My two sisters, Pam and Julie and I gathered over Labor Day weekend to go through all of our Mom's worldly possessions (she died in January, 2012 at the age of 76). My dad wanted her belongings used - either by us or someone else through donations. The closets, dressers, cupboards and bookshelves were filled with the stuff of life that she loved and used over the years. It's been touching to find pieces of jewelry she wore in the 70's, favorite recipes flagged in her dozens of cookbooks, the linens she used for entertaining and dinner parties, and her collections of angels, bunnies, and travel souvenirs.
But even more momentous than these familiar items, is what we're learning about her that we never knew - that even our Dad never knew! We found a box full of coins that she collected which my dad had never seen. We found out that she had thought about being a physical therapist, especially for children - a dream she never pursued while raising her own four children while her husband traveled for work. We found books on writing and becoming published. Our mom wrote her own cookbook in the last decade of her life and she loved to write poems for Christmas cards and scrapbooks, but I didn't know she wanted to go into Creative Writing in high school, and that as an adult, she wanted to be published. We found a notebook full of journal-entries written at the end of December as a summary of what had happened over the previous year. These summaries included travel, time with family, holiday celebrations, her children's milestones, and "purchases for the home."
In addition to these journal entries, her writing was the most treasured gift she left us for we found a book she wrote after graduating from high school that told her life story in 12 chapters complete with pictures we had never seen. It's called, "Booties to Boots" (since she was 2 years old, her nickname was "Boots" - a name given to her by her dad whose big galoshes she loved to wear when he came home from work). The pages are type-written and taped to large sheets of black construction paper. We found out that she spent the first 3 weeks of her life in the hospital, that she and her brother received live bunnies for Easter one year (thus explaining her figurine bunny collection which I never quite understood!); we discovered that she was a cheerleader in middle-school and she and her friends called themselves "The 7 Dwarfs". We saw pictures of all 8 houses she lived in while growing up and moving with her dad's job. During her high school years, she had a group of 17 friends and we saw a picture of her on a double date with Dad and another couple who are still married! Mom wrote a whole chapter on "My God and Me" which described in detail, her experience of being Confirmed at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Lakefield, MN. This deeply spiritual side of my Mom is something I perceived and glimpsed at times, but it was not something she easily talked about. Her spirituality came through in her books, in her jewelry (crosses and angels), her many years as an active volunteer, the sacred way she wrote about relationships and church activities, and her fierce loyalty to many friends across the country who spanned every stage of her lifetime.
I'm grateful that we waited this long to go through her things. Because we were not racked by immediate grief, or under time-pressure to get it done for an impending move, we could take our time, savor memories, laugh and cry. I am left feeling more awed than ever at what a remarkable, faithful, amazing, smart and generous woman my Mom was and still is to me. The melancholy I feel over the parts of her I didn't know well, is balanced by gratitude for the chance to know her more fully and more deeply than I ever have before. She is still influencing me, shaping me and helping me grow up in how she reveals herself in what she left behind. I am closer to her than I ever have been and she continues to love generously and fiercely. St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians make more and more sense; of course love never ends.