Losing my mom has made me rethink hanging onto papers

marie26May 3, 2005

I lost my mom last week. She got sick on her birthday a couple of weeks earlier and never recovered. She was 88 and did not have a living will (I think there was another post a while back about this) so my brother, 2 sisters and I had to make a decision. We are comfortable with letting her go because for days she was only breathing and was basically gone anyways. We also felt that she would have wanted this.

She had moved to a senior home a year ago and was able to go through her stuff (memories) at that time so it wasn't too difficult for us to go through her things after the funeral.

I have several bins of papers, vacation memorabilia, etc. that I have not gone through since the day they were closed. I'd hate for my kids to HAVE TO go through this stuff after I'm gone (hopefully not for a long, long time). So, when I get back home I will need to take care of this problem once and for all.

There are papers on decorating, cooking information, political articles I've saved, newspapers that I felt were keepers for my grandchildren, notes I've written to myself when angry or sad, etc, etc, etc.

I could do scrapbooking with my vacation momentos but I'm not into that and don't see myself enjoying it. Besides, I wouldn't want to cut the brochures that I might decide to keep.

I suppose, for the time being, I should just file all the papers I want to keep in files. But that will just prolong my having to weed out as much as possible.

I really want to finally get rid of most of it, especially since I will be moving again in 2 years or so.

What should I keep and how should it be organized? If I don't do this now, I never will.

I'm sorry if this is long and rambling but it's the first time I've written down anything about my dear mother.

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My condolences on your mother's passing. It's never easy to lose a parent, no matter how "prepared" you might think you are.

I will admit that I still have to purge occasionally, but I'm at the point at which I only keep the paper that would cost me money to lose (receipts for health-care reimbursement, warranty info for as long as the warranty is in effect, etc.). My guideline is "If the building were collapsing, is this one of the things I would fight to save?" From that perspective, there's very little you have to keep.

I'm also a great believer in the theater of the mind. It's fun to look at pictures of gardens I'll never have or recipes for dishes I'll never cook. But there are lots of ways to entertain those muses without keeping paper. When I got divorced a few years ago, we spent hours determining which pictures each of us wanted to keep. I came across that box a couple of months ago (that should tell you something right there) and realized that I remember lots of these places vividly, and really didn't need as many pictures as we had taken, never mind had to divvy up.

You can get by with lots less than you think. The hard part is getting rid of it and living through the first few pangs of "I should have kept that." If you're very restrictive about what you keep, the pangs should be kept to a minimum. Good luck ... and peace.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 9:03AM
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I started a post, and then hit a key and lost it all. Phooey.

First, I'm sorry to hear about your mom. It sounds like your brother and you are at peace with your decision and your loss, which is a great gift, but it sure must be sad sometimes. I'm sorry.

My mom and dad came to the same conclusion on the deaths of their last surviving parent. My mom's mom had graduallymoved to ever-smaller, ever-more restrictive quarters, so it was gradual.

And my dad's dad tried, honestly he did. And, he moved a few states away to live w/ my aunt, so he and my dad were able to weed out quite a lot.

They had the same reaction, and started to just get rid of stuff in their homes. Of course, that's been awhile now.....

I think that's a great gift to give your own kids, Marie. I read a post (was it here?) in which a woman said, she'd told her adult DDs that when she passed away, they were free to throw away, give away, whatever, her "treasures" (she had a little box of keepsakes, odd stuff but sentimental to her), and her possessions, because they were intended for HER lifetime, and not beyond. That sounds like a good idea, too--to free your kids et al. of the notion that just because you owned it, they honor you by keeping it.

When my DGM died, my aunt sent me some "sentimental" stuff--my mom was hooting. They were just the things she happened to own at that time--they weren't important. Bathroom accessories in a rose theme--well, DGM liked roses, but those were just what they had at JCPenney the last time DGM needed to buy those things. They weren't important!

I have a cousin that was thinking of taking the fabric from DGM's stash (she was a big sewer) and making everyone in the family a teddy bear (shiver...). My mom pointed out, gently, that those fabrics didn't MEAN anything emotional to DGM; they were just what she happened to have at the time. Some of them, she may not even have picked out! She sewed for other people, lots of times.

Some stuff of hers WAS important to me--I got the cookie jar, which to this day I treasure and which helps me think of her often. That's enough.

You may help enough just by keeping your TRULY valuable papers in a really good place, the photos in another good place, and telling your kids they should throw the rest out without even looking at it. It's useful to you, not to them!

Steve, I like what you said about "theater of the mind." But sometimes we keep stuff we don't really need to "replay." You can buy NEW magazines (please, buy new magazines, so I can have a job), new books, etc.

There's not really a need to keep stuff.

But, on to practical matters.

That stuff you'd like to pass on? Get one of those accordion folders w/ the dividers (alphabet, or 12 months), and label each for one kid. Then you've got a place to put that stuff. Maybe label one "Understanding Grandma better" and put notes to yourself (I think those might be really nice for your descendents to see), etc. Things that would truly tell someone, years from now, what you were like.

And then be ruthless. If you haven't looked at that vacation stuff, it won't matter as much. Maybe you'll find 2 or 3 things from each that are worth hanging onto--something that helps you get STARTED remembering the trip. That should be enough.

As for scrapbooking, well, I guess I'm unAmerican because I really don't approve. Sticking stuff in scrapbooks to look at later, yes. Getting creative w/ precut stuff and fancy letters, no. So get a big binder, buy some of those plastic page protectors (some divided for smaller stuff, some full size), and stick stuff in there. Just get it out of a box and into a book you can page through. The heck w/ labeling anything, making fancy borders, etc. Just stick the brochures into the pockets.

And maybe set an arbitrary limit--no more than 5 mementos from every vacation. Because honestly, your brain is very flexible, it'll remember. And nobody else wants to look at your vacation mementos, really.

And be tough; try to picture your kids 10 years from now--will they care enough to want to look at it? Will YOU?

Stuff that's less personal--politics (which changes constantly), decorating idea, etc.--toss and get fresh. As if you were checking out library books from life.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 3:29PM
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Thanks for posting this important milestone in your life. Please don't obsess about the organizing and tossing. Let yourself grieve. There's time for cleaning later. God bless you and your family.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 4:08PM
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My deepest sympathy. Losing a parent is so hard. My best wishes to you.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 6:34AM
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Marie, it's sounds as if you are at peace with your choices, and that is a good place to be. When our son died 5 years ago I had to decide what to keep.. what really meant something and what was just the mear "stuff" of life. After some deep consideration It came down to some stuff that fit into a small hatbox, his hostipal band, his baby hat, his foot prints and the tiny toy we had tucked into the bassinet with him as they took him off to try to save him. The rest was not really so much as important.. as just ~there~.

We now come to the same thing with my MIL, she is also 88 and wanting to divest herself of her personal belongings and that is MORE than ok with me. The problem being that my SIL will not take the things ( Hummels).. not beacuese she does not want them, but because she thinks she will stave off mom's dying by doing so. It's so very silly and pretty agravating since mom wants to get this stuff out of her place. Not only for the added space but for the tax implications when she dies.. things then get pretty funny and the Hummels would then have to be "bought back" from the estate.. Better to give them away now and not worry.. just wish I could get SIL to see it that way!


    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 7:59AM
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Thank you everyone for your kind thoughts. Maddiemom, I feel so sorry for your loss. I suppose we all have inner strengths that keep us going. I am now visiting with my brother before going home and I don't feel that I've grieved since the funeral and the week prior to it. This is scaring me but I guess when I get home, the reality will sink in.

As far as my mom goes, I'm glad that she gave away or threw out most of her possessions a year before she got sick. At that time, one of the best things she gave me was her collection of recipes. She even had ones I had typed up for her. To me, this is a walk down memory lane. Unfortunately, the one recipe I remember most from childhood isn't in there and I never did get it from her.

It's hard to see a generation leaving us. From both my parents' families, there is just one sister and sister-in-law left.

Talley Sue, you are so right about some things not being sentimental, that people just purchased something they needed at the moment. For those with older relatives, now is the time to talk with them about the items that mean something to them. I was lucky that my siblings and I are all pretty easy going. So, going through the belongings my mother had left was as painless as it could possibly be at that moment.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 3:38PM
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For those with older relatives, now is the time to talk with them about the items that mean something to them.

But it's also true that just because an object meant something to ME, doesn't mean its value continues after *I* am gone.

I have my grandma's cookie jar; I use it daily. I would like, after I am gone, for one of my kids to say, "that's mom's cookie jar we used all the time, and I love it too." It'd be nice if part of what they love about it was MY memories of it. But if I had just stuck it in the closet, and it wasn't part of THEIR childhood, should they care?

I say no.

I have a carving that was given to me by my NY mom (old frend) as a wedding present. I love it--because it's beautiful, and because she gave it to me. My kids will see it daily, but after *I* am gone, it might not matter to them. They should feel free to get rid of it, so they'll have space in THEIR home for things given to them by people THEY care about--their "out-of-town mom," whom I hope some day they have.

There's that adage: "keep only those things you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

I have a little china dish given to me by a friend when i was about to have cancer surgery. It has a chip, but I keep it nonetheless. It is useful to me, mostly because it reminds me of that kindness, and of that time in my life (which actually was mostly joyful). My kids should throw it out after I die. I won't, but they should. That's because its value rests in MY mind, MY heart. Once I'm not there to receive that emotional lift from using it, its value, its usefulness, is gone. Because it sure isn't beautiful!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 4:15PM
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So sorry to hear about your mom, Marie. You will grieve in your own time. Don't worry about it not fitting the pattern you think it should.

Sticking stuff in scrapbooks to look at later, yes. Getting creative w/ precut stuff and fancy letters, no.

Thank you, Talley_Sue. I have been wondering what happened to the plain old photo album. It's the best I can do (or want to do).

I also liked your story of your cookie jar. I grew up with the world's ugliest cookie jar. But now I wish I had it because of the memories. Oh, well.

I have some salt&pepper shakers that I chose as a gift for my grandma when I was a little girl. When she died they found their way back to me. We use them everyday, and they give me joy because they are beautiful (guess my taste hasn't changed in 40 years), and I appreciate that someone remembered that I had given them to her. My daughter is named after my grandma, and she knows the story of the salt shakers. I hope that she keeps them when I'm gone, not because they are important to me, but because she remembers using them and that they are connected to her through her name. Oh, and I hope she doesn't think they are the world's ugliest shakers.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2005 at 12:54AM
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Marie: I am so terribly sorry to hear of your momo's passing. I lost mine at age 85, two years ago and will never get over it. She was my best friend and it is so terrible knowing that one can never just pick up the phone and say Hi Mom! ever again.

She went at the right time for her, as she had a mild stroke which started to make her imagine things, like being in the middle of WWII during battle - she was an RN then. Fortunatly, then end came pretty quick - about 6 months after that. My big regret about her things is that she became quite paranoid near the end and went through all of her writings--including her many poems -- and threw them away. I had really hoped to get those one day, but now they are gone forever.

Dad is doing OK, and I cook for him every weekend. Bless his heart, he is going through and doing a lot of throwing away and organizing of old books, mags, and photos so we won't have to deal with that when the time comes. Now, if I only knew how to find room for mom's huge froggie collection! She had/has them from all over the world, out of every material (stone, ivory, you name it)...hundreds of them. I think I will dontate the stuffed ones to the Dr. Laura foundation. Don't know about the rest.

Much love and sympathy to you and your family.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 1:17PM
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