Ask Me Anything

I always thought I knew a lot about my mom’s life.  She told scores of stories.  I can tell you about the day that her old dog, Shep, died.  I can tell you about the day my dad proposed to her – and that she didn’t answer him right away.  I can tell you about the day that she received the phone call that there was a baby girl waiting to be adopted, and she could pick her (me) up that same day.  I thought I knew a lot.

One day, my still-sharp 88-year-old mother’s brain changed.  She couldn’t tell me the familiar stories anymore.  During her final illness, on days she couldn’t quite place who iI was in her life, she asked me questions that led me to pose my own questions about what shaped her early life  – questions that she could no longer answer.

I don’t know if my mother ever had a boyfriend before she married my dad at the age of 37.  I don’t know what she dreamed of when she was a teenager.  I don’t know a lot of things. Looking back, I don’t think that I know a single story about Mom’s life between ages 10 and 25 or so.  There are still family members alive who might be able to tell me their own stories about her during those years, but nobody can tell “her” story.

As we cleaned out her apartment last weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder why she kept certain things.  although I never saw her journaling, a part of me hoped that I would find a box of notebooks – diaries – hints at who my mom had been before she was my mom – and who she was when nobody was watching.

I wonder sometimes how much my children really know.  Once in a while Matt, my youngest, appears shocked when he learns some bit of my history – some part of my life prior to the year 2000.

I wish that my mother had written her story.  I do keep a journal most days, so my life from age 50+ is theirs for the reading if they should choose to to do some day.  The years before, however, the years who made me who I am – flaws and all – are locked away in my head except for the little glimpses I tell in my stories.

Maybe some day I will tell my children to “ask me anything,” and record those answers in writing or on video.  How I wish Mom had said to me, “ask me anything” in those months leading up to the end of her life.  There are so many things I would love to know now – not that they would change a thing – but things that would help me to understand why things were the way they were.

There were things that were hinted at but never spoken.  There were times when I asked Mom about first-hand memories that were vivid to me that, according to her, “never happened.”

I’m not certain that I have the courage to tell my children to “Ask me anything” and give them the answers while I am still living.  Perhaps, though, the revelation of that information might help them to understand me and the experiences that made me who I am.  Perhaps the joys and sorrows and traumas don’t matter to anyone else.  Perhaps, though, my daughter, or my great-granddaughter some day far in the future would hear my memories and realize that I, too, questioned my worth at times, and that I spent 50 years or so worrying too much about what others thought.

Perhaps some day I will write my own story.  Parts are interesting – other parts heartbreaking or downright boring.  What might be boring to me might explain to my daughter why I am quirky about certain things.  If she ever wishes she had asked me a certain question, perhaps she could find the answer.

So, kids, when I am gone, look for the name of the document and the password hint.  In the meantime, ask me anything, and I’ll do my best to answer now – or in the future.

 

 

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Day 9 – Out with the Old, In with the New

My mom wasn’t much of a housekeeper. Truth be told, I struggle with keeping a clean house myself. My brother and I didn’t have many chores growing up. I had to load and unload the dishwasher, and I vacuumed and dusted for a few pennies, but I always liked dusting. I still love the actual act of dusting and polishing wooden furniture (not that you would know it from the current condition of my home).

I was in my 20s the first time I ever saw someone wipe down the inside of their sink after washing the dishes. Sure, we cleaned the sinks in our house, but it was part of a weekly “heavy duty” cleaning – not something we did every time we used the sink!

My mom and dad were both pack rats. There were parts of the house that could have been featured on an episode of Hoarders. Both grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression, and neither threw away something that they might need or that “might be worth some money someday.”

I searched Mom’s apartment for some important documents while she was in the nursing home. I never found what I was looking for, but I found drawer after drawer stuffed with the gifts that I had purchased or made for her in the past decade, many with tags still attached. She was “saving them for a special occasion,” I am sure.

I haven’t cleaned out Mom’s apartment yet. I’m dreading the task. I think the long Thanksgiving weekend is probably the time to dive in and get it done. First, I’ve had to learn to let go. Mom and Dad had an auction sale when they sold the family home more than a decade ago. They moved from a 3-4 bedroom house (depending on how you counted) with a full basement, garage and two sheds to a 2-bedroom apartment. Every nook and cranny was filled. I ended up with at least a truckload of furnishings during that move.

They moved into an even smaller place a few years later and I again was elected (by default) to take possession of the “family heirlooms” – mostly broken furniture and wedding presents that Mom had never used because she was “saving them for something special.” I never used them either, for the most part.

I’m enrolled in a program with a life coach, and serendipitously, October was all about organizing. I learned to winnow the mounds of stuff that I have accumulated over 30+ years of adulthood by asking 1) does it serve me, 2) do I love it, and 3) is it outdated or broken? I was shocked by the realization of how much “stuff” I was holding onto because it was important to someone else. The local Goodwill store was the recipient of multiple loads of bric-a-brac, furniture and books.

My mom crocheted hundreds of doilies. I have them all over my house and I still had boxes and boxes of them left when she died. At her funeral we laid them out in stacks on a table and invited guests to take them to remember her. I felt a catch in my throat “What if it makes me sad that I don’t have these anymore?” Then, I remembered that these doilies had been occupying a corner of my closet for several years in boxes – just like the things that Mom never, ever used.  It gave me joy to watch friends and relatives sorting through the piles, smiling and admiring Mom’s handiwork.

My coach reminded us that the blanket that Grandma made isn’t Grandma. If it’s worn out and stained and you’re ashamed to have it on display, perhaps it’s time to take a photo and let it go. There are a few things that I will keep from Mom’s house. There are things that I have always found beautiful. They would bring me joy to have, and I would USE them. Those will come home with me. The rest will find new homes. Those things that hold special memories but would never be used will be photographed. I don’t need to fill my home with physical objects to fill it with beautiful memories.

Along with the old “stuff,” I am letting go of old ideas, old resentments and old grudges. Out with the old. Bring in the new. New life, new ideas. I’m never going to love cleaning. Perhaps one of those “new ideas” is that hiring a cleaning service would be a good investment – it will give me more time to blog.

Day 2 in the Life of a Motherless Mother – Loss is Universal – Grief is Indivdual

The writer in me outlined an agenda of all of the “lessons” that life and death would teach me, in order, for the next two weeks. Having buried a husband, my father, and many others close to me, I foolishly thought that I had learned the lessons that death had to teach me. I thought that I knew how to handle grief. Confirmation bias goes out the window when you’re learning about grief all over again.

I went back to work for a few hours yesterday. I had a list of work-related goals that I wanted to accomplish but I kept it short. One, two, three. Done.  I began a blog post about bringing dull and lifeless diamonds back to life by giving them a good cleaning.  I paused the blogging to run an errand out of town.  No big deal.  I was accomplishing tasks right an left.  I got a little cocky.

I decided that my hair needed a trim. I pulled into the parking lot of a “no appointment necessary” establishment. I froze. I realized in just that instant that I couldn’t bear the small talk that a 15-minute haircut involves.  If my hairdresser asked how I was doing, I ran the risk of all of the emotion that I was holding back bubbling out through my tear ducts and making a mess of my shirt. I don’t recall if I actually shed tears in the parking lot, but I put the car into drive and headed back home.

My daughter celebrated her birthday yesterday. “How can we celebrate anything when Mom is gone?” I asked myself. Daughter wanted Mexican food. She wanted to go out – I didn’t think I could bear it, so we compromised and I made Taco Tuesday on a Wednesday. We sang the birthday song from Chi-Chi’s restaurants (how I miss them) and we enjoyed a meal together, minus the teenager who is never home these days.  We had a brief celebration and then I went to the living room to hibernate.

While I pined for Mom, I flipped mindlessly through Facebook and saw again that a high school classmate and her mother were grieving the loss of a brother and son. Another friend was mourning the loss of a beloved pet. Others were passing the anniversary of the death of a parent. I talked to my cousin who lost his father last week. Death will touch us all. Loss is Universal.

My sister-in-law reached out yesterday. We had a brief text exchange. We agreed that losing a mother is different than other losses. It stings.

I didn’t just lose my mother. I lost the person I called upon for advice. I lost the person I called to share my happiness. I’ve lost track of just how many times I have though “I should tell Mom” in just the past five days. Dad wasn’t my “go to” person for the kinds of things that Mom was.

I can honor Mom’s memory by allowing grief to wash over me as it comes. I will further honor her by not allowing myself to be swept away. I have many “lifeguards” who have offered assistance if I should find myself floundering in an ocean of tears.

As Day 2 came to a close, I realized that while my grieving process for Mom is different than any I have gone through before, I am not alone. Nearly all of us will have the experience of grieving a parent. Loss is universal. Grief is individual. No two people will grieve their mother the same way. The loss of a mother will be grieved differently than the loss of a father.  Life marches on.

I love it already!

There is a story about an old woman, recently widowed, who is moved to a nursing home.  The woman is blind and cannot live independently.  She waits, without family, in the lobby as her paperwork is completed and her room made ready.  A staff member describes the room in great detail to her as she waits.  “I love it already!” the old woman exclaims.

The nursing home staff member asks her, “How do you know you love it?  You haven’t been inside it yet.”

The old woman, blind but wise, says, “The actual room and its furnishings has nothing to do with it.  I’ve already decided that I love it.  Happiness is a decision you make on purpose.”

I’m paraphrasing the story.  I saw it originally on Facebook, and a google search showed that a similar story, but not quite the one that I remember was written by Joyce Meyer in “The Mind Connection:  How the Thoughts You Choose Affect your Mood, Behavior and Decision.

It’s been some time since I wrote a blog post.  To be honest, I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself.  We discovered at the beginning of August that my 88 year old mother’s cancer had caused pathological fractures in her spine and right hip.  She elected to have 10 radiation treatments to “beat it back” to alleviate the pain. Although I begged her to come stay with me for the duration of the treatments, she steadfastly refused to leave her home.

The treatments were harder than she expected.  Due to the area that was being treated, there was a lot of irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract.  She was frequently nauseated and vomiting, and there was nothing that I could do about it.  Once the treatment started at the cancer center near her home, it couldn’t be transferred to the sister center near mine because of differences in equipment and dosages.

The day after her last treatment we received a call that she was gravely ill, and that management at her independent living community had determined that she was no longer independent enough to stay in her home.  She was a danger to herself and potentially others.   She had to leave, and I needed to be there when they broke the news to her.

I finished up some urgent matters at my office and drove south to Mom’s home.  I packed up a handful of things in case I needed to stay overnight.  When I arrived, Mom was sitting in her chair.  Although we hadn’t spoken, she acted like she was expecting me.  “I’ve decided to take you up on your offer to come stay with you. It will be a little vacation at your house – let’s see how it goes.  I need some help.”

I was delighted that she had made the decision on her own.  I knew that once she arrived at my home, she was unlikely to return to hr own, but we didn’t talk about that.  I tried to get her to just get into the car so that I could help her (and so that my family could help me…)  She refused.  She needed to “clean the house,” and she couldn’t miss her doctor appointment in two days.  I decided to stay with her for those two days.

To make a very long story very short, the doctor appointment never happened.  Instead, my very sick mother slipped into a rapid decline and ended up spending the next two weeks in a series of moves that included two emergency rooms, three hospital rooms, two nursing home rooms and a bunch of procedure rooms.

I was with her night and day for more than a week that seemed like an eternity.  Somewhere around day 4, my mom started to disappear.  She changed from my loving mother to a scared, angry woman who told me that I was evil.  She went from praising the staff to believing that they were possessed by Satan.

She was treated for electrolyte imbalances and a urinary tract infection. Each time they discovered a deficiency, I grasped onto hope that correcting it would bring my mother back.  It didn’t.

She finally settled into a nursing home for rehabilitation.  She was unable to do even the most basic self-care chores for herself.

I really, really wish that I could tell you that she is like the old woman in the beginning of this post and that she was determined to like her room before she even saw it.  Instead, each time I would visit her in the nursing home, she would berate me.  She would accuse me of tricking her into agreeing to stay with her so that I could put her into a nursing home where they torture her, make her fly on trapezes, tie her to the bed, punch her in the stomach, and leave her alone in the dining room for hours and hours without help.  Gradually, I came to accept that the person that I love as my mother has rather suddenly disappeared.

One trip she told me that I am not her daughter anymore.  Another time she told me that there are two of me.  One is evil and one is her daughter, and she is not sure which one I am.  She tells me that she wants to go home – but now she thinks that home is in Kidron, where we lived for many years, but she hasn’t lived there in a decade.  Every visit, she asks me how her mom is – my grandma – who died when I was a little girl.  Every visit, she tells me that she wishes that she had just died.

For two weeks at least, it seemed that everything made me cry.  I stopped doing the things that I love to do.  I stopped doing the things that help me to function – to stave off anxiety and depression.  Instead, I cried.  Sometimes I raged – I would scream in the car driving down the road when nobody could hear me.  I have often told other caregivers “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” but when faced with the same sort of scenario in my own life, I poured and poured and poured until there was nothing left to give, and it still was not enough.

I would start projects  – writing projects, crochet projects, cleaning projects -and then I would abandon them.  My living room became filled with half-done afghans, dish cloths and hats.

One day a few weeks ago when I didn’t have court or client scheduled, I didn’t get out of bed until past 10:00 a.m.  I’m an early riser.  I get up, make coffee and then journal, meditate, and study.  My husband knew then that something was very wrong.

We were blessed with a beautiful weekend in late September.  My husband suggested a boat trip to an island.  Reluctantly I agreed to leave – immediately.  Instead of packing a large cooler full of food to prepare, we left with just our clothing and toiletries, a couple of packs of lunch meat, a loaf of bread, a bag of trail mix and another of potato chips, and elected to treat ourselves to a whole weekend of restaurants.

Although I used to run many miles each month, I had stopped doing that, too, over the course of the summer.  There was a charity run scheduled for Saturday that weekend on the island, and I decided to register and do my best.  I joined several hundred runners at the start line.   There were several times that I had a hard time seeing the road because the tears were flowing so hard.  I wasn’t in physical pain -it was a mental and spiritual battle. I crossed the finish line with tears streaming down my face.  I started something, and I finished it.  The 5k run didn’t become another unfinished project.

I wish that I could say that I snapped out of my funk and began living life again immediately after that 5k, but the truth is that it took another week of slowly beginning again to use the tools that helped me to function after the last crisis in our family.

Anyone who has followed me on Facebook or in my blogs for any period of time knows that I tend to post the happy things.  My life is spent cultivating joy whenever possible.  It’s easy to find joy in a flower when life is smooth sailing.  Applying the tools is much more difficult when the waves are crashing and it seems that the world is burning down around you.

I’m learning that people can’t hurt our feelings.  It’s our own thoughts about events that hurt us.  It’s our own thoughts about life that bring us joy.

For those weeks in September, I spent all of my energy trying to find a solution for Mom’s mental decline.  I spent hours combing my memory trying to find signs that the dementia was there all along and I just missed it.  I spent hours trying to convince her that she’s in a place for help and that she still has a life to live if she just tries.  that “project” took all of the time and attention from all of the other “projects” in my life.  I finally realized that making myself miserable and allowing depression and anxiety creep back into my life – forgoing joy and happiness won’t bring my mother joy.  It won’t bring her peace.  It won’t make her want to live.

I choose life.  Mom will be 89 in a few weeks.  Whether or not she emerges from this event, her life is nearing its natural end.   My visits always upset her.  I no longer see her every day.  It’s not good for her, and it’s really horrible for me.  If she tells my kids that she wants something, I send it.  I’ve stopped worrying so much about what other people think about the matter.

I’ve finished crocheting two cowls and I’m almost done with a poncho that I started at the beginning of summer.  I ran again this week.  I am back into my morning routine.  I go to sleep giving thanks and I wake up anticipating a great day.

I am here to love my life, no matter what may come.  It’s the only life I have, and I’m not about to waste it.  This weekend I am setting up my office in a different room in the same building.  I don’t know exactly what furnishing will fit or how they will look, but I love it already.  I’m going to learn to knit on Thursday.  I don’t know what I will make, but I love it already.

I don’t know what may come, but I’m certain that I can find beauty and comfort in it.  I love it already!

That Kind of Friend

I consider myself extremely fortunate.  I have a large body of friends, some of whom I see in real life only a handful of times in a year, some I see twice in a decade, and some of whom I have met only in online forums.  Friends from all of these categories have cheered me on as I discovered running, shed some pounds, and approached life with a renewed joy.  Others aren’t part of my online universe at all.

Recently I had a meeting with one such friend. The last time I saw him, 4-5 months ago, he said, “there’s something different about you…oh, you cut off your long hair.  I like it short.  It looks good!”  I didn’t tell him that it went beyond that – that I had shed 50+ pounds and trained for a half marathon. I simply thanked him for the compliment and we continued our meeting.

Several weeks ago business took me back to his office.  This time he said, “there’s STILL something different about you.  What did you do?”  When I told him that I had lost nearly 100 pounds, he asked how I did it.  We commiserated about growing older and expanding waistlines, elevated blood pressure and climbing blood sugar levels.  The next week when I returned, his wife dropped by to see my changes for myself and to give me a huge hug.

Yesterday I saw a friend who had been missing from my real life world for five years.  I was delighted that I could keep up with this young, fit woman.  We climbed stairs at a museum and strolled the halls as we chatted as if we’d seen each other only the day before.  At one point in the day, I mentioned how wonderful it was to be able to climb stairs without pain and without being out of breath.  I mentioned that when we last saw each other, my weight had climbed to nearly 350 pounds.  She said she had no idea.  To her, I was just “Betty.”  I was just her friend.

I’m extremely grateful for the encouragement that I receive from my online community.  Some days, a comment or a like can make the difference between giving myself an excuse to have an extra snack or skipping a workout or holding myself accountable.  Those friendly interactions are extremely valuable to me.  Some people discovered me because I have made changes.  Those people are valuable.  Some people follow me because they want to make changes themselves, and I value that opportunity.

However, I know that I have a special person in my life when I can pick up after 5 years and have an afternoon where conversation flows freely.  In those rare friendships, differences in age, differences in size, differences in experience don’t change the core of the bond.  I was always just “Betty.”  I remain just “Betty.”

I can’t imagine ever being 300+ pounds again and struggling with life the way that I did.  It’s a beautiful gift to know that I had and still have so many people in my life who saw beyond the “insulation” and valued me for who I have always been inside.  That kind of friend cared about me before I learned to love myself.  I hope that you all have that kind of friend.  I strive to be that kind of friend, as well.

Love,

Be

Growing Up Gilliom – Memories of an Idyllic Childhood

This blog post was begun in 2011 or 2012 and sat, unfinished, on my PC for years. I would come back to it from time to time to try to finish it, but it just wouldn’t cooperate.  Finally, I posted it in its original form on my Facebook page last week.  My cousins told me, “keep writing,” so I did.

I’ve always said that I wanted to write a book. Between my adventures with my cousins and my many childhood neighbors, I truly have enough memories to fill a volume.  I’m not sure they would interest anyone who wasn’t involved, but they would truly be a joy to write.

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Growing up Gilliom

Once upon a time, a lawyer sat on the living couch, still in her pajamas at a time when all respectable people are hard at work, sipping her 4th cup of coffee.  Avoiding the land of “grown-up people,” she posted on Facebook, “I feel like writing a story.”  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

She’d had in mind a short narrative of a wooden box that held nothing but dreams, and the magical places that the box took its owner – but fate had another idea.  From a thousand miles away, an online voice invoked memories of real magic – and a childhood that few children in today’s busy world will ever enjoy.

A few lines of memories slipped out onto the internet, and an instruction to “write that story, cousin,” turned the task on its head.

The cold, gloomy morning slipped away, and the writer was transported to the countryside outside of the little town of Ontario, Ohio – near Mansfield – where sunshine lit up a hot Saturday afternoon in late June somewhere in the early 1970s.

My mother was one of seven children.  Roy and Esther Gilliom were blessed, during the Great Depression with six daughters…followed at long last by a son.  My mother was the third daughter, and the only one to have moved more than two miles away from the homestead.

It was always a happy thing on an early Saturday morning to hear, “We’re going to Grandma’s.”  We would start the hour-long journey in the family station wagon, anxiously anticipating the adventures ahead.  From the back seat, my brother and I would identify landmarks, such as the “hot pants station,” (a gas-station where the attendant in hot pants sold us ice cream sandwiches), or the narrow bridge/tunnel where the car horn would echo when Dad tooted it when we begged.

Summer or Winter, we would sing, “over the river and through the woods,” because, you see, to get to Grandmother’s house, we would cross over rivers and through woods in our trusty car, which, if it had only been a Pinto, would have been a perfect fit to the lyrics.

When we reached our destination, we were in little kid “heaven.”  Grandma and Aunt Betty lived in the first house.  Next door were Uncle John and Aunt Miriam and four cousins.  In the third house were Aunt Helen and Uncle Jim and their three daughters.   Not far away were more Aunts and Uncles, and more cousins… and we would often all end up together.

After running in to give Grandma a quick hug and kiss, we would be set free to run and play.  There were dogs and cats to play with.  For a while, there was even a horse.  We would play with Laddie or Dutchess, Reb or Tobie.  Behind the three houses ran a creek with a stone bottom where we would find crawfish, and build dams of stones that would wash away after an hour or two.  When our feet were blue from the cold, clear water, we would run to the top of the hill, where we would get a drink from the hose attached to the artesian well that ran day and night – and sometimes hose down an unsuspecting cousin or two with icy water.

If we were really lucky, we would all get to cross the creek and walk back the lane surrounded by woods and wildflowers.  Not far down the way, the trees would subside into a giant clearing where we had a whole lake to ourselves.  Mom and the Aunts would take a picnic lunch to the pavilion by the water’s edge.

Piles of black innertubes from car, truck and tractor tires sat waiting for us to float the day away.  My favorite had a bulge where the rubber had grown thin.  One could never rest too comfortably, though, as a cousin or three was always waiting for the right moment to swim up under a tube and flip the unsuspecting occupant into the cool water.

We would swim to the little bridge that crossed over to the island (but I dared not go to the island – because my cousins had convinced me that it was full of snakes!)  Cattails grew by the water, and we would pluck them and tear apart the fuzzy heads.  Dandelions grew by the thousands, and we would dig the leaves so the adults could have their salads with hot bacon dressing.

From the beach, off to the left you could see the steep stairs going up the hillside.  Above them, a thick rope, anchored high in the trees tempted young and not so young alike to yell like Tarzan and plunge into the center of the lake.  On the opposite shore sat the diving bell (or as I called it, the submarine) that my cousins built to explore the depths of the lake.  My cousins could build anything.  I sat in awe of John, Rob and Rick.

When we had burned off our energy running, swimming and climbing, lunch would be waiting in the picnic shelter.  There was no shortage of food.  All of the Gilliom ladies were (and are) excellent cooks.

Between the houses and the lake was the creek lined with rocks of all sizes.  My cousins taught me to skip flat stones across the surface of the creek.  My record was 12 bounces.  I’m looking forward to teaching that trick to my grandchildren, but they’ll have to settle for Lake Erie on a calm day.

On rainy days, we might change locations to Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jim’s barn, where we would build tunnels out of hay bales and try to catch the half-wild barn cats.  Only the bravest of the brave would attempt the feat of crossing from one side of the barn to the other by climbing on the metal rafters twenty feet or so above the barn floor.

We had the luxury of a large family.  My cousins were my first friends.  We didn’t have technology.  There were no text messages or snap chats to distract us from our games of statue tag or hide and seek.  Our imaginations were well-exercised.

Nick, Carolyn, Rick, Ted, Andrew, Joe, Shawna, Dawna, Melody, Jim, John, Bill, John, Rob, Kristi and Lori, I love you. Collectively we have travelled the world, raised beautiful families of our own, and had experiences we could never have dreamed of while we were eating slices of watermelon that had chilled in the springhouse forty-odd years ago.

How blessed we were.  How blessed I am, now, to spend a rainy Saturday morning recalling those times.

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Author’s Note: Dad, too, was one of seven. The Fulk cousins and I had other wonderful times.  That part of my family, too, is cherished.  The memories are no less fond – but deserve their own post.

All Stuffed Up [Learning to Let Go]

I have a huge job ahead of me.  I’m loving and hating every minute of it.  I have too much stuff.  Some of the “stuff” I have hasn’t seen the light of day in years.

My husband lived in this house when he met me.  He had stuff already when I moved here, and when I added my stuff to his “stuff,” the house was stuffed and we both had to give things up.  The years passed, and we each tossed some stuff and bought some more stuff to take its place.  Before long, he lamented to me, “we have too much stuff.”

I did my best to pare down the stuff.  I went through the boxes and tossed some stuff, but there were things that held too many memories.  I couldn’t bear to give up some stuff, so I stuffed it back into (fewer) boxes.

Some years later, my mom and dad moved from their four bedroom home into a two bedroom apartment.  They had to get rid of stuff, but they let me go through their stuff before they sold their stuff at auction.  I loaded up a car or four with more stuff.  I was opening my professional office, so some of the stuff went there, which made room for more stuff at the house.

More years passed, and the ‘rents moved into an even smaller place with less room for stuff.  Once again, I carted boxes of stuff to my house.  I couldn’t bear to let them get rid of the stuff that I had grown up with.   The stuff has sat, stuffed into boxes and untouched since I stuffed it into the garage, basement and attic.

Mom got sick, then Dad got sick and died, and Mom got sick again.  I was so stuffed full of feelings that I couldn’t bear to go through the boxes that stuffed the corners of my life.

I [re]discovered thrift shopping (thank you, Macklemore!) and brought home even more stuff.  Recently I needed to get something from the basement, but the floor was so stuffed full of boxes stuffed full of stuff that I couldn’t find the stuff I wanted.  I realized I had a stuff problem.

My darling, patient husband understands.  The stuff is stuffed full of memories.

When I hold my grandma’s old root beer mug, it ceases to be just stuff. It takes me back to Grandma’s kitchen.  I can see the Hires root beer bottle (the glass kind that you have to open with a bottle opener).  I can taste the vanilla ice cream that has crystallized root beer on the edges.  I feel the long-handled spoon she gave me with my root beer float.

The caddy of red-striped glasses stuffed with newspaper take me to the dinner parties my parents would host.  Mom’s fancy glasses would come out only on special occasions. I felt like a grown up when I could drink my iced tea or lemonade from those glasses instead of the jelly jar glasses or the plastic cups we used for every day.

There is the birch bark tee pee and the Indian chief doll that my Dad bought on a trip out west before I was born. I hold them and hear Dad tell about the steak dinner he bought in Texas for 10 cents with a steak that was bigger than the plate that held it.

It’s all stuff.  The real value is in the memories that are stuffed in this head of mine.  The older I get, the more my house looks like my parents’ home circa 1975. I have my parents’ coffee table, my Dad’s desk lamp, and the piano that Dad taught dozens of kids to play on.  I almost brought home the church organ that he had… but there was no room.  The place was stuffed.

My head is stuffed full of memories.  They are sweet and bitter. Each doo dad and knick knack triggers a mental movie. Dear husband brings the boxes for me one at a time. It’s like Christmas when I unwrap the stuff that was carefully stuffed in newspaper years ago.

I have to let go. There is so much old stuff – mine, my parents’ and my children’s that there is no room for new stuff to make new memories.  I have to part with my stuff.  I’ll keep the treasures that hold extra-special meaning.  The other stuff stays only if I would buy it if I saw it in a store.  As I send the other stuff on to other people who will appreciate it, I will savor the memories that I unwrap. Perhaps I will photograph the items that have the best stories.  As I stuff boxes full of stuff that has no place to be displayed, I should save those memories somehow.

Perhaps one day my children will receive an album stuffed full of photographs and words from their mother recalling moments from the years she spent collecting the stuff.

So far, all but one item has been unpacked intact. The lone casualty is a painted cookie jar.  I’ll admit I nearly cried when I saw it lying in piece.  I asked my husband to glue it.  He said he would… but I’m not sure it’s necessary.  As “stuff,” it’s not worth much.  There’s nothing special about it.  I have the cream pitcher, tea pot and sugar bowl that match. Any one of those things would evoke the same memories.  I’ll never use it as a cookie jar.  Now that it’s broken, nobody else would want it.  Instead of repairing it, I think it’s time to (reverently) stuff it in the trash.

When it comes right down to it, it is, after all, just stuff.  The memories are inside me, waiting to be shared.