Cleaning Up and Out
That was The Task left after my Mother died. The funeral was remarkable for it’s hostility and histrionics. The day before the funeral was a marathon forced march of listening to the whines and dictates of my, now deceased, half-brother. Assuaged by the flowing food and alcohol at the post funeral festivities we got through relatively unscathed, rubbed our 2 nickels together and set off for home. At the first whiff of skunk, we breathed deeply and savored the sense of freedom from the toxicity I left a long time ago. Well that turned out to be optimistic.
I don’t think that either my Dad, (that’s him with the tattoos) nor I, ever suspected that we would have to return to clean out my Mother’s apartment, which my Dad was responsible for because he owned it. So Dad comes back up from Florida and we schlepp back to The City expecting to simply process what needed to be done to sell the apartment. We were, again, optimistic. One would think we had learned by now. Maybe it’s the optimism that helps us see what we have no understanding of, and just wonder. My half-siblings had cleaned out all that they wanted. Gone was the Beatles memorabilia, including the professional photos of their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. My oldest 1/2 sister was a friend of the photographer and I was invited to ‘hang’ on the sidelines during the show. But I had said goodbye to those before and we had only hoped that they had taken it all. It turned out to be one of our more memorable adventures designated as The ‘Adventure in Moving’. Yes Hertz, our experience with the van we rented to move lived up to your motto (at the time). It took us two days and having to get a replacement van 1/2 way through what should have been a 4 hour trip. What an adventure.
Forgive and Forget? Poppycock
I have yet to meet the person who has not suffered through rough times, if not life-threatening trauma. These could be from circumstances or relationships. I say ‘poppycock’ because the memory is always there. Although one of my friends described his wife’s Alzheimer brain as “a blank slate”, I suspect that the memories are still there but cannot be accessed. I apologize that at the mention of life’s hard times it might stir some discomfort within. But I encourage you to take the plunge. Let yourself look at the circumstance(s) or relationships that stir the stronger emotions – good, bad and indifferent. And you will be taking a very important step in Self-Care and in building Resilience.
A lot of mystery surrounded my Mother. I’ve heard a few stories from my oldest half-sister, my Mother’s first child. From my Mother’s lips I remember: that her family came from Vilnius, Lithuania (and the language she spoke with her sister was definitely Eastern European), that her Mother died when she was 6 yrs old ( 1927 – 1928) and that her older sister, Aunt Mary (aka ‘Big Nose’ by my Father) went to live with their ‘rich’ single Aunt, and that she (my Mother) was put in a Catholic Orphanage. We were frequently reminded of the ‘Penance’ dress she was often made to wear and of how one of the nuns would smack her with a ruler when no one was looking. If only she had been so benign to her own. Mary got a room of her own and a fur coat. Her two brothers had to stay with their Father and work. The Great Depression was lurking. It took me until I was about 11 or 12 before I realized that my Mother didn’t know how to be a Mother. I could understand this. I didn’t appreciate this very much but I could understand it. Add to this the juicy stories my older half siblings used to bandy about, tossing phrases like “love of her life”, and rumors of gangsters and being a ‘maul’. Even Mussolini was a persistent theme. If there really was a story there, I’m sorry I don’t know it. I was also told that she had seen her Mother run over by a train. The picture of my Mother’s life that I put together was one of great hardship and sorrow. I began to see that she was doing the best she could. I began to learn that I wasn’t damaged, in spite of her threats to ‘send me away’.
There’s not much that remains of my Mother’s life. We still have her triple bureau, and that’s only because I’m too cheap to buy a new one. I have, maybe, 5 or 6 photos of her. Unlike my Dad, she didn’t take to being photographed. But photography was one of Dad’s hobbies and it was only because he was the primary keeper-of-the-pictures that I have any at all. There’s another mystery about which I sometimes wonder. Whenever it comes up and I mention that my Mother was from Vilnius, I’m asked if I’m Jewish. From the age of three until the end of fourth grade we lived in a pre-dominantly Jewish neighborhood so I am bit acculturated. I’ve even been known ‘to pass’ occasionally. But my Mother insisted she was Catholic. Dad was Italian Roman Catholic and I never, ever saw my Mother enter a church. No she did not go, except for weddings. Not for Baptisms, First Holy Communions, Confirmations, Christmas or Easter, ever. But she did go to visit the graves of her Father and a son who was 2 yrs old when he died, and she took us kids with her at least a couple of times a year. I suppose it will remain a mystery.
“The Task”: an 8-part series
The Task: an eight part series about cleaning out her ‘old family home’ after her Father’s death. The link brings you to the last in the series, but scroll down and the prior parts are sequenced. Very well written. I found myself thinking about the things I’ll be leaving behind, most of it’s pretty organized anyway. Enjoy the stories.