I haven’t been able to sit down and write for a while, but I’ve definitely been writing blog posts in my head. I wasn’t sure where to start. I’ve decided to write about last week, when my sister and I spent 7 out of 8 days at my parents’ house.
In May, we decided it was time to go through their things. We know they aren’t going back to their house and it only makes sense, from an expense perspective, to sell the house. I sometimes think it sure would have been easier to do all of this when they could make their own decisions about what to do with things. Other times, I wonder if it wasn’t easier for us to just do it.
When my mom had her cancer diagnosis two years ago, she started to ask all of us what we wanted. We took a few things and my nieces have their names on the items they chose.
My mom and dad had also started getting rid of things on their own. There were very few Christmas decorations. My dad had already sold all of his guns. All of this did make our job easier. But it doesn’t mean there still wasn’t a lot to go through.
We started by designating a spot for accumulating all the things we expected to sell. We’ve had so many garage sales over the years, we knew we could handle another one. Then we picked one room at a time and focused on it until we were finished.
The first and second days were the most productive. We made great progress, filling up several garbage bags and the “sell room”. We emptied all drawers, cabinets, and closets. We identified those things we each wanted, as well as things we thought the girls might want. We created special piles for those things.
We never argued about what each of us wanted or what to throw away. You hear so many horror stories about families fighting over who gets what. We had none of that. Some things we split evenly, such as the gazillions of light bulbs they had. With other things, we each have our favorites and it was no problem deciding who should get a treasured item.
Well, wait. There are two items we haven’t decided on yet. They were placed between our two piles. They have no value to anyone but us. They were simply things we used a lot when we were growing up – an ice cream scoop and a cake spatula. Anyone else would look at those and say, what??? I guess they just remind us of happy times.
I think what helps is, my mom and dad don’t have a lot of family heirlooms. Fortunately, she had begun marking those they do have so we would know where they came from. We are definitely holding onto those. I already have a few, like the little dish from my dad’s mom that I use to keep my jewelry in when I take it off each night.
A tough day
By Tuesday, it started getting to me. Maybe it was because we’d visited my mom’s primary care doctor (who has also been my doctor for over 30 years) to get some straight answers about her condition. I knew she’d be honest with me. She pretty much told us she wasn’t going to get any better. I think we knew that in our heads, but it’s still tough to hear. I didn’t realize how tough until later in the day, when I broke down.
I kept thinking about how we were packing up someone else’s life and memories. All of these things meant something to them, even if they didn’t mean anything to us. And we had to make decisions about all of it. The weight of it finally got to me.
It’s also a little unsettling to be doing this while they’re still alive. I know older couples often go through a downsizing period but that’s when they’re still involved. This made me feel like they weren’t even here anymore.
My dad asked about the doctor visit, of course, and I had to be honest with him. He took it hard, which didn’t help me at all. But I know it was the right thing to do, so we could focus on what she needs now to be comfortable and happy.
I’m not saying we’ll give up hope, but we’ll hope for different things. Right now, it’s all about her safety, as she has a tendency to do things that make her fall.
It’s definitely helped that Vintage Hills is letting them spend time together now (as part of Phase 2 of the reopening). I know the not knowing was what stressed my dad out the most. Now he can go to the memory care area any time he wants to see her and back to his apartment when he feels it’s time.
The home stretch
It was easier after Tuesday to get back to work. However, we could tell we were pooping out. We’d start the day talking about things, take a break when my brother in law brought lunch, and end the day talking about the next day. I think it was good for both of us to have this time together. I can’t imagine doing this without my sister.
As you’d expect, some rooms were easier than others. Going through both of their closets meant a lot of decision making – what might they still want, what should we try to sell, what should we donate, what should just be thrown away.
We’ve put aside a few things to go through later. We aren’t sure what to do with some of my mom’s collectibles and there are pictures and family history information to make decisions about. We said that could be a winter project.
What comes next?
On the last day, we spent a good deal of time talking about how we were going to manage this. A garage sale would not be simple. The non-furniture items would be big enough to handle, but what about all the furniture? We can’t fit everything in the garage and what if it rains? Do we want people traipsing through the house? Are people even going to garage sales right now?
I am feeling overwhelmed by it all. We decided to explore options and we met with a company on Wednesday to find out how they might help us. It sounds like people are having success with online auctions right now.
They would do everything for us, if that’s what we wanted. It comes at a price, of course, but I think they might be able to get more money for some items through an auction than we could through a garage sale. We can still handle the donations and other things.
Not knowing how much we might get for everything makes it challenging to compare this option to our original garage sale plan. We also have to weigh the work and coordination involved.
There may be more to move to my dad’s apartment and my mom’s room. Since we haven’t been able to get into their places at Vintage Hills, we have no idea what else they need. At a minimum, we’d like to hang some artwork. But we don’t know what sizes we need or how many pieces. This pandemic thing is a real pain. We may just have to make a few decisions and hope we get it right.
My own life
This whole process has motivated me to do some organizing of my own life. I have been planning to donate clothes but I know there’s a lot more I should go through. You know how things accumulate over time?
I really need to clean out drawers and closets more often and stop saving half-used items and things I know I’ll never use. The closet in my studio has become a bit of a dumping ground. That’s my first project.
I know someday someone will have to go through my things. I don’t know who it will be, but I would like to make this process as easy as I can for them. I’m also realistic enough to know most of what I have will have no value to anyone else.
Although I would like to think maybe a niece, a grandniece, or a granddaughter might have fond memories of spending time with me and find a couple of mementos in all this mess.