It was early, and I was on my way to work when I noticed the neighbor down the streets open garage door, it was full from floor to ceiling and all the way across I felt overwhelmed and tired just looking at it and wondered who will eventually have to go through all of that someday. It reminded me of the row of boxes I wanted to clean out in my own garage and all the sorting that had gone on in the loss of my Mom and both of Tim’s parents. I thought about the choices we make as we age and who eventually will have to deal with results of those choices. I had cleaned through all the closets in my house during Christmas Break but now driving to work I couldn’t help but think through the losses we have faced and all there is to learn from it.
Tim’s parents waited so long to make the retirement decision that when the circumstances regarding their health forced the issue it created a lot of stress and pressure on Tim’s brother Rod mainly, but all the sons were affected. Tim spent a weekend helping to pack and load the truck (at the end of the school year) and Rod and Joshua had to unload it in Chico, set up the new apartment and just a few months later Rod had to pack that apartment up and put its contents in storage at the passing of their Father and take on the placement of their Mother in a care facility which required more moving and packing and then finally he needed to make funeral arrangements in a matter of weeks for their Mother who passed as is often the case when someone looses a life long spouse. 60 years in my In-laws case. My BIL looked so tired at the funeral like he was at the end of a very long race. He is a very gracious and kind person, so he would never complain but he had been through an emotional marathon.
I was grateful my Dad finally made the decision to retire to take care of my Mom and that they could stay in their home until my Mom’s death. I am grateful that my Dad has removed my Mom’s things as he was ready and let us know when he was ready for us to go through the items that we might want. It did not need to be done in a pressurized situation but could be fit into my sister’s and I busy lives. We got to sit in my sister’s home and go through all my Mom’s costume jewelry sharing the moment deciding who should get what and savoring the process. When he was ready for her vast collection of dishes to be dispersed that also was done as we could fit it in and not in the rush of having to move out of a place by a certain time. All of these things were swirling around in my head after I saw that garage full of stuff. I thought I do not want to leave piles of things for my kids to have to clean out while they might be sad because one of us had passed. You can’t avoid some sorting and cleaning out at the end of life, but you can make it easier. Tim and I live in a rental now but somewhere down the road we have another move to face and this last one almost killed us, so sorting and purging now seemed to make more sense.
Tim and I have the same spring break this year and we had already decided to go down and bust Olivia Jo out of day care for 3 days during the 2nd week so I knew we had the time we would need to clean out the garage during the first week. I broached the idea with Tim and told him I would make room in the budget for new tubs (the ones we had were disintegrating) and whatever else we would need to make the items that we use more accessible. Tim was not excited about the sorting, but he was excited about building a little storage area, so the tubs would not be stacked on top of each other. He is always happy to set up the saw, pull out the hammer and nails to do man things and sorry if that is offensively sexist but, in my home, we have boy things and girl things and we are ok with that.
Last Saturday I started with our kids stuff the scrap books and other keepsakes ruthlessly deciding what should be kept and what really needed to go. It is the decision making that really tires you out, what to keep and what to remove.
I found my own process after awhile of sorting. And really your adult children do not want all the things you think they might especially if they are boys. I kept things that told our story but not every little piece. Things I could pull out to show the grand kids and things they might want to play with someday. We kept a box full of hot wheel cars for Judah and I kept a box of crazy 80’s bridesmaid dresses that Olivia can dress up in, so we can play Tea Party someday.
This process has stages both emotional and physical and you will face all of them. The joy of finding pictures you didn’t even know you had and it feels like a treasure to find them. The laughter at seeing items you cannot figure out why you ever bought in the first place and all the warm family memories when sifting through baby clothes, toys and anything connected to the life you’ve built. You also face the moments of feeling overwhelmed by it all, the job is too big and how can you make so many decisions about what to keep and what to throw away or donate. Most couples consist of a saver and throw-everything-out person so there will be battles to be fought (mostly through laughter and some humorous disparaging remarks) won or lost. And invariably the desire to just throw it all out and forget the whole idea! I had one last box to sort through and transfer to a new tub if I was going to continue my process but I was dangerously close to just throwing it out after already completing 15 tubs.
As I stood in the garage and looking at the final disintegrating tub, I could see it had some of my journals in it which I never keep and wondered why they were in a tub but there was also a type of keepsake box with a lid inside that tub and I thought “probably just more journals but maybe I better look anyway” so I carried into the living room. I perused through the journals to see if I could identify why I had kept them and could find nothing of significance. My prayer journals are deeply personal, raw and brutally honest I would never want anyone who knows me to read through them those are between me and God only. My Gratitude Journals those I will be leaving for my kids to read some day. I finally got to the keepsake box and opened it to find the first leather Bible my parents had given me, the very first NIV Bible I bought at Bethany College, I didn’t know there were other versions of the Bible until I stood in line at the bookstore and saw them all on the wall behind the counter. There were a few other meaningful items and then I saw it a little piece of white cloth and my heart jumped into my throat…could it be?
I pulled it out and there it was my grandmother’s handkerchief. The tears were immediate alongside unmeasurable joy.
I was very close to my Grandmother Garcia, she was my person when I was a little girl. My Mom gave me one of her handkerchiefs to carry on my wedding day, it was all white with some simple embroidery so elegant and fragile I loved it. I didn’t have my grandmother with me on my wedding day, but I carried her down the aisle with me carrying that beautiful hanky. Several years later I loaned it to Tina Cluck to carry on her wedding day as she became Tina Lowell. She had lost her Mother just a year or 2 before she married, and I wanted her to have a very special Something Borrowed to carry with her down the aisle to her groom. Tina had been our student, our youth kid and was becoming a daughter to us and I just wanted to do anything I could to help on that day as she faced it having recently lost her Mom.
I am not sure any more the exact time frame but some time later our home was robbed and they took my jewelry box and all of its contents, most of it costume jewelry but it did include my original wedding ring which I was devastated to loose, but real panic set in when I thought I had lost forever my grandmother’s handkerchief but then I remembered Tina had it still. Sweeping relief! When she finally returned it and apologized for keeping it so long I told her I was glad she had it because I always kept it my jewelry box and it would have been lost to me forever. When I got it back I thought I had put in a drawer or somewhere like that for
safe keeping but when we were robbed about 10 years later in Phoenix and again my jewelry box and some other items in my bedroom were taken I was sure it was gone, and I couldn’t find it anywhere in my room. I had grieved and mourned the loss but now here it was! I realized that I must have take this keepsake box filled it with some very special treasures and put the hanky way at the bottom, so it could never be found apparently not even by me!
I washed it, let it dry and ironed it into a little square and put it away again some place safe. Maybe Olivia will carry it on her wedding day, passed from Josefa (Josephine) Garcia to Gloria Jean and then to Kimberly Jo and hopefully to Olivia Jo.
Pieces of each woman passed along to the next and along with it all the strength, feistiness and beauty the women in my family possess. What a gift to find this beautiful treasure hidden away in a box I almost threw away without sorting through it because I was no longer enamored with the process.
Hard things can be so wearying, but perseverance has its own reward.
It is easy to put off hard things for another day, easy to ignore the attention some difficult tasks require because it feels too hard or we are afraid of what we will find. It is easier to just stay stuck and overwhelmed rather than take that first scary step toward something better. But getting to something better always require looking at what is and determining what needs to be discarded and what needs to be embraced. Now every time I walk into the garage I feel Joy at how easy it is to access what we I need for a trip, what I need for an activity or if I just want to share something from the past with someone who is my future like Judah and Olivia.