When You Clean Out Your Mother’s House

My mother passed away a few months ago, not quite three years after Dad died. I live an 8-hour drive away, so wasn’t there when she passed unexpectedly, in a nursing home.

We had a complex relationship. Now that she’s gone I feel like she was a presence that can’t exactly be explained. I feel like she was that actress on a stage that had her role to play and she played it, at times, just for my own sake. It was like she was larger than life and didn’t physically represent who she really was. She kept a lot hidden inside herself.

One of my most paranormal experiences was related to our bond. One evening approximately five years ago, as I was preparing to read in the evening in my easy chair, I had a vision of her trying to get out of a chair with a cane in each hand, face grimacing, and unable to rise from her chair. The vision lasted a few seconds, almost like I had a little TV screen in front of me. Afterwards, I thought to myself, “Gee, that was weird, I just had a vision of my mother when she was really old.”

About a week later, my mother called me and said, “Where have you been? I’ve been having a terrible time. My knees gave out on me and I had to use two canes, and I couldn’t even get out of a chair.” She described to me exactly what I had seen in my little vision. I was wowed. Never before or since have I experienced anything like that. Did I have the vision while it was happening, or before it happened? And by what she said on the phone, it sounded like she wished to reach me for help, which probably sent out an intense quantum thought that reached me. I’ve told a number of people about it since it happened to illustrate that we do not live in a scientifically materialistic universe, and no one ever responds, perhaps they don’t know what to say.

I was not sad when she died because it was quick, peaceful, and painless. She was ready and she had suffered enough. A death like that is a blessing.

And so on and so on. We cling to things to cling to the people they belonged to when a loved one dies.

I am so grateful for the one thing that I did for Mom the last two years of her life, one of the years in assisted living, and the final year in a nursing home. I figured the one thing I could do from a distance was to call her, so starting when she went into assisted living, I began calling her around 5PM each day. This was hard at first because we did not have a history of staying in close communication by phone, and I had to totally give up my ego to do so because of the nature of the topics she wished to discuss. Our phone calls were not long, but I was reliably there every day. This gave me the opportunity to keep tabs on how she was doing, too, as much is evident in a short phone call. My Mom was the type of person who never wanted anyone to do anything for her, but she never once told me that I didn’t need to call her, and she usually thanked me for calling when we ended the conversation. Over the last year it became quite difficult to have a conversation with her because she had trouble speaking. But, on many days, I think my call was the about the only thing she had to look forward to. I told her that I wouldn’t be calling for a few days because I was going on a trip the week she died, so I wondered if that played a small part in the timing of her death.

Since she’s gone, every day when 5PM rolls around, I think of calling her, and what we might say.

One of my very favorite poems is “Immortality” by Clare Harner, 1934. Mom loved baby robins, and the day she died, I went on a walk with my husband and we saw a full grown baby robin, still with its speckled breast. We watched it for a long time, and I imagined that there she was, happy as could be.

Do not stand
By my grave, and weep.
I am not there,
I do not sleep—
I am the thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints in snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle, autumn rain.
As you awake with morning’s hush,
I am the swift, up-flinging rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight,
I am the day transcending night.
Do not stand
By my grave, and cry—
I am not there,
I did not die.

I wasn’t sure what it would feel like to sort my parents belongings. I spent three 8-hour days working nonstop, joined by various nieces and relatives at times. We accomplished a lot, and I found it to be enjoyable, if not interesting seeing how my parents minds worked by what they kept around. Mom had too many candles, artificial grapes, and silk vines and flowers. I found many, many funeral obituaries. My parents went to so many funerals! The house felt very peaceful while I was there. That, to me, was an important observation. My last hour and a half there I reserved for going through pictures, and I’m so glad I took the time to do so. It all helped me reconnect with my parents, and the pictures helped me connect to a younger, more vibrant time.

My parents lived to be 87 and 92 so I am at an age where I need to declutter my own house, not acquire things. Under those circumstances, what do you keep? That which sparks joy?

Mom collected glassware. I was drawn to the pink things. I’m pretty sure the pink drinking glass belonged to my beloved grandmother. Right now, I have some pink carnations in the pink glass vase.

Pink Antiques from Mom's House

This old framed photo belonged to my mother’s fathers side of the family and that’s all I know. It was hanging in her guest bedroom and it was something she decided to keep when her mother passed away. It feels good to me to have it on my wall now.

Old Family Photo in Frame

My mother always asked me if my guardian angel was with me as I left the house with the car as a teen. Admittedly, I wasn’t a great driver and had a few mishaps, though nothing serious. Perhaps I DID have a guardian angel now that I think back. She did ceramics for a while and did some complete nativity sets. For some reason the angel that went with the big set was apart from the set, so when I found it, I snatched it and it is now hanging on my art wall.

Mom's Angel and Santa Claus Ornament Keepsakes

I remembered the days while growing up that we each had a penny collection. We’d go through a bag of pennies from the bank looking for the one’s missing in the collection. Mom’s book always got first dibs on the rarest pennies. I still have my book, and now I have hers, too. Will any of our offspring care about these? Probably not.

Penny Collection Book 1970's

Mom was a crafter and collector of Santa Clauses. She made this and it doesn’t take up much room to store, so I will use it at my front door.

Craft Santa Claus Post Outdoor Decoration

And so on and so on. We cling to things to cling to the people they belonged to when a loved one dies.

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