My mother in law, may her memory be remembered for a blessing, closer to ninety-eight than 97, passed away shortly before Thanksgiving. From about 95 to the end, she was virtually house bound, legally blind, spent more and more time either in a chair or bed than not, and slowly lost the strength to walk. The dementia came and almost week by week robbed her of more and more of her mind. She died with her daughter and I holding her hand.
This is an appeal to “Boomers” and healthy to semi-healthy parents of Boomers. Think ahead and I don’t mean about the funeral. I’ve cleaned out apartments of the deceased more often than I’ve cared to: my grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my father. my wife’s aunt, and now my mother in law’s. It is awful. The only way to make it manageable is to find a way that is not too morbid or upsetting and discuss getting most of it done beforehand. Why? Because you have no idea how much “stuff” can be accumulated over a lifetime, no idea what-so-ever. At this writing it has taken four adults working about six hours a day and we are not done yet. For much of the time the work is slow because as my wife pointed out there are a lot of things to touch–pictures, letters, cards, awards–you name it.
The first discussion about this subject came years ago when in moving a box for her, I discovered it was full of check stubs and cancelled checks some pre-dating World War ll! “Why?” I asked. “Because you kids will be interested to know what we paid for things when we were your age,” came the answer. “Not!” Came my reply. The box stayed. So did the letters from friends, relatives, doctor’s offices, stock brokers and utility companies.
Pictures? Hundreds of them, a good many with unidentifiable people populating them.
My mother in law didn’t often buy new clothing. She said she “shopped in her closet.” In her closet were sets of clothing not sold in stores for decades. She often said, “Powder and paint will make you what you ain’t.” So with the vintage clothing, much of which had closet stains and make up stains and the like, came the power, the paint, the jewelry, the wigs (she had thinning hair), and the hats. Oh those hats! Actually everyone who remembered her remembered her for her style. She was, until she couldn’t be, always put together or as was said in the old country “fapootzed.”
In that same closet were a fair sampling of my deceased father in law’s clothing, holidays gifts she had received that she wrapped in brown paper, brand new, and put up on the shelves. There were boxes with family members names on them with things she thought that particular family member should have, and a filing cabinet. Don’t even ask.
She did one thing that actually becomes the point of the story. She had a lot of jewelry. Not a lot was valuable but a lot of it was really interesting, attractive upscale costume jewelry. Several years before her death her began giving pieces of it to her female family members. She said it gave her pleasure to see them wear it while she was still alive. So we come to it, the way the adult children and the uber-adult parents can come together and prevent the inevitable. The inevitable is the guilt when the parent realizes the amount of what has been left behind and the anger, depression, wistfulness and ten other emotions the children must bare in this cave of memories.
Find a way to make it palatable–a game, a give-away party on a birthday, a day a month for divesting. No one wants to do it, but it can and should be done earlier rather than later. If you are not able to be creative in the face of what this activity means go see a clergy person, a social worker, or an elder care professional. They can be a great help. If you don’t do this, I can not explain the exhaustion that awaits from the physical and emotional onslaught about to pervade your entire being. Then there is what your house and garage will look like because in reality everyone find lots and lots of “somethings” that fall into the categories of, “Oh I just can’t…” or “I need to look through this more carefully.” Many of the boxes you put together and filled with stuff to go out somehow go out but not to the trash. Surprise. They end up greeting you back home. So the process seems to have a measure of circular eternity to it.
This isn’t all, by any means. There is the finding of a charity that will take things. Some are very picky. Or you can find a company that takes, I said takes not buys, things but has restrictions on those things. Of course the furniture which once looked so homey is now labeled in rejection by the consignment shop or charity as worn and dirty.
Nor can we forgot plain old stupidity and incompetence. We killed ourselves to be ready for Sunday’s pick-up never to receive the “we’re on the way” call. So we called. “Oh, you’re not scheduled for this Sunday, it’s next Sunday. We’re not even in your neighbor on Sundays. (Read that again.) But you know, we’re booked for next Sunday so we can’t do it until Jan. 6. Forgot the confirmation number my wife had in her hand to disprove all she was hearing on the phone.
So what’s a week or so? So it’s this. We now own the apartment, which has to be sold. Before It we can be sold it has to be thoroughly cleaned. it can’t be thoroughly cleaned until it is empty. That pushes back the going on the market date meaning an extra payment of mortgage and homeowners fees.
But as Nike intoned, “Just do it.” You are not leaving your parent in a bare cave. You’ve just created a thinning process that will make your life ever-so-much easier down the road. But you won’t so there outta be a law…
I promise you, if you don’t, it will be so much worse than the day you had to say, “Mom” or “Pop” I have to take your car key and we won’t be renewing your driving license”–at least from my perspective.
A somewhat morose Bill Gralnick brings you this missive and wishes you a happy set of holidays and a safe, healthy, happy New Year.
He reminds you that his holidays would be much happier if you’d invest in his book, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Notes from Brooklyn” to be gotten on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
And as is imprinted on his forehead, “Read!” It’s good for both of us.”