I really thought that I was prepared.
After my mother died, I planned to clean out my mother’s house. I knew before she died that it was going to be my job to do, regardless of our estrangement. I also knew that her surviving relatives were going to give me problems.
Mom’s relatives, particularly her only surviving sibling, have a looter mentality whenever someone dies. All that they care about is what they can get from my mother’s belongings. Aunt D—who hasn’t spoken to me in 30 years and did NOT attend Mom’s memorial service—now calls me to ask what I’m going to do with the house and “could I get back that such-and-such that I gave her?” She could not possibly care less how I’m feeling about the sudden, heinous loss of my mother. It takes all of the God in me not to cuss her out, but it’s enough that she thinks that I might (thanks, Mom, for telling everybody that I’m the “mean, nasty daughter with the mouth”). Aunt D treads lightly these days, but in my opinion, she shouldn’t be “treading” at all.
My mother’s house is NOT a bowl of free candy, and I am not the one to harass.
It is for this reason that I finally went forth with my plan to get rid of everything—and I do mean “evra-thang”—in the house. No estate sale, and no heads-up to the looting relatives. I even hired Junkluggers—a local, eco-friendly version of the “Got Junk” people—to do the heavy lifting. It was pricey, but I wouldn’t have wanted it done any other way.
The process was more exhausting than I’d ever expected.
For nine hours, I watched my mother’s worldly goods get bagged up, boxed up, broken up, and thrown or hauled away. Mom spent fifty years accumulating what other people no longer wanted, and she was the only one who saw any value in it.
Alzheimer’s-driven? Absolutely. That house represented the inside of Mom’s mind: mountains of trash bags full of clothes, collages of the same photos on every wall, decorations still in the pack but taped up everywhere. A mish-mosh of disconnected memories.
This is what meant more to her than the people who loved her.
It made me sad to see it. It made me sadder to see it all dismantled and shuttled outside. Isn’t that crazy? That’s what I wasn’t prepared for. For decades, I have resented my mother’s obsession with making me live poorer than we actually were. The thrift-store clothes, the broken down furniture, the “don’t-throw-it-away-let-me-have-it” minutiae. I have wanted that stuff gone since 1985, and now that it is, why do I have a hole in my spirit where that “stuff” used to be?
Overall, this process made me realize the futility of materialism. No matter who we are or how much we have, when we die—and all of us will die—everything that we own becomes junk, be it a 40-year-old hairbrush that’s never been cleaned or a Picasso painting. Eventually, it will all become worthless.
Depressing? Yep. That’s why it’s taken me so long to finish this post.
Life should count for more than what you get or what you own or what you can take from someone else. She who dies with the most toys does not win—because the toys will still be here, and she can’t take a single one with her.
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36 NIV)
Here’s my final takeaway, and it’s no big revelation: why don’t we all do the LeBron thing, and concentrate more on blessing others with our “stuff”, rather than keeping it all for ourselves?? I’m NOT arguing that we should all take vows of poverty. I’m arguing that we should all focus on enriching others. Those who have should consistently help those who do not have; the richer you are, the more you should give. I am arguing against stockpiling stuff that will eventually mean nothing. My mother was a stockpiler, but her “stuff” has now gone to several thrift stores and missions. Hundreds of people will be made a little less poor.
That makes it worth the process. At least for now.