I just went over to take a quick picture of something to send to someone, but Mom had the garage door open and I went in to see what was going on. She had pulled everything out of the utility room. Stuff was everywhere and it looked like a lot of work for a nearly 88 year old to be doing. “What’s going on here?” I said, wondering whether those would be famous last words.
There’s a phenomenon that occurs after traumatic times involving death and loss. It’s kind of a restructuring of priorities, a re-evaluation of one’s life, a need to do something drastic to counter the trauma. My brother had talked about it in our early morning “touch base” session at Mom’s house. He was going through it, having just lost his wife to cancer. He was cleaning house, looking at everything and making decisions to keep or not. And evidently, it was contagious. Mom had caught it.
Her first excuse is always that she’s looking for spiders. Spiders are not allowed to live in Mom’s garage. It was only a few months ago, in the spring, when all the corners got “broomed”, and everything, including a freezer full of food, was moved and cleaned under. But we might not have done the utility room thoroughly, and today was the day.
“Since you’re here, would you mind going up in the attic and getting the blankets you said you saw. Tell me what’s up there, and bring it down if it’s something I should look through.” Mom doesn’t go up in the attic any more. It has one of those pull down ladders which is only wide enough to fit between the ceiling joists. The ladder is a little scary at any age, but certainly in one’s eighties. I had been going up and down, storing things, ever since we moved up from Florida two years ago – kind of the curator of the attic museum. Things only go up in the attic if they are willing to be forgotten for a while.
For the next half hour I tossed items down the hole, rearranged boxes, poked around reacquainting myself with the contents of containers, calling down to Mom as we made decisions. What to do with that set of dishes that used to belong to a friend’s mother, now deceased? What to do with the bag of fabric strips for braided rugs? What about all those fake flowers, and knick knacks that got replaced? Why are there two boxes of old jeans up here? How many good cardboard boxes do we need to save? Almost all of it came down the ladder. It looked like an attic explosion, with Mom in the middle of it.
“Don’t worry. I won’t do it all today.” She reassured me that she was only going to put things back in the utility room. I packed up a few things to take over to my attic for a few years. I stood, trying to think why I had come over in the first place. Although it felt good to organize and de-clutter, I was feeling a little guilty about the mess we’d made.
I guess it’s all a part of the grieving process, and everyone does it differently. Some of the things we do are helpful, some aren’t, and some don’t leave us feeling the way we thought they would. But we need to do something, a cleansing of sorts, and then maybe we can go on, one day at a time… just sayin’.