people now gone.
After four hours I was worn, depleted, dusty and shell-shocked. Surrounded by boxes, Hefty bags and trash. Surrounded by a discombobulated mess that represented all that was left of my beloved mother.
The deeper we love, the harder we grieve. And today served as a reminder of just how much I've loved.