One of my children’s favourite songs at the moment is Frozen’s Let it go… although they sing it Letting go. While I’m not a huge fan of the movie the song hits home in so very many ways.
I’m in the process of clearing out my mothers home. Boxes after boxes hold stories of a life that is no longer. My mother and I are clearly similar in many ways, she had an extensive blank card collection, mine is significantly less diverse but none the less exists. We both use physical calendar daybooks as a way of tracking our daily lives, kind of like a diary, but without the emotion. But we are vastly different in our ability to divest of our earthly belongings…. Before she died she read the book “They left us everything“. I did too. It’s a story of a daughter going through her mothers’ extensive collection of stuff, and re-living the memories and moments that she finds along the way. I’m living this book right now.
My mother’s story is contained within box after box of paper. Dating back to the 70’s. She had an incredible ability to keep everything. and I mean everything. Every card you ever sent her, even if it was just a Hallmark card with your name scribbled on the bottom she had it stored. Did you invite me to your birthday in the 80’s? Cuz mom still has that invite. And now I have it.
What does one do with boxes upon boxes of paper that haven’t seen the light of day in multiple decades? I debate every day as I slowly unearth more of her story, of her life. I could scrapbook it, or keep it for a night of reminiscing with my siblings. I’ve reconciled that the paper is a weight that I simply can not carry around. It is a memory of a life now gone. It tells a story but without the narrator to knit the pieces together nicely, it’s strangely empty. So I’ve opted to open, touch, and consider every piece. Ultimately my shredder is getting a good workout, but along the way, the story is unfolding and being interpreted and merged into my own life story.
Boxes of letters from grandmothers, mixed in with random christmas cards, and notes for cases she was working on. Page after page of drawings for renovating the house, the cottage, friends houses, neighbours houses, your house and my house. Lecture notes for when she gave speeches or talks at churches, conferences and other events. Her topics appear to be fairly consistent, as was her life. Passion for justice; advocacy for youth, women, children; reconciliation; abuse, in all its many forms but specifically abuse of wives and the elderly. Thank you notes from organizations she supported, from victims she advocated for, from friends who cried on her shoulder.
Pages documenting her discussions and debates with her employers over equal pay for her and her other female colleagues. Agreements about modified work weeks (in the 90s!!) so she could be more flexible and home with her kids. More still on asking for leave for stress due to burnout. And then more for medical leave.
The boxes are her story. But I can’t hold on to them. I feel them weighing me down. I know they could sit quite comfortably in their little closet in the basement forever and ever. But there will come a day when we move, or maybe if we stay here, a day when my kids find themselves in my chair and combing through not only their mothers but their grandmothers’ stories. I can’t leave that work for them to do.
Afterall when we die don’t we live on in the memories of our loved ones? A person doesn’t truly die until there is no one left to remember them. But the boxes of birthday cards and random notes from court aren’t the story I want to remember anyway. I want to remember her as the mother I knew. We had our challenges to be sure, but what daughter doesn’t have some challenges with their mother?! I want to remember the vibrant woman who didn’t have time or care to sort and label her clutter, but who somehow was unable to let it go. And kept it all, some moved across the country (twice!) but is still around, waiting for that day when it was needed. Here I am slowly sifting through and deciding that no, this is enough, I simply do not need this. And yet, I do need to go through the process.
So I’m letting go. I’m letting go of all the stories that I will never get the full picture of. I’m letting go of the dreams of a life that didn’t go the way she planned. I’m letting go of the letters of love that came from her family. I’m letting go because I feel it’s the only way I’ll move forward. Somehow I think that maybe she left this for me to do because she knew I’d need it to process my own emotions. It’s strangely therapeutic putting stories one by one in the loud hum of the shredder. It’s not cruel, it’s not uncaring, it’s freeing. I’m letting go of the stories of a woman who held a huge place in our hearts, but by letting go of the incomplete stories I’m making room for the stories that are whole to be remembered more clearly. This is a process, but every day we let go a little bit more, not of the memories or the love, but the pain, the suffering, and the stuff.