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January 30, 2009

Packing Up A Life, Day 2

Day 1 of packing up my mother's belongings from her apartment was over. After my brother left my husband and I stayed another 2 hours to clear out the rest of the kitchen and the bathroom. Then it was off to our hotel to shower and change for supper and collapse into bed at 11 p.m.

I woke at 3 am, unable to sleep. Day 1 had passed in such a blur of activity and frantic sorting and packing that I really didn't have time to think about the circumstances and the emotional impact this was having on us. Objects that had been precious to my mother had been tossed in the garbage. Her earrings that she purchased on each of her many trips still dangled from her earring board on her dresser. I couldn't stop worrying about what we were going to do with those earrings!

On Day 1 the Writer's Group she was part of had invited us to attend a memorial service they were holding in mother's honour on Day 2 of our packing and sorting. My brother had a lawyer's appointment so could not go but I was honoured to be asked and told them I would be there. They asked if I would read the obituary I had written for mother, and also a poem that I found in her apartment on Day 1. Mother had written the poem for her group and it seemed fitting that it be read at the Service. Mother was a very reserved woman who did not share her emotions or feelings with others but her writing gave her that opportunity to allow her inner thoughts and feelings to shine through. Her poem touched me as it revealed a part of her I had not known. So I agreed to read it. All these thoughts kept me awake from 3 am on.

The service was lovely. Each of the women in her writing group shared their impressions of Joan (my mother). It was a unique opportunity for me to glimpse my mother through their eyes, as a friend rather than a mother. Then it was my turn. As I read her poem, I was overwhelmed and could not continue. But one of the women took over and finished it. It all seemed so fitting as mother's writing was extremely important to her. Here is her poem written when she was 90:

Heaven knows what destiny is in store for any of us
I am sure that God has our fate in his hands
I believe that at our birth our death is decided
And the date is already set
No matter what crisis we may go through
It makes no difference
When our time arrives we leave this life
And no amount of counsel will change it
The devil that is in each of us
Will not be able to change this
God will prevail this I firmly believe

Poem by Joan

Then it was back up the apartment where my brother and my husband were busy sorting and packing. I wanted to finish up her office files. I had to read the title of each file folder so that I could either pack it in a box destined for my home or put it in my brother's executor pile. It was quite frustrating to have to bypass opening and reading such files as "My Life", "Trip to Russia", "Trip to China", "Friends", and so on. But I knew I would have lots of time to read and share with the rest of the family once I got everything home.

Day 2 was more emotional than Day 1. Whether it was fatigue or the fact that Day 2 was a slightly slower pace, thus there was more time to think about what we were doing, I do not know. But I felt very sad to think that 93 years of living was being sorted into "keep" "throw out" or "give to grandchildren" The apartment complex was planning a bazaar in a few weeks so we added "bazaar items" to our sorting piles.

Because we had so little time left before my husband and I had to head out on the long drive home, we decided that I would also take the little mementoes we hoped to distribute to grandchildren or great-grandchildren. It would be easier to pass those items on to family at a later date. At this point our SUV was almost full. We had 11 cardboard boxes, 2 large plastic storage tubs, and some smaller items already packed and in the vehicle. Now we had to find room for 2 more boxes of mementoes.

Finally we were done. The apartment was sorted and packed. Larger furniture that we did not want was set aside for the local thrift store. Neither Goodwill nor Salvation Army offered a pickup service and we could not deliver the items ourselves. The ladies had their bazaar items and a few smaller mementoes went to mother's closest friends in the building. Her life was now packed into those few cardboard boxes and tubs. It felt very unceremonious and I had to keep reminding myself that it was simply the natural course of living and dying.

Our last stop was to pick up mother's ashes. Such a small box. It seemed surreal, less than a week before she had been talking to us and laughing. Her ashes have come home with me for safekeeping until we can inter them.

I have also arranged to have my father's ashes disinterred and shipped to me so that he too can be interrred in Guelph with my mother. He has been waiting 49 years to go home and lie with his brothers, parents and grandparents in Woodlawn Cemetery in Guelph. Now everyone will be together.

We plan a Memorial in the spring or early summer when the weather is better and my son is back from Afghanistan. At that time we can say our farewells to our mother and our father, and celebrate their lives. Because packing up a life doesn't mean the person is gone and forgotten, it is a process of moving forward through the cycle of life and death. Mother will be remembered, her "treasures" will help family to think of her each time they look at an object she once held dear and now in their possession.

And now I have dozens of boxes to unpack and many more memories to be rekindled. I suspect there will be genealogy treasures in those boxes too.


Taylorstales-Genealogy said...

Anyone who has lost a loved one feels your pain. As I read your post I thought of what I went through when my mother passed on. Your mother's life and memories will live on through you and your family. I have no doubt that you will keep her spirit alive. In time you will hear her laughter along with yours.

Snowbird said...

I know exactly what you went through. When my aunt passed away in 2000, my husband, brother and I had to go through her 8 room house, sort, pack, throw away, give away etc. Not an easy job nor a pleasant one. But you are so lucky that your mother was a writer. You will have many memories of her in her writings.

Anonymous said...

You write so movingly about this experience that I find it difficult to comment -- it brings back so many memories of a similar "odyssey". Thank you for sharing.

Woodlawn Cemetery in Guelph is a beautiful resting place -- I have ancestors and relatives there myself.

Becky Thompson said...

Lorine, you're giving us quite a gift by letting us into this 'moment in time' in your life. That's very generous of you. Thank you so much You've been in my thoughts.

Valorie said...


Thank you for writing about this, Lorine. It brings back the experience of helping my father clean out his house after my mom died, in preparation of his sale of my childhood home, and their home for over 50 years of marriage. Bitter and sweet mixed so closely, and tears and smiles.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

I appreciate everyone's comments and advice for continuing on with the unpacking of my mother's items.

It's really true that it helps to know you aren't alone at times like this.