Fourteen years ago, my husband, his brother, and I began the process of cleaning out their childhood home. My father-in-law had passed in ’95, and my mother-in-law was alone in the house when the dog she rescued decided to play tag, and she tripped over the chain, breaking her foot. After surgery, she was taken to a nursing home to recover.
The house across the street had been purchased by a home-flipper, and after he visited us, we began to steer my mother-in-law into allowing this man to buy the home. She had thought that it was time to get out of the neighborhood and into an apartment, so we began the laborious process of doing just that.
Since she was unable to leave, I went back and forth between the old house and the nursing home, carefully following the lists of items that she wanted to keep and what we could give away.
If you think it’s easy to go through someone’s life possessions, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. She vacillated over whether she should sell the house (after agreeing to it) but being on the bottom floor with no stairs to contend with finally won her over.
Once the house sold, we began to empty the house of childhood memories stacked in the basement that was so old and mildewed that we had to wear masks. We dumped the stuff in the container that the man across the street said we could use, and we filled up at least half of it.
When everything was cleaned, and in place, I went to the nursing home to take my mother-in-law to her shiny new apartment. Everything she had on her lists we carefully displayed in the Cherrywood glass hutch, secretary, and TV cabinet. Her first-floor apartment had two bedrooms, two baths, a walk-in closet, a galley kitchen, and a stackable washer and dryer. She could see her car from the living room slider doors.
In October of 2017, at the age of 97, my mother-in-law stood up, and her leg broke, thus necessitating an ambulance ride to the hospital, with a subsequent stay at the same nursing home she had been to 14 years ago. She was not happy to be there and doubly unhappy that it would be her home from now on. After urging her to let go (another Déjà vu moment came back to us) to allow her grandchildren to take the dishes and stemware, and whatever they could use; the items we had once so carefully placed into her hutch, etc. What need would she have of this stuff now?
My brother-in-law, who had taken such good care of her over the years, had made several lists for her to approve, and after she carefully checked them, she said to proceed. She then instructed him to go through all the pictures and separate them into family piles, box them up, and then send them to the families.
Because we live in a different state, we traveled to Ohio to tackle what remained, disassembling and removing the furniture, and boxing up items to distribute to my children, going through a lifetime of memories and it felt like Déjà vu, again.
Naturally, my mother-in-law was concerned about her things.
When I got to her room, she was ruminating about where each piece had gone. She wanted to keep her clothes. What about her jewelry? Where was the Fenton glass that was on top of the hutch? It was a tough week navigating between the questions and the answers I knew she didn’t want to hear.
She got a little snarky with me, but when we went to say goodbye, she asked me to forgive her. We had taken all that she knew to be her life away and doomed her to live in the nursing home for the rest of her days.
Was she ready to let go? No, she was not. But then, how does one live to be 97 years old? That is the real mystery!