Gifts from Gma: Letting go of stuff

“Gma” is the nickname my kids gave to my mom. Some of us kids have been posting announcements on the caring site we set up for her. Here’s one I sent this morning about clearing out the house where she lived for 54 years, having moved in on my 2nd birthday….

 

Even those of us who have been working on it are shocked to see that the house is now almost completely empty! But it’s a been a process decades in the making…
Starting after Dad died in 1997, us kids got used to Mom “deciding” that she was going to sell the house. In the early rounds, we’d ramp up, call everyone and start making plans. She’d start talking to a realtor and we’d start reserving our strength.
In the later rounds, we knew to just wait it out for a few weeks, when she’d come back to the now familiar, “Never mind. I’m going to die in this house.” And fortunately she had her wish.
So not only did she plan her own funeral in every detail, but she also thought a lot about what would happen to the stuff and the house. She repeatedly said, “I just want to make sure each kid and grandkid gets something special from me. And I don’t care what happens to everything else.”
She also admired how her mom had passed on a bit of money to each kid when she died, and her plan was that we sell the house and distribute the money among the kids.
When I talked to Mom and said, what’s new? She’d often tell me about which room she was ‘working’ in. Then, one of us would get called in to assist. Her friend was one that got the job of sorting through rec room cabinets. They filled the ping pong table with photos and baby books. Then boxed these up and sent them out.
Several of us participated in these projects. In 2008, Mom had Carol writing names on the back of art hanging on the wall. In 2011, she had me taking photos and writing up the back story of items. Like the hand drawn picture and poem by a Native American who had lived as a boarder in her mom’s boarding house. Or the desk that belonged to Dad’s mom. In recent years, several of us got turns in the back office “Dad’s office”, sorting through stuff including letters Dad wrote during his time in the Navy, his high school and college diplomas.
Most of these sorting projects ended with a trip to the post office. Just a few months ago, Mom pulled out 30+of Dad’s old ties that mysteriously appeared. So grandkids got boxes with a tie or two, old birthday cards and miscellaneous knick knacks.
In these past few weeks, as my brothers and sisters gathered, each asked, what can I do? So we pulled out the lists of special stuff, finding that we had been asked by Mom to do the project that had already been done years earlier by another sibling. Things didn’t really match up 100% but it gave us enough guidance to start making decisions.
And as other friends arrived, we began giving away more. Our friend’s daughter, was famous for running upstairs and hugging and kissing the statue of Mary each time she arrived. So, I grabbed the statue and showed it to Mom a few days before she passed. I asked, how about if I give this to Teresa? Her eyes crinkled, a tear leaked out and she said, “Great!”
Having all the siblings there, and knowing the house would have to be cleaned out, and knowing it would in the end fall to our big sister, we were motivated to work together and make good progress. Having each other right there to ask, what should we do with this, made the work go quickly and easily.
We had a huge day on Saturday, yesterday. We advertised on NextDoor, Craigslist and FreeCycle that we were having a Garage Un-Sale: Everything Free! Friends and family hauled stuff out to the front lawn. People showed up and took items, each tagged by us with a note “Enjoy this gift from Gma! She enjoyed connecting people with treasures. Enjoy your treasure with love from our family.”
Today, we’re putting out a few bedframes, some tools, and some bamboo trays. But other than stuff we’re holding in the garage, the house is nearly empty. The living room was the perfect place for an impromptu dance party yesterday, when my brother busted out a song on the piano and we danced in honor of Mom and her friends.
Tomorrow we have movers coming to haul out the dining room set. The piano will make its way to a granddaughter in Florida.
And within another week, the house will be that much closer to being put on the market.
We wanted to fill you in on this. Because while it seems like a lot if happening in a week (and it is!), we also feel like we’ve been working on this with mom for a couple decades now.
That house has been a very special gathering place for all of us. It’s been therapeutic to work together, and to move piece after piece along.
Thanks to each of you for having been a part of Mom’s life and ours! We are determined to let go of the stuff, but we aren’t letting go of the love that we share. Love goes on.

 

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