House-cleaning and Death

May 2021
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Death is multifaceted. After a loved one passes away, first comes the pain of loss, the tears, the funeral, the closing of the casket, and the cemetery. Not long after, though, the business side of death comes calling. The will’s read, banks, and financial institutions are contacted, death certificates sent. After days, or weeks, or perhaps months, the last facet of death must be addressed–the disposing of a loved one’s personal effects. For me, this has been the hardest. I’ve been laboriously sifting through closets, prying opened locked suitcases–their keys long lost–and rummaging through boxes so old that the masking tape, which once sealed them years ago, is now brittle with age. Now I know how Howard Carter felt when he trepidatiously pushed a lighted candle through the sealed door of King Tut’s tomb. What do you see, he was asked? Wondrous things! And I too have discovered fascinating things!

My mother wasn’t a packrat, as the old-timers say. She just kept things safe in case they were ever needed to prove a point or to fulfill a need. Hence, I found fifty-year-old bank statements, utility bills, insurance bills, to name a few. She also kept meticulous ledgers, writing down in her beautiful hand every dollar spent, on what and where–a child of the Great Depression she most surely was!  She also wrote now-funny little notes to herself. A $17.56 monthly power bill elicited this response: Too much! Frank’s gotta turn of more lights. An increase in the monthly car gas bill caused a stir. What are we going to do when gas goes to twenty-five cents a gallon? She also remarked on bittersweet things.  A 1964 ledger entry for one-hundred dollars indicated it was to help defray a relative’s funeral expenses. Mother wrote out to the side: Frank and I need to make our own funeral arrangements with Riemann’s, so Andy won’t have to worry. And that they did.

Bundling up Mother’s beautiful clothes was a chore that took several days. I would bundle, reminisce, tear-up, and stop. The textures of silk and velvet reminded me of her soft hands; the smell of Habanita perfume to evocative. When I pulled the car around to the Goodwill drop off sight, a functionary with a gap-tooth wearing a drab outfit met me at the door. I gently handed Mother’s clothes—still cleaned and pressed, sorta via color and style—to the lady who abruptly threw them into a dirty clothes bin. That it, she asked. Yes, I said. She didn’t even say thank-you as she waddled off. I couldn’t get into the car fast enough. I could hardly drive for the tears. I drove to the beach, parked, and sat looking out across the Gulf’s tawny-brown waters. I know in my heart of hearts that Mother would have wanted me to do exactly what I had done, just as she had done with Daddy’s clothes when God called him Home. But it conjured such finality–an irreversible ending. Thankfully, this trial is behind me. Life goes forward and so shall I. I’ve discovered other little tantalizing family tidbits too but will report those later.

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