Disassembling A Life

Have you ever wondered how it might feel to watch someone give away your life? Not your physical life of course, but the things around you that come with a story.

Sometimes parents or loved ones pass away and family members are left with the task of cleaning out a home or apartment and deciding what should be sold, given away, discarded or passed along to other family members. Sometimes the decision appears easy, or so it may seem. But value is often times subjective and occasionally misunderstood.

I grew up around the corner from my Aunt Sadie and Uncle Vincent and visited quite a bit. My uncle worked in a place that made those chocolate turtles….chocolate on the outside, caramel and nuts on the inside. My aunt had this cool looking, glass candy dish that she kept on her coffee table in the living room and it was always filled with the chocolate turtles that my uncle brought home. Every time I’d walk into the house, I’d give her a kiss and go directly to that dish. I can still see her smiling at me as I sat there in turtle paradise. She always told me that one day I could have the dish and so we made that our deal.
Years later, after I was married and had children, my aunt had a stroke and needed long-term care. My uncle came to visit one Christmas Eve and gave me a gift that I could tell he had wrapped. Inside was my aunt’s candy dish. It was the most bittersweet gift I’ve ever received because I knew she remembered her promise but I also knew she was telling me she would never come home again. It’s a simple candy dish to anyone who sees it, but as it sits in my living room, it’s part of my childhood, part of my life and part of hers.

Recently, my 89-year-old mother-in-law asked that we help clean out her basement. She was a child of the depression and so she never threw out anything. Cleaning out her basement was not going to be easy. Her sense of value on certain items she wanted to sell was not reasonable. Her desire to not part with other items that appeared to be worn, non-functional or unused in thirty years made for difficult conversations. But as I watched her walk around the basement, she would pick up certain things and stare at them for a few moments, and I realized that every item down there had its own story. Maybe it was an inexpensive souvenir she and my father-in-law picked up on vacation 40 years earlier, or a six-inch trophy one of her children earned, or an old chair her husband used to hang his clothing on when he was alive. In some ways, this was her life, and it was being taken apart piece by piece.

I look around my own home and see things only my wife and I will appreciate or understand. Items that I’m sure our children will one day look at and wonder what we were possibly thinking and why it wasn’t thrown out years before. But there was a time and a moment when it mattered to us, as it does to my mother-in-law, as it did to my aunt. Because as much as our lives are made up of the people we love they are also made up of the gifts we’ve received from those people or the simple item that we laughed about and purchased together.

So if you’re ever in a similar situation, please be patient and understand. You may even find a part of your past or learn about a story you never knew. Homes are filled with simple treasures.

Now…..I think I’ll go have a chocolate turtle.

3 thoughts on “Disassembling A Life

  1. George Post author

    January 7, 2015 at 3:09 PM
    Lovely story you have shared with us – thank you. My mum was a hoarder – what a strange time when she passed.



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