How do you pack up a life? That is what my brother and I had to do this past Monday and Tuesday. With my mother's passing last week, we had to clear out her 2 bedroom apartment.
Although tiny, her apartment was crammed full of her papers, writings, trip diaries, memoirs in progress, photo albums and all kinds of miscellaneous items. So my husband and I headed off to join my brother, knowing that we only had 2 half days and one evening to accomplish the task.
Mother had joined a writing group and was working on her memoirs when she died. Of course as a genealogist I could not bear the thought that these might be lost. I was determined to gather every scrap of paper I could find and take it home to sort through at my leisure. That way I could preserve and share it with others in the family.
I had not realized the enormity of the task. Papers and journals and binders full of notes, were everywhere. I counted 25 large 3 ring binders chock full of writing and printed genealogy reports. I packed 7 photo albums then my brother found hundreds of loose photos stuffed into large envelopes in her basement storage locker. Mother had an office where she wrote on her computer late into the night. Beside her desk were 2 large filing cabinets (4 drawers) full of file folders. One extra filing drawer was part of her desk and when I started in the office I found another rolling cabinet also full of files.
So we organized ourselves - my husband would tackle the kitchen. A small job we thought - perhaps an hour tops to finish it. Hah! The kitchen took hubby almost 7 hours to sort and empty out.
My brother was to sort larger items of furniture and go through mother's clothes and dresser drawers. That was very difficult, it is a sad thing to look through pockets and pack your mother's favourite outfits into bags for Goodwill.
My job was to gather all the file folders, photo albums and looose papers. At first I felt intrusive and very uncomfortable about "prying" as I skimmed papers to know whether it was something I should take or something that my brother, as executor, needed.
Partway through our packing we were surprised by the arrival of two women who had been friends of mother's and in her writing group. We had a lovely talk with them, it was very nice to hear them talk about our mom and how much they enjoyed having her in the group and as a friend. They invited us to join them the next day for a service they were having in honour of our mother.
Many of the people living in the apartment building dropped by to offer condolences or have a chat about mother and her impact on them. It was quite heartwarming to hear their stories and to realize how well they treated her.
Calling it a day at 7:30 pm we looked around and felt that we were in a worse mess than when we had started. We had boxes ready for our vehicle and my husband had taken out load after load of food items (some with expiry dates of 1995!!) to the garbage but it looked like we had hardly made a dent. We left feeling a bit depressed both at the seemingly never-ending job ahead, and at the realization that we were packing up a life. Once packed it would be over. A life lived, now gone.
I'll talk about Packing Up a Life, Day 2 in tomorrow's blog post.