It has been a month since Mom died and nine and a half since we lost Dad. While each of us four children are doing our part in moving forward in such a way that would make them proud, one of my jobs, by default, is preserving their material legacy.
For example, Dad’s cufflinks were divvied amongst the men, put aside for each of the five grandsons and converted into jewelry for us ladies. As for his other belongings, thankfully he was not a pack rat so each piece of paper or newspaper clipping Dad saved has meaning. He left behind original copies of his dissertations for his Master’s degree and his PhD as well as all of his published articles.
Mom’s belongings are a little more challenging to sort. Mom was always recognized for how well she put herself together each day. Her hair, nails and makeup were always perfect. The shoes matched the bag, and each outfit was adorned with the right touch of jewelry. She loved wearing pins. My sister and I sat in her closet one day and just giggled at how exhausted we would be if we even tried to look as polished as Mom. As was pointed out by Fr. Camilo at Mom’s funeral, she was not motivated by vanity. Rather, Mom simply wanted to present her best self to the world. Dad did the same.
Mom’s jewelry has been parceled out and there is not a drawer or a closet in her home that we have not sifted through. I’ve made at least a thousand decisions as to what we can give away and what we should keep. I’ve filled my Suburban several times already with her “collections.” I’ve even repurposed a closet in our home to safely house the Waterford, Lenox, Christmas plates, silver, several sets of gorgeous dishes and serving pieces galore. As each of the ten grandchildren move into a new home, he or she will be gifted with one of these “collections” chosen specifically for him or her by virtue of which trait was inherited from Nanny or Pop-Pop, I already know that which will be bequeathed to our daughters. Danielle’s gift will represent how she is the guardian of the next generation and Nicole’s will reflect her crystal clear focus. It is too soon to tell for the others.
Those who have cared for someone terminally ill will agree that the physical aspect of death is ugly and painful to witness. You push away the pain, though, for you know that your pain does not come close to matching the pain of your loved one. When the patient is your parent, your roles become reversed leaving the child confused and in the end, untethered.
While I am not one who normally looks to the past, the many items I’ve cataloged and sorted these past few weeks bring back beautiful memories which help to erase more recent images and to keep me grounded. I bathe in these remembrances to keep my heart soaked in warmth rather than succumb to the cold bitterness that could easily overtake me.
I will cherish my job as keeper of the possessions, taking joy each time things are passed on to the next generation and the stories behind them get told. There is meaning to everything that is stored away. Well, except maybe the pins.