I can’t decide if it is a poignant reflection on a life lived… or just a bad case of hoarding.
I spent nearly an hour tonight disposing of a box of used calendars that go back to the year I was born. From the daily minutia of Lamaze classes and notes to pick me up from camp, to significant events like graduations and moves; every detail was recorded in this one cardboard box. I learned my mother had a doctor’s appointment the day I was born… I learned she needed to send my Uncle Pip a birthday card in 1988… I learned what she bought me for Christmas in 1997. Why was this important to keep?
I’ve been hard on my mother this week. I’ve been angry. Her terminal diagnosis is nearly two years old, yet it is only now that she lies helpless on her death bed that the decades of useless paper work and items that should have been taken to Salvation Army three moves ago is being dealt with. I found a pad of paper from her office in 1974. I spent 45 minutes shredding Aeroplan mile statements dating back nearly 30 years. They belonged to my father… he’s been dead for five years.
As we wade through the debris we find moments of joy. We found the dress up box with which my sister and I spent countless happy hours playing. We found photos spanning 70 years. We also filled three recycle bags and one garbage bag in a span of two or three hours. Not to mention the groaning shelves of stuff that will go to the estate auction house.
Once the physical and emotional debris in cleared from this whole experience, I will go back to my house with a much more ruthless approach to clutter. I already make regular trips to the donation bins, but now I think back to my own collection of calendars. I have a few years piled up of the daily schedule… do I really need them? No. My family schedule is about today and planning for next week and next month. It’s not about the past.
I grew up in a house that placed great value on things. The china cabinet is filled with things that were my Nana’s or her Nana’s. I can see the value in some of those things, but this idea that we can’t throw anything away because it could be useful later has proved its harm as we face the prospect of clearing this house. Whether it is the 15 year old chocolates brought back from Africa or the will and mortgage of my great-grandfather, I fail to see why it is important to keep these things (okay maybe the great-grandfather’s will is kind of cool but the chocolates were just nasty).
I’ve been rather ruthlessly warning all my mother’s friends who call and offer aid or moral support in this horrible time of limbo. I tell them it is not fair to leave this level of debris for children or grandchildren. They will not need 30 different baskets. They will not need paperwork dating back 30 years. They will not need a stack of photos from a business party 20 years ago with absolutely no one they know attending.
Those left behind after a death have enough emotional clutter to sort through; adding physical debris is not only unfair, it borders on cruel. I’ve learned many painful life lessons during this slow march to death, but one of them is the most elemental of all. I teach my 3 year old to clean up after himself… the least we can do as adults is the same.